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Work / Photography

Timothy Sean O’Connell photographs Ireland through the eyes of a first generation Irish American

Photography series’ documenting places and their communities are a regular feature on It’s Nice That. We’re always interested in the way a practising photographer can lend a specific outlook to a place, uncover a detail about it only known to the locals who live there. That’s eye-opening, no matter the artist or the location. Timothy Sean O’Connell is a photographer who knows this process well, spending the past four years documenting the ever changing and intrinsic relationships that scatter across both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Yet, Timothy doesn’t live in Ireland, nor did he grow up there. In fact he grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, but he is Irish. The identity of people like Timothy, someone of Irish ancestry but lives halfway across the world is the same for many first and second generation Irish descendants. Over many decades several Irish families have emigrated to other locations creating communities across the globe, from corners of west London, Boston in Timothy’s case, and commonly Australia too. There are so many of us who head “home” over Christmases or for weddings, who identify with Irish culture, yet we’ve never lived there for a permanent amount of time. This feeling, a slight mishmash of culture and identity threaded through with a real fascination, longing and distant love for Ireland is explored in Timothy’s series.

For Timothy the photographs – which take in everything from teenagers on a night out, to someone painting the side of a house – feel personal, which makes sense as he sees the project as, “a document of my experience as an American exploring a culture and identity which is both familiar and alien to me simultaneously.”

The choice of location, far home his current base of New York, was due to ancestry, particularly because “my extended family has been estranged for most of my life and I never knew my grandparents nor did I know much about my own family,” he explains.

Growing up in Boston, a location where many of Timothy’s “neighbours and friends coming from Ireland, or being first generation Irish American,” live meant the photographer always had a general exposure to Irish culture. His taste of this brought him to Ireland in order “to explore what it really means to be from somewhere,” even though it was a feeling he experienced for most of his life. In turn, the work overall is “an observation and an investigation into a cultural identity, one that can’t exist in the USA.”

In its wide-spanning subjects, locations and the fact the series was shot over a lengthy period of time, Timothy’s intention was always to “not create a clear definition of what it means to be ‘Irish’,” he says. “I am not searching for any truth. These photographs represent a curiosity and lust for cultural identity, through the lens of a somewhat lost American.”

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland

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Timothy Sean O’Connell: Ireland