Whitehot Magazine

Michael James O'Brien: We Have Translated Each Other Into Light

Michael James O'Brien, Zoltan Smoking Paris 2003

Michael James O'Brien 
Curated by Ben Tollefson
Gutstein Gallery 201 E. Broughton Street, Savannah, Georgia
On view until July 7, 2018 

By PETRA MASON, June 2018

Framed by Spanish moss, wearing his signature dark suit and cravat, mirror shades and slip ons, Michael James O'Brien and his muse, artist and collaborator of 20 years, Zoltan Gerliczki sipped gin and tonics while surveying the local Savannah, Georgia eccentrics while exuding decadent cool. 

Although living and working in Atlanta, Georgia and employed as Savannah College of Art and Design associate chair of photography, O'Brien certainly fits in with the odd ones out. He's a keen, published poet and a photographic purist. The same way vinyl lovers wax lyrical about being able to hear the warmth of analog versus compressed digital sound files, film photographers compare film photography to lighting 'compromised' digital images. 

A staunch defender of copyright, O'Brien generally loathes the digital mess we're in. Mid-career, he left New York and the fashion industry and devoted himself to refining his practice, specifically of portraiture and still-life while living in Europe. But O'Brien has remained part of the inner sanctum of New York's original downtown scene, connected enough to get me onto the list for the sold out Stevie Nicks 'Night of 1000 Stevies' happening the following Friday in New York City. O'Brien would have joined me if it were not for the fact that he and Zoltan had an exhibition opening at the same time in Palermo, Italy. With former work gigs doing head shots for a fresh-faced Jude Law and Keanu Reeves, and intimate portraits depicting the fragility of youth, of handsome young men, drags and icons spanning the 1980s to today, with work published in The New YorkerRolling StoneGQThe New York TimesVogue and the recently departed Interview, O'Brien has produced campaigns for industry majors like Polo Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue, Thierry Mugler, and Bergdorf Goodman. He's spent the past 40 years shooting the world he inhabits, and that world has included enviable collaborations with art world luminaries such as American artist Matthew Barney, London based 'It' girl Daniel Lismore and British art duo Gilbert and George, he remains ever curious. 

Michael James O'Brien's retrospective 'We Have Tranlated Each Other Into Light' at SCAD's Gutstein Gallery in Savannah puts the magic alchemy of photographic film into sharp focus. Every fastidiously

photographed portrait of the famous and the infamous that have posed for him – from legends on the razor sharp edges of modern and post-modern culture (Quentin Crisp, Amanda Lepore, Andy Warhol to name drop a few) tell a visual story using the cinematic techniques of a controlled studio to an almost Hitchcockian effect. WM

Michael Robinson, Atlanta 2016

Miss Guy, NYC 1992

Mr Pearl, London 1993

Petra Mason

Cultural historian and vintage photography book author published by Rizzoli New York. Founder Obscure Studio and ArtHit. Whitehot arts and culture contributor since 2016.

Photography by (c) Thekiso Mokhele / Obscure Studio


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