We were so happy to hear that Hugh O’Conor, aka crack jackson jr., was recently shortlisted for the Hennessey Portrait Prize for this amazing image below. As a result, his photo was hung in the National Gallery of Ireland, along with the other finalists of the prize. We asked the Irish-born, Dublin-based photographer to interview with us to share more about his life and his moving photography. Please read on to find out more and be sure to follow him on Flickr to see where his inspiration takes us next.
Can you tell us more about how you captured this image?
Waiting at a gate in Dublin airport, I saw a young woman sitting one row over. She was on a break, and I was loading film into my camera. I sat opposite her and asked if I could take her photo. She agreed, and we made about five shots. I wrote her email address into my phone, and sent this onto her. A year on, it’s hanging in the National Gallery of Ireland and neither of us can quite believe it.
When did you find out you had been shortlisted for the Hennessy Portrait Prize? What did you think when you were chosen?
It was such an honour to be chosen – we heard just before Christmas. It was the first time they’ve done it, and there were over 400 entries, in any medium. My friends still think I’m a doofus, though, which is important.
How did you first get into photography?
After college in Dublin, I got a scholarship to NYU film school, and a teacher there encouraged us to study still photography if we wanted to become good filmmakers, as it’s such a visual medium. I’d always liked taking photos, but learning to tell a story in one shot made a lot of sense. Later, a good friend of mine started buying old film cameras on eBay, and taught me how to develop black and white film with chemicals and a changing bag. I bought a second-hand Yashica Mat 6×6 camera, and a lifetime obsession was born…
Currently, for my own projects I shoot on film – 120, 35mm and Fuji polaroid. For some commercial work I use a digital SLR, and when I shoot film I often use an SLR to help check exposure. My light meter gets in a huff about that.
Who are your inspirations in photography and art? Who on Flickr has inspired you?
So many! Flickr is a huge part of how I learned, and continue to learn. The same friend who got me into film photography started me on Flickr and I actually wrotea post about it (thanks to the amazing Kirsty Mitchell)… To name just a few other inspirations: Gary Isaacs, Elena Gal, Lou Bedlam, Ade Santora, Margaret Durow, Alison Scarpulla, Garmonique, Martin Vlach, Brett Walker. For me, there isn’t a better site to learn from and be inspired by.
Can you also share more context about this image? It’s amazing!
Thank you! I love working with interesting people, and Liv, who’s in the picture, is an incredible dancer and choreographer. It was a foggy day, and we decided to go wandering in Wicklow, a beautiful area near Dublin. I picked a lake on a map and we drove as close as we could. We had to walk for a bit to get there as it’s not accessible by road, and it appeared to us through the mist, just as you see it. Liv suggested taking her shoes off and getting in – her family’s from Norway, so she’s pretty hardy.
As much as I love your monochrome, you also have an amazing palette of oranges, greens and blues. Is there an inspiration behind your colors?
I think film – slide, polaroid, or just plain film – makes anything look beautiful. It’s an interesting thing, though, to choose black and white or color for a shoot. Something just suggests one or the other, or sometimes it’s just already loaded in the camera… As I don’t develop slide or color film myself (it’s tricky! i’m lazy!) it’s always exciting to see what colors appear when the film comes back from my local camera shop… and with polaroid, peeling apart the paper will never not be a thrill.
I’m so taken with the emotion in this shot.
That’s so great to hear – emotion is so important to me in photography. My friend Vera has been in quite a few of my shots – she’s Russian, she’s full of passion and emotion, and she doesn’t mind me taking photos of her, even when she’s trying to read.
Was this ad hoc or a planned shoot?
I was acting in an Irish television series, and myself and Shane, who’s in the shot, were waiting to work in another room – he was sitting there, and I just grabbed it.
What’s your favorite image from your own portfolio?
I don’t have a favourite, but this image is of my brother and his then-fiancee, now wife, when we were on our way into town one day. They live in Canada now and I miss them like mad.
I see you also do quite a bit with video, film, etc. Can you tell me more about this passion?
I started acting when I was really young, so it feels like I’ve always been around film and filmmakers. That I get to make stuff myself now is a dream come true. I just directed Sinead O’Connor’s new music video, and I have a few interesting things (hopefully) planned this year.
Anything else you want to share with us?
Thank you for all the amazing work you do behind the scenes, and to all the contributors and photographers as well. Inspiration is everything.