Dean O'Brien's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘documentary photography

Silverstone MotoGP Practice Day: The people were more interesting than the bikes..

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Well I normally look forward to this event each year as I get to see Valentino Rossi strut his stuff on the track in front of his large UK following. However, due to a broken leg he would not be racing today. This would not stop me attending though. In all honesty I wanted to go and photograph the people attending the event. To practise my candid street style photography and document the event in a different way to say a ‘bike magazine’.

Only in Britain could I be leaving the house with an umbrella in one hand and sun tan lotion in the other. I was still determined to ride to the event so after a quick blast down the M1 under a grey sky I arrived in good time. First stop I head for a food stall of which there were plenty. ‘I’ll have a tea please’ I shout. ‘That’ll be £1.70 but I’ve got no milk or sugar’. The first day of this three day event and a food stall has no milk or sugar for the tea they are selling. It just sums up the state of Britain to me at the moment. However true to form, ‘I vote with my feet’ and go elsewhere.

People watching has always been a great past time of mine and at events like this you are spoilt for choice. The number ’46’ was everywhere (Valentino Rossi’s race number). You name it they were selling it. Jackets, bags, towels, umbrellas…People even had it shaved into their hair. The closest I got was managing to sign a massive card which they had on display at the circuit for him.

The Brits seem to be obsessed with food, drink and fags at any event. Its part of the British culture. I’m sure Martin Parr would have been in his element here. Women covered in tacky tattoos and old enough to know better. Fat kids eating burgers whilst grown men cough their guts up whilst smoking. Aaah…such irony alive and well (well only just). Prosthetic arms and legs ‘were a plenty’ on many of the attendees at the event. A stark reminder of the dangers of riding on two wheels.

I couldn’t help but feel that I was starting to become a lot more confident shooting in this way. Looking at the previous work of people such as Elliott Erwitt and Cartier-Bresson has been a big driving force in me starting to develop my work in this field of photography. Also the work of more modern day photographers such as Simon Roberts and Martin Parr has given me a real boost of inspiration. I find myself looking at the more smaller details in things. The hands, the feet, something hanging out of a pocket…Yes, pre-visualisation at its finest.


Written by Dean O'Brien

June 19, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Under-represented group within the media: My first experience with Coventry’s homeless…

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After speaking to Kervin Julien a few weeks prior to this I managed to get out amongst the homeless in the city.  Kervin gave everyone an introduction to me.  He explained that I was a photographer from Coventry University and would be spending the next few months coming out and and mixing with them.   This first outing was not going to involve any photography.  It was going to be about researching what happens down here on a Sunday.  This is going to be an ongoing project over a period of months and there is no rush.  I want to produce a body of work which shows what is happening out here.  I cant do that unless I am in touch with who and what I am photographing.

Many of those who help out with this project are members of Northpoint Chuch in Bell Green, Coventry.  They offer free help and advice to those who need it most.  Sometimes it might just be a sandwich and a chat.  Whilst some of the homeless will be glad of a chat others may go off and sit on their own, preferring to keep their problems to themselves.

The food table used to be set up outside the British Transport Museum in town.  A nice central gathering place in town for a sandwich and a hot drink on a Sunday.  However, this soon started to cramp the style of Coventry City Council and they were encouraged to move on.  They now set up under the flyover close to Norton House.  Every cloud has a silver lining and Kervin was quick to point out that at least people are sheltered under the flyover when it rains.

Kervin mentors and tries to help each person.  But he is no push over.  He tells them that once they start to help themselves thats when other hands will come out to reach.  He does stress though that they have to want to help themselves first.  He was at rock bottom himself and pulled himself back up.  This is proof that it can be done.  The church is also a big guiding hand in this project.  Their belief in God pushes these people to continue with this work on the streets.  I’m looking forward to the next few months and seeing where this journey takes me.

Was this what I expected?….Mmmm..I’m still thinking about that one.  Its tough to watch and quite tough to deal with mentally as well.  Being homeless is not a simple situation.  Everyone is homeless for different reasons.  Some have mental health issues whilst some battle with drug and alcohol abuse.  Others have just fallen on bad luck.  Im not here to judge.  I want to offer help in whatever way I can.  Through my images I hope to help in some way….Watch this space for more updates

Written by Dean O'Brien

April 18, 2010 at 8:15 pm

My latest project…Helping the homeless and hungry on Coventry’s streets.

