Michael O'Brien (9)
Michael O’Brien was born in Memphis, TN in 1950. Growing up in a river town in the deep South left its mark, which continues to manifest itself in his candid photographs of people.
When he was 18, O’Brien entered the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. His friends were all musicians, but because he “lacked musical talent,” he picked up a camera instead.
“It was an accident,” says O’Brien, who became a staff photographer for the UT Daily Beacon, the campus newspaper, “but it took. It was a way for me to connect to people.”
He helped put himself through school with the $4-per-published-image he earned, along with occasional freelance jobs. By the time he graduated--with a philosophy degree-- he had amassed a solid black-and-white portfolio, and he eventually snagged a job as a staff photographer for the Miami News.
“It was one of the best times in my life,” says O’Brien, who won two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism awards while at the newspaper. “I did an average of three assignments a day, and every one of them was different.” Spot news assignments ranged from intense police scenes like double homicides to lighthearted portraits of the paper’s featured “Cook of the Month.”
The confidence he gained covering every walk of life--and the resulting portfolio--served as a springboard for the next phase of his career, freelance magazine photography. O’Brien moved to New York and for the next 14 years, he photographed people for Life, Geo, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, National Geographic, Esquire, Fortune and others. His subjects have included such celebrities as Willie Nelson and George Bush, as well as unknowns like trick roper Kevin Fitzpatrick and artist Ran Horn, the “Van Gogh” of tiny Van Horn, TX.
When O’Brien and his wife Elizabeth had three children, he began doing advertising photography as well. For mor e than five years, he worked on Apple’s Powerbook ad campaign that featured such incongruous celebrity pairings as Todd Rundgren and Jesuit priest Don Doll. The campaign won a CLIO award, was nominated for two Kelley awards, and was named by Photo District News as one of the best ad campaigns of the last 25 years.
Since 1993, O’Brien and his family have lived in Austin, TX, where he continues to do both advertising and magazine work. Besides many of the above-mentioned magazines, his clients include Texas Monthly, Nike, Apple Computer, VISA, Wrangler Jeans, Bank of America and dozens of others.
O’Brien’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the International Center of Photography in New York, and the Wittliff Collection of Southwestern and Mexican Photography at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, TX.