Colin O’Brien – Brownie to Leica

Colin O’Brien

For big film street photographers, it always amazes me that they don’t know who Colin O’Brien is. With over a 1.5 million negatives of London, he should be an icon. He started in 1948 with just a Brownie, and got his first Leica when a friend found a IIIA left in the backseat of his cab. Great way to get a Leica!


Film Street Photographers


Seedy London – Film Street Photographers

Then an uncle  arrived one Xmas with a contact printing outfit. Contact printing at the time meant a darkroom wasn’t required, since the paper was not very sensitive to short exposures to light. A little developer, fixer and about 10 minutes of light. Not exactly high tech, or professional, even at the time.


Film Street Photographers


Hackney was the London ghetto of the day,…not like today.  He loved the images of Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy, but there was no artistic community in Hackney at the time. In fact, if you told people you were a photographer or artist, you might as well have told them you were from Mars.


Film Street Photographers


Before Urban Renewal

He was born in 1940 in Clerkenwell, way before the designer shops and upscale lofts. He picked up a camera early,…8 years old. And never put one down until his death at age 76. Colin O’Brien carved out of a rep as probably the most important photographer documenting life in post war London. His images were of poor immigrants and children frolicking in a then forgotten part of the city. They seemed a bit depressive and mundane at the time. But the classical compositions, combined with an urban renewal, has made them almost exotic today. Enough so to warrant a book,…’London Life’, and a myriad of exhibitions. Including the Leica Store City gallery in London.

The Commonplace – Not So Common

His eye and heart was on the pulse of the times in the day to day life in the 50’s and 60’s. The commonplace that was so often overlooked at the time.


Film Street Photographers


While his professional competence and composition kept him in accolades and awards, and in the peripheral eye of art critics for the Times and others, Colin O’Brien is finally getting his due. With a plethora of new exhibits, and a website and book deal, you can say “he’s back again”. Even in death, nothing stays the same. Find Leica IIIA or Find Leica M2


Colin O’Briens Website





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