An homage to Colin O’Brien

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My return to London after my extensive travels will be remembered for two remarkable things – the wonderful sunshine that we have been constantly blessed with since I’ve been back, and for the incredibly talented and inspirational people that I have unintentionally met – including a top war photographer, an award-winning director, an international recording artist and now, just today, another of my heroes of photography!

I stumbled across an exhibition by Colin O’Brien at Chats Palace in Hackney around seven years ago. His evocative black and white photographs from the 50s and 60s moved me and I couldn’t understand why this photographer, who had captured life in London, particularly the East End, so sympathetically and poetically, wasn’t a household name alongside the likes of Jane Bown and Tony Ray-Jones.

I was reminiscing about this exhibition just this morning to my new director acquaintance (one of the new shining stars in my life) and lamenting that I have never seen his work since but would love to share it with him. Later we went for a walk along the South Bank and passed by the prestigious OXO Tower gallery. “It’s him I exclaimed!” Unbelievably, through the gallery glass I could see those same iconic black and white images, like old friends waving at me. Naturally we went in and I headed straight to the desk to tell the man sitting there how coincidentally I had been talking about this photographer that very morning. “I’m flattered” he replied and I realised that I was talking to the very Colin O’Brien whose work had enthralled me so!

I was amazed at how young and vibrant he looked (is that one of the benefits of being a street photographer I wondered….?) and I chatted animatedly with him for several minutes, as if he too was an old friend, until I couldn’t wait any longer to re-visit some of my favourite pictures, including the one that has been etched in my creative mind this past seven years and inspired me through my own comparatively miniscule photography career: http://migrationmuseum.org/output/exhibition/100-images-of-migration/1-girl-balloon/

During our conversation I told Colin how incredulous I was that he wasn’t more recognised. In response he gently pointed out that he had actually enjoyed 33 exhibitions in total (so the underscore was that he wasn’t actually doing that badly!) I felt a burden lifting from my shoulders and, yet again this summer, it was a reminder from a photography master that our chosen medium isn’t a dying art. There is still a place for it amongst all the dross of happy snaps if you have enough passion and belief in the power of that image taken at just the right time to capture a moment that will ultimately talk to people.

For not the first time this summer I felt uplifted and inspired. It was an incredibly beautiful late afternoon as I made my way home, with a wonderful golden light and lots of interesting characters out and about enjoying some summer Sunday fun. It felt ironic that the person who could capture this in all its glory was stuck behind a desk in a gallery. So, I took some photos for him, including the one featured. I hope Colin likes it a fraction of the amount of how much I love and admire his images of every day life – because for me that is what great photography is all about!

You can see more of Colin’s work here: http://www.colinobrien.co.uk/ and catch his free exhibition at the OXO Tower up until 10th August: http://www.oxotower.co.uk/events/65-colin-obrien/

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