The magazine of the photo-essay
September 2016 issue
by Colin O’Brien
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!”
Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
Colin O’Brien’s Travellers’ Children series were taken 29 years ago in 1987.
“I came across the travellers whilst I was photographing a deserted warehouse in the London Fields area. They had
parked their caravans, in and around, Martello Street near the railway arches by the station. This part of Hackney was
very run down in the late 1980s. The streets were littered with rubbish and many of the decaying Victorian terraces
were being demolished.
The travellers were Irish, mostly families with three or four children, living in small caravans, which looked extremely
cramped but comfortable. On the first week I started to take one or two Polaroid shots of the children which I gave to
them to show their parents. Some of the parents then dressed the children up and sent them out to my open air studio
in Fortescue Avenue.
I continued to take many more pictures over a period of three weeks and they took me into their confidence and trusted
me with their children. It was only when I started to print the images that I realised what an amazing set of photographs
There are many powerful images in this series, like the one of the little girl in the woollen dress; she looked tense,
somewhat wary of what was happening, her hands clenched and she was not smiling. The woollen dress with bobbles
attached must have been warm and itchy.
When I returned to the site on the fourth week the families had gone. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. After
all, this is what travellers do, they move on. I had no way of contacting them, but I was left with a set of images which
are now an important part of my archive.”
Colin O'Brien's photographs of working class life in London in the 50s and 60s and onwards are reminiscent of the
early photojournalist approach published by magazines such as 'Picture Post'. For O'Brien the street becomes his
stage and the passing scene is compared to scenes in a play where people talk, dance, mime and perform to an