Born in Dublin in 1979, Irish photographer and filmmaker Niall O’Brien studied fine art photography at the renowned Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. His Good Rats series, started in 2006 when he met a group of Southwest London punks while filming the vox pop documentary Superheroes, is currently on view at No. 10 Gallery in New York. It's his first showing in New York City.
O'Brien says of the project, "This is a project I've been shooting for nearly 4-5 years. They were a group of kids I met when I was making this small art project that I wanted to turn into a documentary. I needed a group of kids who all had something in common. Originally, I had bumped into one of them and then met the rest of the group. I was absolutely fascinated. They're quite the nihilistic, proper group of hardcore kids. For 4 years I met with them, traveled and photographed them. We went to Berlin and would take day trips to Brighton. A lot of this project is me documenting them conquering boredom. These kids are completely idle and looking for things to do. They break into buildings that they call them 'empties'. So they break into the se empties and smash everything. The reason the show is called Good Rats is because on the outside their conceived in a negative few. I've seen people cross the street when they see them walking down the road, but they're really a good group of lads with good hearts."
It should be no surprise that O'Brien wrote his art school thesis on Larry Clark. The Irish photographer cites KIDS as a firm inspiration and suggests that his own Good Rats came about by complete accident.
"This project changed me as a photographer. My approach is completely different from what it was. I shoot very quickly now and the way I take pictures changed simply so i could keep up with these kids. Since then, I've shot another project 'Porn Hurts Everyone' in Northwest America. The way that project was shot was derived from the way 'Good Rats' was, all 35 mm and quite sporadic. I have a lot to thank from these kids. I'm very fortunate," O'Brien notes, "I don't take much credit for any of the pictures, it's the kids that brought me into the situation. They're amazing looking kids. They run around and it's difficult to take a bad picture with them."
His subjects are certainly characters in their own right. Tim, the pink haired lad in the previous photograph, figures frequently in the most powerful of the Good Rats images. "One of the kids, Tim, he's an interesting character. He's this 6' 7'' nihilistic - mentalist, and he's quite creative as well." says O'Brien, "I'd like to start writing with him. There's a lot of the antidotes and really interesting stories that have gone along in the past years, I'd like to stitch them together and creative a narrative that I could maybe create a film about."
Another kid is Xavier. "He was a homeless kid we met in Berlin. That's his pet rat. They keep rats because they're good pets. You keep a rat with you in a cage by your side for a few months then you eventually work it into your pocket. You feed it from there and eventually the rat will just cling to you because it knows it will get fed." The relationship of punk and rat provides for one of the most powerful images in the show.
What started in London spread to Germany, with O'Brien following his punk friends on several adventures. "There's also a group of Israeli and American punks we met in Berlin. In England, traditional punk rock isn't that loud and its not really around anymore. To find kids that were generally not fashion punks, that lived and breathed it was amazing. They're quite an honest group of kids. They're all quite similar."
The photographer remains in contact with all the kids he's met, though keeps some artistic distance. The material has been met with rave reviews in Asia and Europe. O'Brien, despite his success remains humble, "I've showed this project two years ago in London and I found it quite weird to talk about it. It felt strange. You don't realize what you're doing until you start to explain yourself. I'm really excited to show here because NYC is so important to me."
Good Rats is on view now at No. 10 GALLERY, 10 Leonard St., Ground Fl. New York, NY 10013.