Capturing life’s special moments is what L.A.-based photographer, Patrick O’Brien-Smith, lives for. Over the past few years, the Seattle native has made a name for himself through the editorials he’s shot for the La Brea menswear outpost Union, as well as his raw portrait shots. The photographer credits his move from Washington almost eight years ago as the reason for taking his love for the craft more seriously. “I kind of rediscovered film cameras at that time, and it kind of recaptured my love for shooting and capturing stuff,” he says. “When I made the transition moving down here, I had a camera in my hand pretty much the whole time, just trying to document everything.” We spoke to O’Brien-Smith about his work, his background, and how he finds inspiration.
So how’d you get into photography?
My first introduction was definitely high school. The darkroom. Black and white. I definitely was heavy into it while taking those classes, like staying in the darkroom all through lunch and staying after school doing that and then honestly, I sort of forgot about it. Not that many people were shooting film and it just wasn’t highly encouraged and I didn’t really use it as my medium at the time, but I definitely knew I was really all about the camera at that point.
I kind of drifted off after high school, but when I moved to L.A., I had purchased a DSLR, like an entry-level one, and I definitely started reading more about photography and studying more photographers at that time, and spending a little more time on it. I had picked up a few old film cameras from Goodwill and put some rolls in ‘em and just started shooting. and I’ve just been on that ever since. On the film tip, I use digital for work often, but all of my personal and passion projects are shot on film. It’s a big part of my aesthetic.
What’s your approach to taking photos?
Definitely a documentarian approach to it. I try to present an honest, straightforward vibe to what I’m seeing and capturing the beauty within everyday life. Friends, family, people I meet on the street, looking at architecture, old cars, whatever it is, that’s definitely been my approach. Kind of a street photographer, portrait, straight up and down, not many external lights or anything. Just shooting what’s presented to me or what I’m searching out, essentially.
What’s Seattle like and how’s the art scene out there?
Seattle’s dope, man. It’s a great place to grow up. Definitely a very creative town and community, for the most part. I think the arts are heavily encouraged and appreciated across the board. I was really into music growing up out there. The music scene is amazing. It always has been. Still is. It’s kind of influenced my photography some. Being able to shoot some musicians I know from that scene and the expansion of it.
What inspired you to move to L.A.?
Honestly, Noah Davis and Kahlil Joseph were people I had grown up with in Seattle and we reconnected after a few years of not seeing each other after high school. I was in Seattle, and both of them were in L.A. at the time, and just keeping up communication with them. They’re obviously super inspiring cats, and at some point, Kahlil was like, “You can crash on my couch until you get your shit together down here if you wanna see what it’s like,” so that was definitely a huge part of it. Between him and Noah, and seeing what they were doing down here and being exposed to a whole new world of art that was other than Seattle. Definitely on a different level than the people in Seattle, in terms of just like, making stuff and getting it out into the world. So that was definitely a heavy influence. And just wanting to get out of Seattle. Seattle’s a great place, but I was born and raised there. I spent a lot of time there so I just wanted to switch up my surroundings in the same breath.
Describe the process for creating a shoot.
For the most part, it’s about connecting with the subjects. I think it’s just, as a photographer, being open to conversation that gets people comfortable in front of a lens. Finding something that I find interesting, whether it’s aesthetically pleasing, interesting or there’s a story behind it. Just going after whatever you find interesting, for the most part. I try to keep it straightforward.
I understand you work for Union, what’s your role there?
I do web photography, for the most part. Shooting products that go on the website every week. It’s pretty straightforward. Working for them and with them over the past three years has definitely been a real integral part of doing a lot of editorials for them in the past, which got me shooting a lot on a weekly basis. I’m getting more comfortable in that world, so that’s been good and that’s definitely fam and being around other creative people who I catch in the store or who are just stopping by and checking to see what’s fresh. There’s always something going on around there, which is good.
How’d you link up with them?
Again, through Noah and Kahlil. When I moved out here, I met Chris [Gibbs], the owner of Union, via Noah and Kahlil, and we just connected, so we’ve been friends for a while. Then at some point, about three years ago, he reached out to me because he needed a photographer and he knew that’s what I was doing, so it just worked out. It’s good to work for friends and family and support those cats doing their thing.
On your days off, what do you do?
I definitely try to get out in nature, like go hiking a lot, if possible. Maybe make it out to the water and get some fresh air by the ocean. If not that, hitting up something inspirational like an art show, or some live music. There’s definitely a lot going up in the city right now in terms of avenues of creativity.
What was it like shooting on set for Flying Lotus’ short film, “Until the Quiet Comes”?
Man, that was an amazing experience. Any time I get the opportunity to go on set with Kahlil is always a good one. To watch someone of that caliber of artistry work is always inspiring. We were in the Nickerson [Gardens] projects in Watts for a day of shooting. It was a unique experience, too. I had never really been to that part of L.A. prior to that shoot so that was definitely eye-opening and just seeing a different part of the world, as opposed to the rest of L.A., was a trip. But it was great. Met a lot of good people. Those are some of my favorite photos I’ve taken to this day, for sure.
Tell us about some other memorable shoots that you’ve had.
A good one was with Shabazz Palaces two years ago involving some big python snakes that we shot at the swap meet in Mid City, down the street from the Underground Museum. That was pretty cool. That was something that Ishmael Butler (Shabazz Palaces) had the idea for and we were actually on set for another one of Kahlil’s projects. He was just hollering at me about it and I thought he was crazy, but I said, “Hey, let’s make some calls” and he made some calls to some animal people in Hollywood that deal with wild animals on set, and we just had the homie with these two big-ass pythons on chains in the swap meet parking lot, so those came out pretty fresh. Those are definitely my favorites.
What’s are your plans for the future?
I’ve been working with putting some prints out. Not necessarily framed prints for sale, but something that I can redistribute to the masses in a tangle form, outside of Instagram or the website. Been working on that. Definitely trying to incorporate more motion/videos into my work in the future. Working with some musicians over the past few years, in terms of making video treatments, so hopefully seeing some of those materialize.