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Voluntary work is something which I have wanted to do for a long time but I did not want to settle for just anything. Standing behind the counter of my local charity shop for three hours a week never really sent my heart racing. It had to be something which I could put my heart and head into. Well it is often said that God moves in mysterious ways and the moment that I picked up and read the Evening Telegraph last month I knew that I had received my calling. I was drawn to an article written about a man called Kervin Julien.  He had been a drug addict for thirty six years, was a victim of sexual abuse at the age of six, and after developing a crack cocaine habit he dropped into the world of gangland crime. This led to him losing his business, his house and his three children were taken into care when armed police raided his £500,000 London home. After being arrested at the port of Dover for forging passports to bring Jamaican gangsters into the UK he was looking at a 14 year jail sentence. It was at this point that his moment of salvation arrived. “When I went to court to beg the judge for one last chance I had smoked £350 of crack cocaine that morning. I though if i didn’t get off that sentence I was going to die” After hearing about Kervin’s past the judge decided in his favour and he was ordered into rehab at Whitley Village in Coventry. It was whilst here that he found God “I had to believe there was something more going on, something far greater than me. The judge didn’t have to do that, he had no reason to. He gave me a chance to live.” Now every week he helps to feed around 150 homeless people on the streets of Coventry. Many of these are drug addicts and criminals who are suffering the same things he did a few years ago.

After reading about Kervin I decided to track him down and let him know that I was interested in looking more into the work that he does. However, I don’t just want to turn up and take a few photos of some hungry, homeless people looking cold. Thats not what I’m about. I want to get my hands dirty and speak to him about his amazing transition from gangster to God. I want some inspiration from him, to take pictures and document my findings as I go along. I get to go out next Sunday giving sandwiches out to the homeless who gather under one of the cities flyovers. Kervin explained that not all of these hungry people are homeless. Many have flats or bedsits but simply cannot afford to feed themselves and this will be the only decent meal that they get. Hard to believe in this modern world but a very grim reality none the less. After feeding the homeless, next stop will be the Salvation Army. Kervin helps out here too.

I’m looking forward to this journey with Kervin. Who knows what will happen and where this will lead?  I enjoy being a photographer  for a great number of reasons but none other than for the people which it enables me to meet.  Being able to interact with people from all walks of life is very fulfilling.  It inspires projects to emerge.  Projects which I can start and continue to build on over a period of months or even years.  This may well be my biggest.  I will keep you updated with regular reports and images on here so please check back regularly.

Written by Dean O'Brien

April 2, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Street Photography: A thing of the past? We need to do something…..

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I’m not sure about you but when I was growing up there was always somebody in the park or at any public attraction with a camera around their neck.  Probably not the coolest thing to be seen with which around that time had about as much credibility as train-spotting.  Often carried by people called Derek or Leonard.  However it was an acquired taste and a personal choice for many people.  They chose to record moments so that we can enjoy them today.  Not only enjoy, but learn.  Many subjects ranging from sports, history, geography etc.. have all benefitted by referring to images for reference.  We learn from other peoples images every day which we see in newspapers and magazines, yet take this for granted.

My first camera was a Halina 110 followed by a Nikon RF.  I loved taking photos wherever I went.  I remember going to raves back in the early nineties and taking pictures there.  Nobody else was doing it then, only me.  I did it so that in years to come I could look back at these times and remember them.  Almost twenty years later I am glad I did.  I now share these images with people all over the world who want to know more about those raves many years ago.  This visual record takes us back to a trapped moment in time.  Something which nobody can ever take from us.  Its almost like us saying ‘Look, this did happen’ (see the Duane Michals image further down on the blog).  Some of those people in my images are no longer alive.  They took the obsession with ecstasy a bit too far and this lead to other things.  However, those images show us all looking young, healthy and on a level playing field.  I trapped them in my images looking full of life.

