Photography is an art form that allows us to capture fleeting moments, freeze time, and share our unique perspectives with the world. For American-born photographer Erin O’Leary, photography is not just a means of expression, but a lifelong passion that has taken her on a journey of self-discovery and artistic exploration. Currently residing in the vibrant city of Berlin, Germany, Erin has found her niche in creating instant collages and pushing the boundaries of traditional photographic processes.
Erin’s fascination with photography began at an early age, surrounded by a family of photographers and videographers. Growing up in Frederick, Maryland, she was exposed to the power of visual storytelling from an early age. It was her grandfather who ignited her passion by gifting her a 35mm Minolta camera when she was just 15. Together, they embarked on a photography adventure, capturing the breathtaking New York Skyline. This experience laid the foundation for Erin’s future endeavours.
After high school, Erin pursued her passion by studying photography at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), where her focus shifted towards photojournalism and documentary photography. However, it was during her time at MTSU that she first encountered the allure of instant photography. Inspired by the works of renowned artist David Hockney and her classmate’s mesmerizing Polaroid collage project, Erin fell in love with the unique qualities of instant film.
Armed with her newly acquired knowledge and a thirst for exploration, Erin embarked on a journey to turn her childhood dreams of travelling the world into a reality. She studied abroad in Costa Rica, backpacked across Southeast Asia, and immersed herself in diverse cultures, collecting experiences and capturing moments with her camera. Eventually, her travels led her to Poland, China, and finally, Berlin, Germany, where she decided to lay down her roots in 2016.
It was in 2019 that Erin’s artistic journey took a transformative turn when she acquired her first Instax Mini 90 camera. The simplicity and instant gratification of instant photography fascinated her, and she quickly became enamoured with the medium. Within a month of getting her hands on the camera, Erin began experimenting with collages, utilizing the unique characteristics of instant film to create captivating and whimsical compositions.
Erin’s creative process involves a fusion of art, photography, and scientific experimentation. With each click of the shutter, she captures fragments of time, weaving them together into captivating stories. She embraces alternative processes and techniques, incorporating panoramic, triptych, and composite images into her collages. By defying the constraints of traditional photography, Erin creates a surreal and dreamlike atmosphere, inviting viewers to embark on a visual journey alongside her.
One of the defining aspects of Erin’s work is the influence of her experiences working with children. Teaching children in different parts of the world has allowed her to infuse her photography with a sense of joy, playfulness, exploration, and self-discovery. Her collages often reflect a childlike wonder and an imaginative spirit, transporting viewers into a world where reality and fantasy seamlessly intertwine.
Despite living in a digital age where instant gratification and image manipulation are the norms, Erin finds solace in the hands-on experience of darkroom printing. Watching her images slowly appear before her eyes bring her immense satisfaction and a deeper connection to her art. It is this intimate connection with the medium that sets Erin apart and adds an extra layer of authenticity to her work.
Erin O’Leary’s journey as a photographer showcases the power of following one’s passion and embracing the unknown. From her humble beginnings in Charlotte, North Carolina, to her current artistic exploration in Berlin, Germany, Erin’s dedication to her craft and willingness to push boundaries has allowed her to carve out a unique niche in the world of instant collages. Through her photographs, she invites us to see the world through her eyes, where imagination knows no bounds, and art and science intertwine to create something truly extraordinary.