“I WENT from experiencing that phenomenon when you see something, and you think: ‘Wow, that would make a lovely photograph. I wish I had a camera with me’.
“So, I went from that situation to always having the camera with me”.
Brendan Ó Sé is the head of development and professional courses in the Language Centre at UCC.
"I was always interested in photography; I had a camera that I would have brought out for family occasions or travel when I was on holiday. I started to film photography, and I probably would have shot 100 to 200 photographs in a year.’’
In his role at UCC, Mr Ó Sé has responsibility for university partnerships which allows him to go to new places to document different cultures and streets.
“We’re teaching the English language to those whose first language is not English. So we do a combination of academic English and in-service training courses for teachers and lecturers who use English as a medium of instruction.”
Photography was just a hobby for Mr Ó Sé until a significant, life-changing moment in 2015 when Apple published his visual content across over 70 cities worldwide.
“The big change in photography came for me in 2015 when photographs that I shot on iPhone were picked up by Apple and went on billboards in 70-something cities around the world for six months,” he explained.
It was in print magazines, newspapers, and on TV adverts, and the exposure changed everything for him.
“That opened an awful lot of doors for me. Then I combined my educational background with my love of photography and started giving workshops here in Ireland.”
He works with two galleries in Cork and a gallery in Dublin and offers workshops in-person and online.
“And, I’ve been fortunate enough to give workshops around the world to be invited to talk about photography from places as far afield as Iceland to Indonesia.”
He said that around the same time as his break with Apple picking up his photographs he also won some competitions he has entered with his work.
“Things grew from that as well. Photography is my passion; I love it and it gives me a creative outlet that I need.
“Street photography is the main kind of genre of photography that I do.”
As going out and capturing people and the street is his main hobby and passion for him, he felt so different at the beginning of the pandemic when the streets were empty.
“I didn’t see it as an opportunity to get out and document the lockdown when it happened in March 2020.
“For me, if I go into the city centre now in Cork, I would encounter so many different emotions, and so many different stories and so many feelings.
“At the start of the lockdown, the atmosphere — there was one of apprehension, one of the uncertainties of fear.”
He felt that the lockdown wasn’t something he needed to connect to or explore visually through his lens.
“One thing that I would say that struck me about the whole pandemic is a human’s ability to adapt; no matter what happens, we adapt. And I think in a short few months, we had adapted to lockdown, we adapted to social distancing, and adapted to masks.”
Part of Mr Ó Sé’s photography is to speak with people he photographs in the streets to send them the photos later. The lockdown affected this communication with people after the restrictions were lifted.
“I couldn’t get as close to people as I would before, in terms of getting candid photographs,” he explained, adding that he wouldn’t have stopped and engaged with people as much as before.
‘’Before that, I got to take photographs and engage with people and I would immediately offer to email them the photographs that I’ve taken, and I would pass off my phone to them. Now, I believe that I’m hesitant to pass off my phone to people because they’re touching my phone — I’m touching the phone. And so things like that have impacted.”
Despite that, the things that attracted him before the pandemic started to catch his attention again, and it all went back to normal for him.
Being from Cork made the city the best place for him to photograph.
“I think because I’m from Cork, and I know the type of people who might react and who might not.”
He added that he’s interested in seeing Cork through the eyes of visitors’ photographs.
“It’s my home. It’s where I grew up. The sights and sounds are all familiar to me. When you walk down the street now, you’ll see and hear people from worldwide. I think that adds to the visual and cultural landscape of the city. I think it’s good; it’s a great addition.”
When travelling, there’s the perception that photographers have the freedom and right to be curious and to take photographs, and people will just let you do that.
“Whereas in your hometown, some people are a little bit confused about what the hell you’re doing taking photographs — you’re not a tourist!”
Sometimes it is difficult to get the first shot when the street photographers approach someone or something for documenting.
“I think I get over it by just zoning in and zoning out.
“And when there’s something that gets my visual attention, I will try to work the scene and get as many photographs of it as possible.”
“And to do it with the confidence that, I am a photographer, something’s got my visual interest, I’m not doing anything illegal, I’m not doing anything disrespectful.”
For more visit: https://www.instagram.com/brendan.o.se/