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Visionary Arkansans 2018: Brandon Markin

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Brandon Markin's approach to photography and life are the same: "You get one go-round and so you might as well try it all and put yourself into situations that make you uncomfortable and just deal with that. ... I look at photography as an extension of who I am as a person and a way to document my learning experience as I go through life."

That deep curiosity shines through in a scan of his online portfolios on Instagram (@bnikram) and brandonmarkin.com. There you'll find a tender black-and-white portrait of a young black man holding a diaper-clad baby who regards the camera with a blank wonder, while her father, eyes downcast and with the hint of a grin, plays with her impossibly small baby fingers. It's captioned "From a front porch in Helena. Talking boxing with TJ." Another black-and-white image from January is all light and shadow, a big band of men in cowboy hats on a stage, with beams of light emanating from spotlights out into a sparse crowd on the dance floor, dark shapes huddled tight. It's titled "QuinceaƱera de Juliana."

Like everyone else's Instagram page, Markin also includes pictures of his family. His wife and frequent muse, Mariella, is a student at the Clinton School of Public Service. The family traveled to Bocas del Toro, an island chain province of Panama, over the summer while Mariella did her required service project, so you'll also find pictures such as one Markin captioned "Girl in Bahia Honda, Panama with her dolls. Life is sweet and fleeting." It's of a small girl in a white dress standing in front of a giant window, looking warily outside the frame and clutching her dolls tightly to her chest.

Markin, 43, of North Little Rock, prefers analog film photography. "I've always been drawn to that process," he said, though he didn't start young. "It wasn't until I was well into adulthood [that] I had the resources to pursue that." Why film? "Part of it is nostalgia. We're nostalgic creatures. Photography is the nostalgic medium. What you're doing, in a way, is stopping time. You're capturing light from a moment that will never be repeated again." You also learn to appreciate motion, he said. "When most people do digital photography, that obsession with perfection means, if they're shooting something with low light, they'll try to stop the motion. But if you're doing it with film, that motion turns into a beautiful thing, with waves and streaks and such."

He's part of noted photographer Rita Henry's Blue-Eyed Knockers collective in Little Rock. The group gets together regularly at Henry's Stifft Station studio to hang out and process film. Through that group and under his own initiative, he's done a number of projects: pics of political protest, of the dilapidated Hotel Pines in Pine Bluff, of the Kanis Bash, where skateboarders and punk and hardcore bands gather at the Kanis Park skate bowl.

Markin makes a living as a photographer, which means he shoots products, events and magazine portraits with a digital camera. But he's committed to continuing his art photography. He has a solo retrospective coming in November 2019 at the William F. Laman Library in North Little Rock. He dreams of traveling through Central and South America on a photo project (Mariella is from Ecuador, so he's traveled to South America before). He met Adger Cowans, the famed fine art photographer, at a talk at Hearne Fine Art earlier this year and asked him for advice. "He said, 'Do what you do and don't worry about where the money is going to come from. If you're true to your spirit and vision, it may take a while, but the money will come.' " For now, Markin is content to keep on keeping on. "Any day that I can be walking around with the camera taking photographs and doing what I love, that's a win for me."

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