Attention Seekers by Miriam O’Connor

By Kenia Cris

Images by Miriam O’ Connor

Miriam O’ Connor was born in Cork, Ireland in 1973 and currently lives and works in Dublin. She studied a 4-year Bachelor Honors Degree in Photography at Dublin Institute of Technology and is currently completing a funded Research Masters at the Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin. As well as working on her own personal projects, Miriam also teaches on a number of Digital Photography programs.

Produced over a period of two years, Attention Seekers is a personal portrayal and playful response to everyday scenes, arbitrary spaces and people encountered by the photographer. In this work O’ Connor’s approach is best surmised as being concerned with the representation of scenes which appear to ‘petition for attention’, one’s which assimilate a particular allure. Each of the images, while executed with a formal exactitude, exhibit ambiguous clues and mischievous impressions, where the interplay of color, form and sequencing are all-important signifiers in engaging with the set.

How long have you been taking photographs and how did you start?

Although photography had always been part of my life, most especially within the family album context, it wasn’t until my mid- twenties that I began to engage with it as a medium for personal expression.  I began taking photographs with cameras that were lying around the family home, and once this obsession took hold, well over a decade ago, I have utilized 35mm, medium format, large format, disposable, digital cameras and camera phones to take all manner of pictures down through the years. All of these rectangular framing devices have been a huge source of curiosity to me, and continue to remain so today. For me photography is very much tied up with expectations and probabilities and never concerned with limitations.

Did you go to photography school?

Yes, I did – I went to a number of schools and colleges. I took a number of evening courses initially beginning in the late 90’s, attending Crawford College of Art & Design and St. John’s Central College, Cork. In 2003, I enlisted on a degree course at Dublin Institute of Technology, graduating from this program in 2007. This was an amazing phase, as I felt extremely lucky to be able to dedicate four years of my life to studying both the technical, critical and creative facets of photography. Currently, I am just about to complete a funded Research Master at the Institute of Art, Design & Technology at Dun Laoghaire, Dublin.

How do you get inspiration for your photographs and work?

It is very clear to me now that I am somewhat obsessed with photography and photographs too in a general sense, my enthusiasm and energy for this medium intensifying as time progresses. For me, looking and seeing remain a huge source of curiosity– sight itself never to be taken for granted. While it is true that everything does look quite different when photographed, this relationship and uncertainty between looking, seeing and photographing – and then, looking again at this photograph remains an immense source of inspiration to me. Yet, inspiration for making work too is frequently tied up with the many places and situations I find myself in on a day-to-day basis. Within this context, the quotidian frequently becomes an infinite playground of possibilities and a direct influence in my work.

Out of the photos you have taken for Attention Seekers, do you have a favorite? Which is that and why is it your favorite?

Hmmm….this is a difficult question without doubt, and I am cautious about the answer. The reason being is that this series of work has unfolded over a long period of time, two years in fact. So in many sense, there are many images which I like, but equally, as you can imagine too, there are many images which have been edited out of the series. In a general sense, I prefer to consider the images working as series or within a sequence, the sequence functioning to build a flow or narrative. In answer to your question then, I am going to let the viewer ponder on this question perhaps, rather than colour this decision making process.  Moreover, I like to consider not necessarily what a viewers favorite image may be per se, rather why, or what experiences they may bring to the image that might determine or influence this decision.  Equally, I would also argue that explaining why one is attracted to a particular image cannot always be rationalized through language alone, and perhaps this inability to articulate or explain its appeal is why it might persist as a favorite in the first instance.

Who is your favorite photographer and how do you connect with his/her works?

Again, this is a complex question as I have seen many photographs now over time and therefore engaged with the work of many outstanding photographers. Some time ago, Matt Packer, a curator at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork, introduced me to the work of Rosalind Nashashibi, and somehow I was particularly inspired by a piece of work entitled Eyeballing (2007). Indeed this is a 16mm film, and not a set of stills at all. For me, the film is about looking and seeing, about looking again, about everyday objects, people or scenes looking back towards the camera too. What has been viewed through the camera in Eyeballing takes on a type of agency of its own, performing independently as it were, by virtue of being framed alone – and I like this immensely. So this little short film has certainly struck a chord with me. Also, another silent film by Samuel Beckett from 1965 I adore where similar themes are addressed in the work, albeit differently of course. In a general sense however, I would like to reemphasize how all sorts of images appeal to me, and on some level I can connect with all of them, often looking at some images over and over and over again. Equally, I am a rather large fan of David Hockey’s work and have a book entitled, Pictures by David Hockney which I tend to keep close to hand, connecting with his work in a way that I am not sure how to articulate.

If you could not be creative through the medium of photography, what other medium would you choose?

Although I like to engage with, and indeed appreciate many of the other artistic disciplines, from art to film, music, sculpture or literature, I have to say, none of these mediums appeal to me wholly as ones which I would engage with as a means of creative expression. Rather, I tend to draw inspiration from such disciplines for my own photographic practice as outlined earlier. If I had to choose however, I think it might be just be fiction writing. Here again, the possibilities are endless, the same story can be relayed in numerous ways by the simple choice of words, or the entire order of things changed by the fabrication of a new character, altering the trajectory of thought in no time at all. I am reminded here too of Paul Grahams’ (2009) excerpt from Photography is Easy – Photography is Difficult. As Graham remarks on photography -  “it’s so simple and basic, it’s ridiculous”.

What kind of impression do you hope to leave upon others who see your images?

My theory is some senses is that while all images are made for an audience, it is impossible to discern what any given viewer takes away from the work – this then can never be entirely managed. Daily, we see thousands of images. Indeed as Nicolas Mirzoeff, Martin Lister and other visual cultural writers of our time have underscored, we are bombarded on each waking hour with all types of imagery, now – more so than ever. The impression then than I hope to leave with those who engage with the work is that they might indentify on some level with what Attention Seekers is about and the themes which it addresses. Equally, I willfully acknowledge at this juncture too that Attention Seekers is no longer within my control – what I have seen, framed or edited  – now almost outside my limits. Yet, I would hope that those who view the work gain from it some enjoyment perhaps, linger over some images, consider the possibilities that lie within the frame or imagine a number of counter narratives too about that might lie outside. Occasionally, and, not always of course, what we cannot see can be as intriguing as what we can see.

Attention Seekers will be shown in a gallery in Belfast called The Third Space during Belfast Photo Festival.

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