With editorial fashion shoots, ad campaigns, portraits and videography featured throughout his portfolio – photographer Niall O’Brien definitely has range. Yet the sensuality and freedom of his style remains consistent throughout. Models and rock stars, passers-by and punks, angry kids and landscapes are all shot with the same eye for authenticity, without gloss, unedited by obfuscation or disguise; raw and direct.
The Good Rats series, first exhibited in February 2010 and recently revisited in New York at an exhibition in Number 10 Gallery, is the result of O’Brien’s interaction with a group of young south-west London punks. For more than three years, the photographer spent periods of time with them, going on road trips to Brighton and Berlin, following them down nettle infested country lanes, drinking beer, evading arrest, watching fights and taking photographs. The intimacy and trust he gained resonates through these images, which are a testament to the fun and hedonism of the punk lifestyle, as well as an illumination of the petty squabbles and disgruntlement that are the day-to-day experience of any group of young men. As the show closed in New York, AnOther caught up with O’Brien to reminisce about the characters featured and his interest in group sociology.
Your show Good Rats portrays young south-west London punks over three years – how does it feel showing such inherently British work in New York? How does it translate?
They seem to like it. I guess anything foreign-looking is a bonus, right? The work looks quite British and people here find it interesting and unfamiliar. Also in many ways New York seems less afraid to accept work from the smaller artists, that’s what I can see so far…
Do you think it's likely that you will revisit these young men?
It is hard to say whether I will take more pictures but there are definitely some interesting things on the boil. I just asked one of the lads to collaborate with me and to write something based on the anecdotes I have collected over the years. I think coming from the heart it could be a really strong project. Also, I have always felt this experience could translate onto film and I've been working with some people for a few years now. We have transcribed most of it and now it is up to the person in question to create a gripping narrative. I have complete faith.
What are your memories of taking the photo above?
This is one of the first pictures I took of the punks. It was a still I took after we shot the film Superheroes. We set some stuff up for the piece and played around. It's funny; people latch on to this picture a lot, yet it is the only image I placed them in over the whole five years. Turkish (middle) is actually going at Sul (right) with a knife because he had his head mashed into a nettle bush.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have finished two projects since I first showed Good Rats in February 2010 and two more are in pre-production. I did a 6000-mile drive in search for Christian America the summer before last called Porn Hurts Everyone and this October/November I get to hang out with 16 to 18-year-old football players and their girlfriends in Texas. It is a project that came about through my friend Ryann Bossetti whom I did Porn Hurts Everyone with.
I know what I would like to achieve from this new project but it always develops as I delve in. I like the idea of uncomfortable kids flirting with each other in between practicing and hanging out in car lots. I also want to do some portraiture, which isn’t something I usually concentrate on. I want the girls to bring me to their boyfriends’ houses and let me into their lives. It is fascinating to me. The idea of using sociology in any group – be it punk rock kids or football players in Southern America – that's my kick.
Suggested Reading: See more of Niall O'Brien's work in his column on AnOther, Photographic Escapades.
Text by Tish Wrigley