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A Brief Interview with Michaela O’Brien

SM: Who are you?
MO: Michaela O’Brien. I don’t have one of those clever, hyphenated Twitter bios on tap.

SM: What are you?
MO: Most recently, a documentary artist and multimedia producer who holds an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University. My work includes photography, documentary filmmaking, printmaking, audiovisual installation, archival research, and interactive multimedia. I currently teach in the department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies at Duke. Today, in my Contemporary Documentary Film class, we watched [and] discussed Agnès Varda’s film, The Gleaners and I. I’m a career like hers, someday, though I have no idols.


SM: When are you?
MO: Late night and early morning friend of the elderly and toddlers.

SM: Where are you?
MO: Currently between Durham, NC and Boston, MA.

SM: Why are you?
MO: My parents really wanted a girl after those boys.

SM: I would like to talk about how in your project Draw Deuces, the subject matter mostly occupies the edges of the frame. The people you’ve photographed feel as if they could either slip off the edge of your photograph into some unknown or hit a wall. If I consider the edge of the frame with regard to where Draw Deuces is photographed—the beach, and the people photographed—the working class, then I can begin to build upon this idea of what exists at the fringes of the social and physical American landscape and the limitations encountered there. Like arriving at the beach and realizing that this is the edge of the continental United States, perhaps the same limitations of work or family or home are disappointingly met at the edge of a vast an untraversable ocean. Is this a disillusionment because of perspective or at a certain point does it become too difficult to transcend our impediments? Why do we feel so restricted and with limited choice?

MO: The edges of things get ruined first, the parts that are worn, ripped, and frayed. Likewise, I pay most attention to where it gets messy: at the edges and the edges of the frame. The image is set within a predetermined frame, similar to the ones we are born into. The most we can do is recognize and stay aware of it, they will be wherever we go, including the most sequestered beaches. It’s confusing, baffling to say the least.  Our minds sometimes cannot cope with our own societies, but simultaneously can fathom a future or better version.

Michaela O’Brien’s work is also featured in Strant’s Pictures Without Words Volume 001, Issue 002