Skater in Venice ©Ken O\'Brien

My Father’s Pictures

by John OBrien

As enamored of the arts as I was when I was a teenager, like most of same, I sought the things I was interested in outside the home. It’s too bad, because I missed out on what should have been more of a source of inspiration to me. Ken O’Brien, my dad.

My dad first tried to make a living as a photographer when he was a young man in Gainesville Tx., during the late thirties. The war put and end to that, and when he got back and married my mom, he got suckered into a G.I bill financed “Academy of Cinema” in Paris. That turned out to be a hoax, and by the time the (by now) three of us made it back to the sates, he’d had enough of the starving artist routine for a while.

So for the next 30 years, he taught school, and made photographs on the side. When he finally retired in the late seventies, he started exhibiting those photos, and has done pretty well. He’s shown at Ray Hawkins Gallery, been collected by Graham Nash, is listed as a historical photographer on Corbis. At 94, he’ s still selling pictures, although he can’t work in his darkroom any more.

He chronicled the years we spent in Venice with a truly sharp and faithful eye, and I always get swept back into time when I look at his recording of our world and our lives. These images provide a conduit into the past. The eye is not really the surest way back, of course.

Thinking about his work, I was reminded of the romance the darkroom held for me when I was little. The muffled, dark-red light, the sharp and bitter odors of chemicals, the hushed whispered voices, for no obvious reason – pure magic. They say that memories associated with smells are the ones that we can recall with the greatest immediacy and vividness – and I believe it. Thinking back, trying to recapture some of these memories, I’ve had a lot of those flashes – the perfume of turpentine linseed oil in a studio, the breath of the sea, the odors of a hundred foods and smokes and people.  Maybe that’s what they mean when they say “the nose knows”

That said – never throw photographs away,  they are windows and doorways into places you’ll never really be able to get to again. Cherish them.

venice boardwalk performer

venice boardwalk performer


This entry was posted on Friday, September 19th, 2008 at 7:24 pm and is filed under Old Fart's Venice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Comments so far

  1. 1 Dody on February 9, 2010 5:19 pm

    Having been there as a life long time friend to Ken and his inspirational wife, Fern, I am grateful to have had them both as part of my life. The images Ken captured has shaped my appreciation for all magic in the world.

  2. 2 Skater on April 14, 2010 6:21 pm

    I believe the photo on top is from 1988. :)

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  4. 4 Vincente Catalano on April 13, 2016 2:17 am

    So glad I found this page. I own two of Ken’s prints that I purchased back in the 80’s. Still my two favorite pieces of art! One of the images I own is Carmen and her Brother (powerful image!). From what I understand they lived in the cave in the background. I saw another image of Carmen on the Corbis site. Is there more of a backstory there or just a child he photographed one day?




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