Dean O'Brien's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Street Photography

A day out in Wales paired up with another photographer..

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I have been taking photographs for years…In all that time I have never hit the streets with another photographer to take images.  Its not something deliberate, just something that has never happened.  Maybe its because I have always viewed capturing images as a solo act.  Something done by ones self.  Like most things though, this obviously has its advantages and disadvantages.  Most of the information which we know, we get from another source.

I receive a phone call late one evening from Rick Medlock.  Rick is a 3rd year at Coventry University on the same course as me.  He asked if I was interested in heading over to the coast with him on Sunday.  There was nothing to lose and everything to gain.  This was going to be an ideal opportunity to watch someone else and the techniques they use for their image making.  A fresh set of eyes looking at something can be a godsend.  I think the worst thing that any photographer can do is see things in a ‘set’ way.  We all need to open our minds and vision.  Note to self…Please remember what you have just written!

Once we got to Barmouth in Wales it was a case of looking for interesting things.  It was a little bit odd wandering around a council estate with beautiful mountains in the background.  Throughout the day we photographed everything from bins and doors to people sitting on walls.  It was interesting to see how we both shot the same thing but in different ways.  This took me back to stuff which I was taught earlier in the year at University.  We all see things differently and here I was witnessing it for myself.  We were both looking at the same thing and pre-visualising how it would appear afterwards.  It was great to compare the images afterwards, discuss composition and why we chose to shoot the image as we did.  What was the reasoning behind it and did it work?

All in all, it was a great day and an even greater experience.  I came home feeling that I was one step nearer to reaching my goal.  That goal of becoming a more open minded image maker.


Written by Dean O'Brien

August 17, 2010 at 9:13 am

Brand extortion on the compact camera market…Don’t be fooled.

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As some of you may know from my earlier post, I have recently been looking at compact cameras again after a break.  Things have certainly changed.  Even people such as Leica are launching a camera for under £500.  But just hold on.  Before you all start sprinting off to grab one please take a look at what you are actually buying.  Or more to the point….what you are paying.

Take a look at the two cameras below.  Yes the colours on the body and badging are slightly different, but they are the same camera.  Panasonic and Leica have been collaborating for years.  Leica provide the glass and Pansonic probably the rest.  Thats not a problem.  Many manufacturers do this.  Ironically, to keep the cost down of the finished product.

Now dont get me wrong.  This is a brilliant camera.  It has a zoom range of 25-300mm.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Impossible to believe in a camera so small.  Its certainly ideal for modern day street photography.  That zoom could pull in some ‘cant be bothered to move from my chair’ results.  Oh yes, the old lady picking her nose across the road is no longer safe.  Grab yourself a comfortable seat outside Wetherspoons along with a pint of their ‘£1.80 finest’ and thats you set up for the day.  Street photography from the seat of your chair.

This has proper quality glass as well.  Leica’s finest.  Given the choice I know most people would sooner be showing off the Leica red dot any day and if the price difference was £20 that would be fine.  But the price difference is double!!  How that comes about is anybody’s guess but as with all situations such as this.  Use your head, common sense and vote with your feet.

Written by Dean O'Brien

August 10, 2010 at 8:22 pm

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

Paris…A place where street photography is alive and well

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Well after just completing my first year at Coventry University I was ready for a well earned break.  This came in the form of a trip to Paris.  Now I’m not really one for going ‘sight seeing’ so to speak but its obviously unavoidable in a city such as this.  Paris has numerous famous attractions and its inevitable that one will come across certain landmarks.  However, this can (and was) used to my advantage.  The main advantage to being close to these attractions is that everybody has a camera.  Therefore, for somebody interested in street photography like myself  I can carry on virtually un-noticed.  Rather than being interested in the Eiffel tower I was more interested in the people who had come to see this site.

From the lovers sitting on the bench to the old lady eating the ice cream….nobody escaped my attention.  Sometimes, I was indeed ‘waiting for that decisive moment’.  I was particularly interested in the body of a dead pigeon which somebody had placed a single white rose next to.  I think this is what I find so interesting about street photography.  It is all the un-answered questions.  The how?, when?, and why?  These are people and things with whom I will never talk to, so the questions within my image will always remain unanswered.  I want the viewer to engage with my image and wonder about the narrative contained within it.

When Peter Dench came to talk at my University last year and he spoke in depth about his photographic practice.  I remember him talking about the day of Lady Diana’s funeral.  He waited for about two hours on the bridge waiting for the funeral car to come under the motorway bridge so he could grab some shots.  When the car did eventually pass underneath he missed it all….Why?  Because he was too busy trying to take a shot of a label stuck on the bottom of a ladies shoe.  This story inspired me to look at my own photographic practice from a different perspective.  I look for small details that possibly contain a narrative within themselves.  Seeking out the ‘less obvious’ shot..

There was a huge Police presence on the streets of Paris when I arrived.  This was due to Algeria playing in the World Cup.  They were expecting trouble although I am pleased to report that I never witnessed any.  It was at this point that I became aware of Pro-Algerian stickers plastered all over the place.  After a brief visit to a cafe and a chat with the owner I was given an insight into the whole french/algerian situation and the history behind it.

This was my second trip to France this year so far and I am hoping to get back there again in August.  Although only a very short distance from England it is a totally different culture.  More relaxed, more liberal and much better for photographers.

The images which I took whilst I was in Paris are not based around any particular theme.  I was just enjoying being free to shoot what I liked.  Artistic freedom at its best…Au Revoir!

Written by Dean O'Brien

June 17, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Module 152MC Working with Light: Pinhole camera (task one: Street)

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I first had my experience with pinhole cameras almost three years ago when I was at college completing a BTEC National Diploma in photography.  Pinhole photography is just one of those things that never ceases to amaze people.  Even those who have no interest in photography.  Basically all it consists of is a container (anything from a tobacco tin to an oil drum) which is light tight.  All it then needs is a pinhole in it, which acts as the aperture where the light will pass through.  This then projects an image onto photographic paper which is inside the container.  Basically thats it in a nutshell…or tobacco tin…(excuse the joke).  Go to a darkroom, remove the paper and develop in chemicals.  Hey presto, there’s your image.  Tis’ witchcraft I hear you say…..

For such a basic thing,  pinhole cameras can produce some amazing results.  When building my camera I decided to use an empty grass seed plastic container.  This was ideal in some respects but not others.  The main problem being that the plastic was transparent, not very light tight and allowed light to pass through it.  I had to start by painting the inside and outside in matt black paint which I had in the garage.  This seemed ok at first until the adhesive qualities of paint on plastic are virtually non existent.  The paint started to peel off at the slightest touch.  After a further rummage around the garage I found a massive roll of black duct tape.  This was then used to cover the whole of the outside, base and lid ensuring that it was completely dark inside.  After that, it was just a case of drilling a 6mm hole in the centre of the box and taping my aperture in place.  The aperture being a small piece of metal with a needle hole pierced through.  Photographic paper is just held in place using blu tac.

The black & white image which you see on this post consists of a positive and a negative pinhole image.  It really does bring into question though about what exactly is a camera?  Its a box with a hole, which lets light in to capture whatever you point it at.  So why might you ask are we using such a basic camera in this hi tech digital age?  Its because the most important thing about photography is light.  Regardless of which medium you are using.  It is you who take the image not the device.  The device is simply used to contain whatever you see at that exact moment in time.  Over the next couple of weeks I will be working on various tasks which involve using the pinhole which I will post on here so please feel free to leave a comment.

Written by Dean O'Brien

May 6, 2010 at 4:54 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