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Colin O’Brien, Photographer Of London Life

March 16, 2015
by the gentle author

Can you spot Colin O’Brien, the photographer of LONDON LIFE, popping up behind his mother with Leica in hand while she was trying on hats in a department store on Oxford St in the nineteen-fifties? Colin’s mother looks puzzled yet patient while he takes the second picture. I wonder if she ever imagined where it would all lead?

Looking at the photographs of Colin aged seven with his Box Brownie and as a teenager with his first Leica, his destiny as a photographer might seem obvious to us. But I do not think Colin realised then that the affectionate snaps he took of the childhood world he knew growing up in Clerkenwell at the edge of the City of London, post-war, would become such a compelling photographic testimony in retrospect.

Today it is my pleasure to publish this gallery of rare images of Colin in front of the lens, taken by family and friends, illustrating the growth of the young photographer to maturity.

Yesterday, I announced the publication of LONDON LIFE in June, compiling more than two hundred of Colin’s photographs from 1948 until the present day into a handsome hardback photographic monograph tracing the everyday lives of Londoners through seven decades. As with our other titles, I need to gather a group of readers who are willing to invest £1000 each. Please drop me a line at if you would like to help bring this exciting project to fruition and I will send you further information.

Additionally, you can support publication by pre-ordering LONDON LIFE from the Spitalfields Life Online Bookshop and we will send you a signed copy in June with a complimentary copy of Colin’s previous book, TRAVELLERS’ CHILDREN IN LONDON FIELDS as a gesture of appreciation.

Colin’s parents on their wedding day in 1938, taken on the steps of Victoria Dwellings in the Clerkenwell Rd where Colin grew up

Colin marches in the Clerkenwell Italian procession in the early forties

Colin with his first camera, a Box Brownie

Colin photographed by Solly, a local Photographer in Exmouth Market

Colin’s parents with their young son the roof of Victoria Dwellings, Clerkenwell

Colin is Head Boy at Sir John Cass School, Aldgate

Colin with his first Leica

Colin on the roof of Victoria Dwellings with St James Clerkenwell in the background

A self-portrait, skylarking with pals at the Kardomah Cafe, Oxford St

Colin looking sharp in the sixties

Colin looking with-it in the seventies

Colin at his photography show on Waterloo Station

The Gentle Author’s portrait of Colin O’Brien on the balcony of the flat in Michael Cliffe House, Clerkenwell, which Colin moved into with his parents when it was newly-built in 1966.

If you would like to help me publish LONDON LIFE, a monograph of Colin O’Brien’s photographs from 1948 until the present day, please drop me a line at

Click to pre-order a copy of Colin O’Brien’s LONDON LIFE published by Spitalfields Life

Click here to see over fifty stories that Colin has photographed for Spitalfields Life

9 Responses leave one →
  1. March 16, 2015

    That will become a masterpiece of a photographic book! Hope the childhood impressions will be included?

    Love & Peace

  2. Roger Coccks permalink
    March 16, 2015

    OMG! A Leica and “3-In-One Oil” . . . the mind boggles! Great photos thought, helps me relive my early years in the ‘smoke’. 🙂

  3. Roger Carr permalink
    March 16, 2015

    I love the can of “3 in One” on the kitchen table . Those Leica’s could eat up the oil something fierce! Also, the sharp outfit on the roof . . . Levi’s 501’s , French moccasins and a tab collared shirt . . . Colin was no sartorial slouch! Looking forward to the book.

  4. March 16, 2015

    Nice to see Colin in person. I still have my Brownie box camera, I can’t bring myself to part with it. Valerie

  5. March 16, 2015

    Great shots of Colin. Looking forward to the book.

  6. elke permalink
    March 17, 2015

    Thank you very much for these great pictures!

  7. Roger Cocks permalink
    March 18, 2015

    Roger (Carr), sorry for going OT, but I would be intrigued to learn what part of a screw thread Leica would “eat up the oil something fierce”? My mind is still ‘boggling’ at the thought of any oil getting near a Leica! :/ Can’t wait for June and my delivery of this book to arrive. B)

  8. Mark permalink
    March 25, 2015

    The photographer mentioned – Solly was my grandfather (Harry Solomons) He owned the toyshop in the market.

  9. Robert Vietro permalink
    June 22, 2015

    Fantastic pictures and I can’t wait to visit the museum. Victoria Dwellings were posh when I was a kid we lived in Northampton buildings by Exmouth Market and I went to Sir Hugh Myddleton School Bowling Green Lane. Dad was Italian Mum was Irish. Being brought up in Clerkenwell (little Italy was Wonderful) and I remember Mr Solly lovely family magical shop when i was a kid I still remember my Eddie Calvert trumpet bought from there.
    Can’t wait to get the book.

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