Photographer Chris Briscoe (’75) will flat-out tell you he did not enjoy most of his time at college. Not because of SOU, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certification, but because of his love for adventure.
“I’m just wired that way,” Briscoe said. “When I went back for my teaching certificate, I think I enrolled and re-enrolled about four or five times. I just didn’t want to sit in a classroom.”
Briscoe once sailed a small boat to Tahiti, where he lived for a year, and he has cycled across America four times. He has traveled the world, engaging with and photographing everyone from homeless children in Cambodia to offbeat artists in New Orleans. His work includes intimate portraits of celebrities and politicians such as Rob Lowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Ronald Reagan. He has been published in everything from The London Times to People magazine.
But Briscoe didn’t start out wanting to be a photographer. In his memoir, “Shifting Gears: Riding the Roads through America’s Heartland,” Briscoe describes how a bike trip with a friend in 1976 helped him settle into school and earn a teaching certificate. When Briscoe started student teaching, he found a passion.
“Student teaching lit me on fire,” he said. He worked with elementary school kids as lively as he was, and he used his energy and creativity to engage them. He once arranged for his third-grade students to fly over Ashland as part of a unit on mapmaking.
s a hobby, not something Briscoe expected to earn a living doing. Because he often photographed his students and their adventures, Briscoe’s work began getting noticed. When his work caught the attention of a photographer from the Ashland Daily Tidings, Briscoe’s career path changed. “I had always taken photographs, but that job made me a better photographer,” he said.
Briscoe left teaching after four years to pursue a full-time career in photography. “It wasn’t an easy decision. I loved teaching and I loved the kids, but my passion was photography.”
Briscoe’s award-winning photos are a mirror of humanity, showing simultaneously how interconnected we are as humans and how unique we are as individuals. His work, including his writing, is engaging, humorous and honest.
Perhaps Briscoe is best known for photographing hands and faces. He has described the human face as the “greatest landscape,” and his portraits of Sheryl Crow are as intensely personal as those of New Orleans resident Little Freddie King.
The hands, however, hold special power and allure for Briscoe.
“Hands tell about not only what a person does; they are a roadmap of where a person has been. And maybe where they want to go. Hands are an extension of our souls. They make tools that can change the world, end the world, hold a pen to sign a peace treaty to save the world,” Brisco said.
With over three decades of work and adventure behind him, Briscoe isn’t slowing down. He is wrapping up a book about his three-month, across-America cycling adventure with his son and continuing to focus on the three things that drive him: vision, passion and courage.
“We can all have creative ideas, but having the vision to follow through makes a big difference,” he said.
As for courage, he takes a deep breath. “We all struggle with courage,” he said. “Whether you’re a teenager wanting to ask a girl on a date or trying to decide if you should quit your day job and pursue your passion. The trick is to constantly challenge yourself, let yourself take a risk and live your life.”
Reprinted from the Fall 2017 issue of The Raider, SOU’s alumni magazine