Now I am a few years older and have children of my own.  I plan to capture their life in images.  My daughter is four.  I sit and look at her for hours sometimes.  She is changing so quickly on a daily basis and I intend to record her growing up.  Wether this be in the park or in any public place I see it as my right to do this.  The memories of my own childhood are contained within a ear torn Kodak photo envelope.  There are about ten pictures at most, and that is it.  Thats my childhood in a wrap.  The present generation of children will be spoilt with Hi Definition videos and RAW images which will be a record of their upbringing.  Their whole life recorded forever.  They will be able to access this with the click of button.

I knew when 9/11 happened nothing would ever be the same.  Our airports are now a nightmare with the extra security measures that have been imposed upon us in the name of national security.  The war on terror brought with it many restrictions to our daily lives.  This crept in slowly.  I remember being warned by Security guards at the Bull Ring Shopping Centre in Birmingham for taking pictures of the outside of the building.  I was then hearing reports that train and bus stations were banning photography.  I recall seeing the ‘No Photography’ signs at the swimming baths.  I then remember when I was due to attend my daughters nativity platy that there was to be no photography as one parent objected out of the whole school.  Thank god this year the school found its backbone and stated that if parents did not want their children to be photographed then they could not take part in the play.  It has just steam rolled from there.  Now there is a serious threat of street photography being banned altogether. There was recently a demonstration in Trafalgar Square to highlight this problem and I never attended. I never attended because to be honest I could not be bothered.  This was a a mistake on my account and on many others.  The next event that takes place to highlight this needs to be different.  We should all be there to stand up and be counted.  If not, then we should stop complaining.

Many people admit to the favourite past time of ‘people watching’. Sitting outside a cafe just watching and wondering about the people who go by. Im’ doing the same thing only taking a visual record of what I find interesting. I then share this with others. Whenever I go shooting candid shots in the street I love it.   A long lens does give you a certain invisibility and obviously then none of the images are staged. Real people going about there everyday duties……just like me as a photographer.

Written by Dean O'Brien

March 23, 2010 at 1:22 am

People * Love * Photos – A Film about Young American Photographers – Dvd Review

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After being given the heads up by JW on this I thought it was worth having a proper look.  Following the link and viewing a trailer I knew that this dvd was definately worth purchasing.  Although this had to be ordered from Germany it arrived witihin a few days and there was no regional coding on the dvd so it will play on UK dvd players with no problem.

The dvd is basically in three parts:

Tanyth Berkeley: Survivors Tanyth explains how she is attracted to photographing people who have had extreme experiences in their life.  Her models included Grace, an albino Mexican living in New York and Linda Leven.  She meets most of her subjects on the streets and just approaches them expressing an interest in shooting them.  Through her photography I feel that her subjects gain a great deal of self confidence which may well have been lacking beforehand.

Rose & Olive: Sexuality These two photographers work very well together and have a very loose style of shooting.  Their images explore sexuality.  I believe that their images work well as they seem to have a very close connection with most of their subjects.  They explain how they are interested in people genuinely giving you want you want in the shoot and not faking it, whether this be sexual or violent.  They love the physical interaction with their subjects so that it calms them down into relaxing for the shoot.  Their images show a real connection with the subject.  The story about the shoot with Hector is absolutely hilarious and shows just how comfortable the girls are with shooting people.

Elinor Carucci: Intamacy After reading Elinor’s book ‘Closer’ as part of recommended reading for my University degree, I was looking forward to actually putting a voice to the writing and images.  She did not dissapoint.  Elinor has a very deep meaning within the images which she takes.  As a young girl her mother was a massive influence on her and this is obvious within many of her images.  Elinor did point out a very interesting fact about her images of children.  She noticed that people who do not have children have a very different opinion to those who do.  That is very true as my views and opinions changed when I had children.   I believe that it brings out a more caring, sensitive and emotional side to you.

James Hyman (Gallerist, London) speaks openly about Elinor’s work and gives an insight into what it means.  He discusses Elinor’s work and the personal intimacy that it contains.  James is currently holding an exhibition of her work.  It is on from now until the 20th February 2010 at the James Hyman Gallery in London.

So all in all a very well put together dvd  and an insight into how amateur photographers are making their way in the world.  A nice touch was the fact that they included a nice letter asking for a comment via email.

