“Getting in people’s faces would feel extremely weird,” says Leeds based photographer Ciaran O’Brien on his approach to street photography. Quite the opposite of the 1980s intrusive images of Bruce Gilden, who’d literally stick a camera in your face. Ciaran fell into photography by accident, almost quite literally.
I think my personal approach to street photography would be somewhat similar to that practised by Ciaran O’Brien. A silent observational kind of photography. One where the subject’s natural demeanour and movements are frozen in time. And yes, this can be done without it being creepy.
A Fall, A Fracture, And A Purchase
Ciaran feels he wouldn’t have found photography if he hadn’t taken a nasty tumble some years ago. “A hiking mishap on top of a mountain in the Lake District caused me to be laid up in bed for 4 months after breaking my fibula and tibia in a few places,” he recalls. This was such a severe incident that a mountain rescue helicopter had to be called to the site. “Alas, it was too windy for the helicopter to take off, so I couldn’t even arrive at the hospital in style,” he recalls amusingly. Deeply depressed during his recovery period (and incredibly high on Tramadol, he says), Ciaran came across a video by Thomas Heaton where he was on a hike with his camera. Hoping to emulate him after he recovered, Ciaran purchased a Canon 1300D impulsively.
Does He Regret Buying The Camera?
“Breaking my leg was a blessing in disguise as I’d have probably never have bought that camera and just continued hiking/wild camping my way around the Uk, taking occasional shots with my camera phone,” stated Ciaran, without a hint of regret.
If I had the chance to go back in time and not break my leg, but never get into photography I’d take the broken leg everyday of the week.
“Sometimes things happen for a reason, no matter how bad they may seem at the time,” asserts Ciaran. As someone who firmly believes in fate, I agree with him on this matter.
The Transition From Landscape To Street
The pandemic reared its ugly head, and Ciaran found himself stuck indoors again. While most of us were binging on sitcoms and dramas, he began watching documentaries about legendary photographers Joel Meyerowitz, Vivian Maier and Don McCullin. Ciaran slowly found himself being drawn to their street photography, and the genre began to tug at his heart. “Due to the lockdowns and not really spending much time around humans, once I got back out with my camera, street photography seemed to lure me in, like a moth to a flame,” he says.
Do Solitary Passersby Make Better Subjects?
He rightfully steers away from vulnerable people on the streets. “Taking shots of them isn’t my cup of tea. I usually try and look out for people with umbrellas, wearing posh hats and interesting looking characters,” he says about his choice of characters. But has he had any untoward incidents on the street, especially since he takes a lot of pictures at night? “I’ve never had any bad experiences with taking photos of strangers, whether it be night or day,” Ciaran clarifies. “Getting in people’s faces would feel extremely weird, so I always try and be respectable, keep my distance and would never want anyone to feel uncomfortable.”
Being out a few hours before sunrise means that the introvert in him enjoys the photography even more. This also makes it much easier for him to find a solitary subject roaming the alleys and streets.
What All Inspires The Edits?
Keeping his street photos dark and moody is what Ciaran O’Brien tries the most, and he seems to be nailing it so far. “I love the whole process, preferably with a cinematic feel if it feels like it might work. I never use presets & edit all my photos individually.”
Choice Of Gear For A Night Out On The Streets
It’s often a toss up between the Fujifilm X-Pro 3 and Ricoh’s GRIII for Ciaran’s first choice of camera. “Whenever I tell people I use the X-Pro3, it generally gets a mixed reaction (the ultimate marmite camera?),” Ciaran confesses. Still, he loves the dials, look and feel of this beautiful APS-C camera, and he loves the film recipes he can apply in-camera.
Another reason that the Fujifilm edges out the Ricoh slightly is its robustness. “I love both cameras, but the X-Pro3 takes some beating due to being able to change lenses. The Ricoh’s battery life isn’t the greatest too, especially in cold weather,” he concludes.