Look Back in Anger

18.07.2011 | Art , Blog | BY:

Irish photographer and filmmaker Niall O’Brien is fascinated with youths on the edge of society. His Good Rats series, the result of following a group of young South London punks across Europe, was a stand-out story from Twin‘s debut issue. Having shot for McQ and Nike, for his latest video project, Anger, he turned to the subject of youthful rage.

Twin spoke to O’Brien about the project.

Why did you chose to make a film about anger?
It was originally part of a commission that fell through. I was given an emotion and the idea of angry kids appealed to me and fascinated me. Temper tantrums are almost in everyone’s breaking point and I think it can come out easier in youth. I know I was a bit of a shit when younger. Recreating it was almost a salute to the way we once were, or still are as the case may be.

Where and when did you shoot the film?
I shot Anger a year ago. It was shot in an estate below my flat in Tower Hamlets. I’d been looking at it for over a year, so when the project came up it was a perfect location.

How does your film work fit with your photography?
I don’t know really, I try to keep the two separate and use it as an opportunity to collaborate. I’m confident in my photography and in my film there is still room for learning.

I’ve been shooting films for four years now and I’m still looking for my voice, I only found what I felt comfortable sticking with in photography about 12 years after I picked up a camera. I love it and have a great crew but I don’t want to be employed to shoot a film because of my photography. I want to be chosen because of my films. But… it all comes from the same person so it must relate somehow.

When and why did you start taking photographs?

I used to be involved with the skateboard industry in Ireland and started taking pictures of my friends. A few magazines and board companies started commissioning me and buying my photos so I decided to study it. I thought I was going to further sports photography, but I ended up doing fine art.

What draws you to documenting the adolescent sub-cultures you’ve photographed?
Reliving my youth I think. Being a kid was a very important time for me. The boy I was then and my friends needed to be documented, but I never had a camera. Some mental stuff went on as a boy, so when I met the punk kids it was the perfect opportunity to recapture it and in many ways relive it. It took me two years to feel like part of the group and when I did, I got a kick out of it. It is a rare opportunity and an almost VIP ticket into the lives of an amazing bunch of lads.

How do you build trust with your subjects?
Getting arrested to protect them helped (for Good Rats), but I think becoming one of them is important. If I approached them with questions and with a mature way I’d be told to fuck right off. It’s easy enough for me as I’m a bit of a kid at heart and don’t mind going there.

Who are your creative influences, photographically and otherwise?
I’m influenced by people who have drive and get stuff done. No matter what they do so long as they put their heart and soul into it and most of all stick to their guns. There is a risk of losing what you have by watching other people too much. Keep the blinkers on, move yourself forward and don’t worry about the other person.

What would you do if you weren’t a photographer?
I’d be a painter decorator.


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