10 minutes with Erin Patrice O’Brien

Interviews with Photographers September 23, 2011 8:31 am

When did you know that you wanted to be a photographer? And if not a photographer, were there any other career paths that you might have considered?

I was interested in Art but never encouraged to pursue it as a career. I was consistently told as a child that art is a hobby. I started at Boston University with Art History. I transferred to Drexel University to major in fashion. While I was there I took a photo class and fell in love with the darkroom and began taking all the classes with the photo majors. I studied abroad in Italy with James White. I realized I wanted to change my major again and it was too late so I spent my senior year documenting the nightclub scene in Philly and learning about color printing. After I graduated I still had much to learn technically. I snuck into a darkroom at Temple University for another year. I got a job at a wedding photography studio. I learned to shoot weddings with 200 frames of 6×6 film and a different shot for each frame. Two of my best friends from high school were assisting in NYC. I moved here in 1995. I assisted for three and a half years, learning on the job and working for a lot of people once.

 

Erin Patrice O'Brien

Erin Patrice O'Brien

Erin Patrice O'Brien

 

How can an editor be most helpful when giving you an assignment?

 I like it when editors give me a specific idea of what they want and then also ask me to do my own thing.

 

Erin Patrice O'Brien

 

Erin Patrice O'Brien

Erin Patrice O'Brien

Erin Patrice O'Brien

 

Who would your dream subject be?

To embed with a fundamentalist Mormon family with 82 children and 11 sisterwives who wear matching clothes.

What keeps you inspired?

Sometimes its walking through the streets of New York City, or a crazy dance that my daughter will do, being in crowds and being able to shoot without having to keep an eye on my daughter, any kind of public spectacle or pomp and circumstance.

I am fascinated with non-conformist conforming groups.In Argentina, it was the Flogers. In Brooklyn it is the Hasidim or the women who wear all white to their Baptist church.
I am planning to go to India in October to document the Vatsalya orphanage. I learned about the project through Salaam Garage, but am actually going alone. One of my other main interests has been learning about the education process. As the mother of a six year old, I have learned all about the New York public school system in the past two years and different methods of education.I have been inspired by great educators with a more progressive approach than what I grew up with. What the Vatsayla orphanage in India is doing is re-educating children from the street focusing on their all-around personality development with yoga, art therapy and academics. I know that it will be a big change from New York and I want share a different approach with my community through my photographs.

 

 

Erin Patrice O'Brien

 

Erin Patrice O'Brien

Erin Patrice O'Brien

 

If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?

I think I would have told myself to document the people around me more.

Erin Patrice O'Brien

Erin Patrice O'Brien

Erin Patrice O'Brien

Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?

I always tell my assistants, Photograph your life and friends right now. Do it in a way that is out of your comfort zone. Get used to feeling awkward, taking pictures until someone tells you to stop and squatting down on the sidewalk or moving things around.Shoot a lot. Everyday.Take more than one frame of an idea. If it doesn’t work. Re-shoot it. Bring your camera with you everywhere. Push yourself. No one else will.


(Erin is based in New York. See more of her work, here)

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