For anyone interested in getting hold of a copy then go to

Written by Dean O'Brien

January 10, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Britain’s print media losing its way….Definately

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For any of you who read BJP then I am referring to an article which was published in the latest issue by Rick Poynor (British Journal Of Photography, 23/12/09, page 38).  It discusses how the media in this country are using bland images in uncommunicative ways and I for one could not agree more.  I don’t want to go down the ‘back in the old days’ route but if you look back at previous magazine spreads from years ago the images really seemed to pull you in to them.  The pictures seemed to have more thought put into them and a real narrative.  I’m not too sure if thats because we are absolutely saturated with news these days whether we are sitting in a pub with Sky News on in the corner or it is constantly being fed through to us online.   The average member of joe public does not have the appreciation of a good image these days and that is a fact.  Often people relied upon newspapers and magazines to report the latest events happening in the world and the images printed with the story had to communicate this.  Today this is not the case.  A narrative within an image does not seem to be a priority or in some cases even a consideration.  Rick points out that cropping used to be a vital tool for refining images but not anymore.  Designers will drop images into predetermined boxes and crop the images to fit these frames.  In some cases the images which the paper receives hardly have the resolution to fill the spaces so there is no question of cropping.

Due to the fact that photography is available to everyone these days and everyone has a camera on their phone, images are now taken for granted.  How many times do you hear ‘Oh yeah, my mate takes a good photo’.  I know that we cannot stand in the way of progress and that once every  Joe Bloggs had a camera on their phone photography as an art would become very devalued in a lot of peoples eyes.  I don’t think that photography as a medium has lost its way I just feel that its not appreciated as it once was.

If anyone doubts or disagrees with anything which I have written then feel free to take a look at a book called ‘things as they are: Photojournalism in Context since 1955.  I have attached a few images from the pages of the book below.  This shows images as they were first seen on the pages of newspapers and magazines – a rare sight these days…

In future I think that we should all vote with our feet.  Before buying a paper or magazine, have a quick flick through the pages.  If the images fail to impress then don’t buy and walk away.

Written by Dean O'Brien

January 4, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Where my photography all started…….

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Eternity Magazine: The most innovative & well respected of all the specialised rave magazines coming out of the UK in the ’90’s. Persecuted by some for attemping to change the way that published media was presented & for introducing new thoughts & ideas into the conscience of the rave fraternity, but mostly remembered with nothing but the utmost respect and dignity by those that contributed to its cause, either as part of its dedicated following or those that were lucky enough to contribute to its editorial process.

Since around the age of 17 I have always owned a camera.  My first being a Halina 110 if my memory serves me well enough.  Like many other people growing up I always had a great love of music and was sucked into the rave scene when that kicked off.  I was at raves every weekend all over the country but as the ‘money men’ moved in, charging stupid money  for entry into events I started to attend the free parties that were going on.  These events took place at empty warehouses or farm building and could go on for days.  The first one which I attended was at Dallow Road Industrial Estate in Luton.  This was organised by Exodus and I was to be a regular photographer at their free parties for a few years.  Whilst I was there the Police turned up and there was a big stand off between the Police and around 4000 ravers.  At around this time a rave magazine called ‘Eternity’ had started up so I decided to give them a call and ask them to cover the next event.  I explained to them what I had witnessed and that I had also taken some photos.  They suggested that if I was prepared to write a few words and post the photos into them, then they would give me credit for it in the magazine.  I agreed to do this and after a short while I was then asked to do deejay interviews for the magazine and cover much larger legal events in the rave scene.  Deejay’s who I interviewed included Micky Finn, Darren Jay, DJ Hype, Doc Scott, Ellis Dee and Swanee.  I wrote regularly in Eternity Magazine for almost three years before I decided to call it a day.  There was no wage involved just expenses covered but I was more than happy with that arrangement.  As other commitments became a priority in my life I could no longer write or take images for the magazine, but I am always grateful for the opportunity that it gave me.

Below are some of the many images, articles and interviews which I did for Eternity magazine.

Written by Dean O'Brien

December 18, 2009 at 8:48 pm