By Jeffery L Carey Jr.
“Anywhere you look in Flint there is something interesting to take a picture of,” street photographer Brian O’Leary says, and then jokingly adds, “I’ll often stand in one place for hours waiting for that truly interesting thing to happen, but it tends to happen when I finally walk away.”
As O’Leary searches for what he describes as “dynamic symmetry” in the composition of his work, his patience is clearly evidenced. With his current show at Flint’s Buckham Gallery, his visually stunning street photography is finding recognition.
O’Leary says “dynamic symmetry” is a method he has developed where he intentionally does not center things in his compositions but instead looks for angles that create movement or force the viewers’ eyes to move around the photograph while still keeping the piece balanced or symmetrical.
Some of his photography captures people on the street who interest him, strongly leaning toward photo-journalism. But most of his works are of buildings that are abandoned or tagged with spray paint. He often takes shots of cityscapes after rain to capture reflections of the buildings in the water on the pavement.
Titled, New Identity, the showing at Buckham Gallery which closes this Friday, Oct. 6, features work from O’Leary, Corinne Nuzum, Ryan Gregory, Kate Costea, Carolyn Damstra and Jackie Diesing.
Buckham Gallery is at 134 W. Second St. Hours are 12-5:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday. It will be open for the this Friday’s Art Walk from 6-9 p.m. More information is available at 810-239-6233.
“This is my second show at Buckham,” O’Leary says, and admits how gratifying it was that all of his pieces have already sold.
While all his photographs on display have been purchased, they will remain on display for the duration of the exhibit with prints being available upon request after the show closes. “The best way to reach me is at brian_oleary_photography on Instagram,” O’Leary says, as this is where the bulk of his photography can be found. Three of his more popular pieces can be purchased on Fine Art America also which includes his most recognized photo entitled, Green Machine, which captures the involved angles and textures of an industrial abandoned space.
Born Brian Thomas O’Leary in 1972 at Flint’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, O’Leary is the only child of mother, Jill O’Leary now Jill Chaulklin. He grew up in Davison, with his interest in film and photography starting around age 16. “I wanted to go to Specs Howard,” he says, “really wanted to go, totally prepared, but I was encouraged not to go by people.”
Much of O’Leary’s formative years and into his thirties were spent as a musician though in various bands. Primarily playing guitar, he began to channel his creativity into music at 15. “I’ve been in several different bands,” he says, “from punk to metal to indie.”
He recalls playing at the Local 432; while guitarist for the band Abyss, he got to open for the band Repulsion, at the Capitol Theatre. “In 2005 I started playing bass,” O’Leary states. “I also played bass in a band called Dixie Hustler,” he said, “because of a need for it.”
During these years he attended Mott Community College and received three associate’s degrees in arts, sciences and general studies. After Mott he studied psychology, social work and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan – Flint, but while attending decided to focus on pursuing film and photography instead. He purchased his first camera in 2012.
Sadly, O’Leary lost all of his original photos when his camera and laptop were stolen out of his car in downtown Flint. “I was pissed,” he admits, “but I saved up and bought the same exact camera again.” He says originally he had bought the camera to work on film, with photography being a side project to that work.
“The camera I bought was good for beginners, for short films,” he says, “but I realized you had to be a good photographer to be a good cinematographer, in order to shoot good scenes.” To date he has been involved in about 10 films, most of them show–even one minute–films and short documentaries, and music videos for local artists.
His films include, Some Sort of Beast, the Cold One, Suburban Man, Search Party and Don’t Eat That. He’s currently working on a short 10 to 15-minute film he hopes to enter into a film festival. His goal is to just keep getting better, to get better equipment and to travel.
Now living in Grand Blanc, O’Leary spends much of his free time perfecting his self-taught street photography while working security at the Flint Institute of Arts. “I studied all the paintings,” he says of the FIA, “because that is what I wanted to replicate.” After studying the composition of paintings, O’Leary describes inspiration he found in the works of street photographers Vivian Maier and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
“Vivian Maier really inspired me,” O’Leary says. “She was a nanny in the 50’s.” He went on to describe how her work was found after she died. “She went out every day and took street photography and she had suit cases full of film,” he says, “but [Henri] Cartier-Bresson is my favorite. Everything I shoot is based on his composition.”
Now, O’Leary describes his style of photography as “urban exploration,” a fusion of street photography and abandoned spaces with the hopes of one day becoming a good story teller with his photographs and his love of photojournalism. “I always look for symmetry every time. I can’t take a photo without it,” he says, laughing, “I guess it’s not a photo without it. I’m addicted to dynamic symmetry.”
With his future focused on film and photography, O’Leary speaks highly of the people who have come into Buckham Gallery and supported his work. “I’m getting a lot of encouragement, so it helps. It really boosts my confidence.” He has also been gaining some recognition in the community as people who have viewed and purchased his work at Buckham also recognize him at the FIA.
For now he keeps persisting with the idea of continuing his work, building his portfolio and selling his photos. “There’s always things in the way,” O’Leary states, “but I just have to keep going.”
EVM staff writer Jeffery L. Carey, Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.