Interview with… Niall O’Brien
He was born in 1979 in Dublin. In october 2008 Niall was accepted into the 20 top portfolios in the international portfolio review in Bratislava.
Can you tell something about you? When did you start to realize “I’m a Photographer” ?
I used to take photos of my friends in the late 90s while skateboarding and I just loved the reaction I got when I developed my photos and showed them to my friends. I kind of got hooked on that sense of capturing, almost seizing, the moment and that moment being my vision, something of my own creation. It was then that I decided to study photography and after 4 years of learning the art, the fact that I’d become a photographer just kind of snuck up on me.
There is a connection between your photos and your country?
There is no connection with my pictures and my country apart from how I was brought up. My recent work is about social behavior and revolves around a particular group of teenage kids in England who all share the same outlook on life. There’s a punk scene in Ireland but not one that I was massively aware of when I was growing up. When I lived in Dublin, I do remember seeing the odd punk but they always seemed older, somehow removed from my own life. That’s what interested me in the kids I’ve been documenting: they were so young and the way they lived and dressed was so bold – somehow new but also “dated” in a way.
What relationship do you have with your subject when you take a photo?
The relationship I have with my subject is actually a fairly complicated one. I feel it’s important to keep a good distance as I’m ultimately there to observe and it’s so important not to interfere or sway them in any way. Balancing this with the need to be accepted wasn’t easy though. It took about 2 years for them to gain my trust.
Can you tell us something about your “Punks Kid” projects?
“Superheroes” was born out of a film I made of a random group of kids in early 2007. After the film I just felt compelled to keep photographing them. It was difficult at first as they didn’t really have an interest but, over time, they’ve grown to accept me. They are a nihilistic crew of punk kids who were all about 16 when I first met them. They can be violent and abusive but they’re good kids and have ultimately grown to be a very important part of my work and my life. I’ve been to the craziest places with them with them, photographed them sleeping under a bridge for a week in Berlin and watched them being arrested on occasion.
They make a great picture and I think that was part of the reason why I originally persued the project. But over time I came to realise that I’ve stumbled across something far more interesting than just energetic pictures. I feel as though it’s genuinely important to offer this insight into youth and I hope that, whilst people might feel removed from the group, they can identify with some of the sentiment in the pictures. In many ways, this is my opportunity to have another go at what it’s like to feel the recklessness of youth.
What does it mean for a young photographer be represented by an agency?
Having an agent like D and V Management offers me a bit of sanity really. If I didn’t have a company like that behind me, a company that believes in my work, I’d be a nervous wreck! They build my confidence, look after the commercial side and they get my art too which is so important to me. They make sure I don’t do stupid things when it comes to commissions and most of all they look after the money. That just leaves me to get on with doing what I love.
When did you discovered your personal style?
I always thought in college that the moment people recognise your style in photography is a very important point in your career. To be able to determine your style from anyone else’s is an exciting achievement.
You can’t create this. It comes from doing what you believe in and not being swayed towards taking pictures for anyone else but yourself. My work is so different now and that’s been an unconscious progression. It wasn’t until I put my head down and ignored everyone else that I really found my own style. Editing is key too – it’s where the individuality of your images really plays out.
What do you think about street photography?
I don’t think of myself as a street photographer. In fact I never have a camera with me unless I’m consciously there to work. For me, street photography is when the photographer can’t bear to miss a moment. I tend to search for the moment or arrange to meet it. I’m not even a documentary photographer in the true sense. I stumbled across a project while making an art film; it seemed to suit me and now I’m going along for the ride. I know people who go looking for this type of story and I feel very lucky to have had it fall in my lap. It isn’t street photography. I know I’m documenting something but I also hope that it’s a little deeper than that. I could be wrong – delusional even! But, either way, I’m very excited with the work that I’m producing at the moment and I hope that other people can relate to it in some way.
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