Photographer and filmmaker from Dublin.
An interview with Niall O'Brien
I’ve always worked as a photographer; film came later. I guess a lot of my photography work is quite narrative anyway. Initially when I first started with photography I did it as a pathway into film, but after completing a foundation course, I just fell in love with it. About a year and a half ago I started working with Academy Films as a director.
My inspirations change all the time. I guess, without sounding cheesy, I’m drawn to anything that pushes itself. In terms of photographers, Larry Clark is an inspiration. I wrote my thesis on him, and I’ve always been fascinated with him before I even got into photography – I’ve been obsessed with his film Kids since I saw it in the cinema in 1995. Some of our work is similar, although strangely, my work isn’t directly inspired by Clark's. Projects like Good Rats (O’Briens documentary images of a group of South London punk kids) were more circumstantial than anything. I guess we’re both quite obsessed with the idea of youth and growing up.
I shoot entirely on film, which might sound difficult, but in a strange way I think I’m actually lazy, because if I’ve ever shot on digital it’s taken me too long to bring it back to the way I like it to look.
When I’m writing a treatment I’ll listen to music – like most people I’m into a lot of different things, but for some reason when I’m writing I’ll listen to classical music. I get distracted really quickly and really easily, so I need to have something that’s almost calming to help me focus. If I’m editing? Anything. I was supposed to photograph the lead singer of Deerhunter recently and it didn’t end up happening, but I ended up getting really obsessed with it – both the music and him as a character. Bradford Cox is an unbelievable looking guy, so I hope I’ll get the chance in the future. Their music’s great.
Good Rats came about almost accidentally. I’d been looking for a group of kids to make a short film about and all I had in mind was that they’d be a group of friends. I used to be a skateboarder, so assumed I’d end up with a group of skaters or goths, but then I was introduced to this group. I was initially introduced to a kid called Turkish, who was about 16 years old with a leopard print mohican. I instantly thought: you’re amazing. I met the rest of the group and made a film about Turkish and his mates. It was pretty abstract. After that, I just kept in touch and realised three years down the line that I had all these photographs documenting their lives. Somebody asked me to have an exhibition. The kids are all from South London, but we travelled to Europe and all over the place.
The Fred Perry Shirt signifies punk rock – for me, anyway. It’s a British style that’s held its place. It’s a staple, but also at the same time it’s a heritage look. If you look back at how it’s been worn – with drainpipe jeans, tucked into heavy boots; it’s almost smart. That’s something that interests me about the skinhead look – it’s very controlled. If you look at today’s styles, there’s a bit of a careless vibe that I’m not too sure about. There’s something quite nice about that culture of thought and meaning behind a look.
Who would I tip for the future? I’m a big fan of Jacob Lillis’ photography. There’s also an amazing kid in LA called AG Rojas - he’s a filmmaker and he’s incredible. Also filmmaker Seb Edwards, who's also with Academy. Last I heard he was in Iceland filming ice surfers for Jaegermeister!