Michael Christopher Brown was born and raised in the Skagit Valley, a farming community in Washington State. Learning photography from his father, who maintained a black-and-white darkroom in their home, he decided to pursue his passion for documentary photography during his senior year at Western Washington University, when a photojournalism class inspired him to photograph his family while living at home.
After earning his B.A. in psychology and a minor in studio art in 2000, he worked part time as a sports photographer at the Argus, a weekly newspaper in Washington State. He then attended the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University and received a master of arts in documentary photography in 2003. Later that year, while working as a photography intern at the State Journal Register, he won the 58th College Photographer of the Year Competition from the University of Missouri for his work in Ohio.
In 2004 Brown covered Hurricanes Frances and Ivan and a story about Glen Echo, Maryland, as a photography intern at National Geographic magazine. In 2005 he began his professional career after being assigned a story about Orlando, Florida, for National Geographic and, later that year, an article about asthma in Knoxville, Tennessee. In late 2005 he left for China and produced projects about a traveling circus, a bread baker, and the effects of the economic revolution.
In 2006 Brown began freelancing in New York City. His recent client work has included an adventure/environmental story for National Geographic in Canada; a story about oil in Sakhalin, Russia, for Fortune; and stories about factories in China for the Atlantic Monthly. Other clients include the New York Times, Smithsonian, ESPN magazine, Monocle, D la Repubblica, Getty Images, AARP, and Time. His photographs have also been published in Newsweek, New York magazine and Vrij Nederland, among others.
In June 2007, Brown's essay profiling industry in the Pearl River Delta region of China was broadcast on PBS during NewsHour. In November 2007 American Photo magazine named him one of 15 emerging artists—"a new generation of photo pioneers."
He is a contributor to the Corbis and Grazia Neri photo agencies.