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Arts & Culture, Broward

From Fighting an Illness to Finding Photography: T.J. Brown (@ThugSamurai) Finds His Focus

Burnt Sienna never looked so beautiful on a woman. Her hair falls in soft layers around her bare shoulders. In the sunlight, her curly mahogany colored hair suddenly shines a chestnut color. Almost as if the hues of sunrise melted into the chocolate strands. When she blinks her eyelashes flutter like the wings of a butterfly. The clicking of her heel wedge sandals adds rhythm to the soft rhythmic percussion of beach waves on the sand behind her. Her browning legs began to curl under, dusted with sand like flour on rye bread.

No, she isn’t just beautiful, or picture perfect, for something as temporary as her looks. She is beautiful for the sparkle in her eye when she discusses something she loves. She is beautiful for the way she gives to her ideas and the creative ways she expresses her soul. She is beautiful for the way she wraps her arms around the soul of the world, of all who love her and those who need love.

The camera has a case made from black hammered metal. When on a shutter opened soundlessly at the front to reveal a lens. The lens jutted out on a highly polished brass looking cylinder. Two dial buttons poke out from the top.

Aim.

Focus.

Flash.

The back of the camera was a perfect high-resolution picture of what the camera was aiming at. One click and the picture was taken of the expressive woman. A beautiful photo and a beautiful memory captured by a South Florida samurai.

In just three years, T.J. Brown has taken his photography talents and turned it into his passion. Brown, who was born with sickle cell, a blood disorder leaving a shortage of healthy red blood cells that blocks blood flow causing pain, was told by doctors he’d only live to be 14.

Photo of T.J. Brown

“I believe over 500,000 people are affected by sickle cell and millions worldwide. Babies as young as two can have fatal strokes,” said Brown.

“Sickle cell has no mercy. It can affect a young person or an elderly person. I’ve seen people go blind, get hip replacements, heart attacks. There is medication for it, but they’re drugs that were meant to actually treat something else, but it might work for this. There is really nothing for sickle cell,” said Brown.

Brown has fought this lifelong illness and has found new life in what he calls, “Seeing a vision and making it stay.” Influenced by Fort Lauderdale photographer David Muir, Brown turned his hobby into a way of capturing moments for a lifetime.

Dealing with weak health complications, Brown currently doesn’t work the usual nine-to-five job. Therefore, Brown has found his professional calling for wellness and photography. Brown is inspired by the natural expression people have and the natural environment around them.

“I’m into really capturing the realness of people and their surroundings. Getting to know the person I’m taking pictures of before taking pictures to capture their true self,” said Brown.

Brown has built a local reputation creating his own pursuit and being a fan favorite from aspiring models. “He is always coming up with smart ideas for shoots and it’s like we’ve been working together for years,” said Shae Williams. “Not just for me, but for many upcoming models.”

“I’m always looking forward to seeing him post a new picture and the pictures are always high in quality,” said Janet Sol.

I decided to go vegan and I feel like that is one of the reasons I’m still alive.” – T.J. Brown

Brown also focuses on prom photoshoots, weddings, music videos, and events. “I’ve taken a lot of photos, but it’s not just models. I’d consider a narrative and do different showings to express more of a purpose through the art,” said Brown.

“The photos that get a reaction out of people are what I’m mostly known for and my favorite. I want every photo of every person to look out of this world and full of their expression and full of any reaction. That’s what being a photographer is.”

He bounced in the chair like he was dancing to music only he could hear. Slurping like a vacuum cleaner and crumbs making a trail down his shirt. The apple had a gold star radiating from the stem. It rested there, in the nest of the little boy’s small fingers, giving a calming coolness upon his palm. If he could have opened his mouth any wider he would have eaten the apple in one bite. Wet and crisp as he bites into the Granny Smith apple that broke between his teeth with a soft crunch. Then he crunched it up with his mouth opening every time he chewed.

“I feel like my favorite pics are the ones most people won’t see,” said Brown. Brown’s brain seemed to tingle like a hand that’s been sat on for too long. A smile was playing at the corner of his lips as he sat staring at the two little boys. “The pictures of my family and the pictures of my kids,” said Brown.

At the age of 20, Brown decided to approach a plant-based approach to treat his illness. Brown is a spreader of veganism and how plant-based modalities can treat various that ail us. “I wanted to make that decision, even before my kids,” said Brown.

“Coming to death’s door so many times, I had to decide if I wanted to live or die. There is a lot of stuff that comes from the Earth that can benefit us that doctors can’t even prescribe. A lot of things that have been outlawed in other parts of the world are in our foods and in our kids. Things that are linked to causing cancer, diabetes, and you have to look into your foods. I had to relearn everything I was taught. I decided to go vegan and I feel like that is one of the reasons I’m still alive.”

Like mystical serpent-eyes-green, pomegranate and water blue. Shining like rippled water in the brilliant summer light. Brown wears jewelry from Stephanie Zapata. Brown said, “Yeah, it’s holistic and goes with my lifestyle to promote all kinds of healing.”

Brown has earned the title “ThugSamurai” among his friends and those he does photo shoots for. Brown’s giggle was like a stone bouncing across a glossy lake, creating ripples of mirth where there hadn’t been any. “Yeah, because people have seen the way I dress and I have dreads. Some people may view me as a thug on the outer appearance. But samurai because they’re noble, they watch their steps, and are hardcore in their skillful learning,” said Brown.

We all need to set more values for ourselves,” – T.J. Brown

The crowd bathes in the hot pinks and dim purples of the neon lights. Neon lights flash everywhere like police sirens, but much more colorful. The costumes and fashions lit up the summer’s day, a riot of colors that would rival any floral shop or gardener’s paradise. Festive beats lifted the spirits and made people want to jump, move, and sing. The music is so loud it makes one’s skin feel as if it could tingle and one’s lungs feel like mush.

The fifth annual Rap and Hip-Hop festival, Rolling Loud, brought more than 140 Hip-Hop artists to Miami It’s a three-day event, and the blistering heat and rainfall didn’t stop people from seeing artists such as Meek Mill, Kid Cudi, Cardi B, and hometown SoFlo talent.

Brown did ticketing for Rolling Loud and his staff pass allowed him to capture some pictures of the event.

“I went all three days, but only saw two performers,” said Brown. “I saw Migos and Megan Thee Stallion, the girl with the song, ‘Big Ol’ Freak’.”

Brown has been inspired to express his story through music. “I ghostwrite for some artists and I have a song called ‘For the Picture’ because that’s what it’s all about,” said Brown.

From fighting sickle cell to finding his focus in more than just photography, but finding his focus in music, health, and his overall lifestyle. Brown said, “The one thing I wish for any creative types in South Florida is for people to support art. They have people buying beer, buying booze, at art shows but not supporting art. No matter the lifestyle, I’ve learned we all need to set more values for ourselves and know our worth.”

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