Tributes paid to London street photographer Colin O’Brien (update)
August 22, 2016
Colin O’Brien, who has reportedly died at the age of 76, had work reviewed in newspapers including The Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent.
His images of working class London in the 1950s and ’60s included photos of run-down buildings and children playing unsupervised in the street.
One of his 1960s b&w photos famously graced the cover of the first edition of the novel Alfie, written by his childhood friend Bill Naughton.
Colin’s photographic journey began when he took a picture of two Italian friends in Clerkenwell, with a Box Brownie in 1948, aged eight.
Spitalfields Life, which published much of Colin’s work, today paid tribute to the photographer, saying that he died unexpectedly last week.
Writing under the name ‘the gentle author’, a friend of Colin’s, wrote: ‘Colin once said to me that while Don McCullin went away to photograph war and David Bailey occupied himself with fashion and celebrities, he had stayed at home and simply photographed the life of people on the street.
‘A purist who managed to resist any commercial imperative or editorial intervention, Colin took only the photographs he pleased, resolutely pursuing his own personal interests and focusing particularly upon the everyday lives of Londoners.’
Among a long list of tributes on the Spitalfields Life website is one by renowned photographer John Claridge who wrote: ‘Very very sad news. A great loss!’
Another fan of his street photography, Janice P, added: ‘I adored Colin’s work… His photos made me love London more… That we’ll never see a new work from him is incredible.’
Much of Colin’s early work was captured using a 1930s Leica camera given to him by a neighbour while he was in his teens.
‘O’Brien’s photographs of working class life in the ’50s and ’60s are reminiscent of the early photojournalist approach published by magazines such as Picture Post,’ Leica said in a statement accompanying the opening of Colin’s ‘London Life’ exhibition in the capital last year.
‘For O’Brien, the street becomes his stage and the passing scene a play in which we see people talking, dancing, miming and performing to an unseen audience,’ added Leica.
‘O’Brien’s camera in those early days was a Leica IIIa with a 3.5 [cm] Elmar lens.’
Speaking today, Leica UK managing director Jason Heward told Amateur Photographer: ‘Colin was an incredibly talented photographer, and we were honoured to work with him when he exhibited his “London Life” work with us at the end of 2015, at the Leica Store City gallery.
‘We were extremely sorry to hear this sad news, and our thoughts and condolences are with his family.’