Trish O’Brien

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After a successful career as a cellist, trish o’brien has rested the strings to focus on motherhood and her photography business, jetty images.

Full name: Trish O’Brien.

> Time spent living on the Coffs Coast: 9 years.

> Current Profession: Photographer and owner of Jetty Images.

> Previous Profession:

I started out in the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, then the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra and then gained the position of Associate Principal Cellist of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which I held for 10 years.

In 2003 I moved to Coffs Harbour with my family and performed as a soloist, chamber musician, and toured my own productions around Australia. I was also the Artistic Director of the Camden Haven Music Festival in the Port Macquarie area for 5 years.

> What I loved most about this was …

I was lucky enough to be ‘a natural’, so was given some amazing opportunities from an early age. As a performer I have toured to many parts of the world, which gave me incredible opportunities that I may never have experienced otherwise.

The best part about being a cellist was the incredible high that I felt when playing with other outstanding musicians, creating moments of such beauty that we could feel the audience cry. I do miss that.

> My greatest achievements as a cellist …

When I was 22, I won the String Category of the ABC Young Performer of the Year Award, then became a Commonwealth Finalist. I was lucky enough to play my concerto with both the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Queensland Orchestra, which were both brilliant experiences that I’ll never forget.

Being a Principal Cellist for the Sydney Symphony was a wonderful experience, and playing at Albert Hall for the BBC Proms and in Carnegie Hall in New York really stand out in my memory. A piece of gold leaf paint fell from the Carnegie Hall ceiling, all the way down to my cello … I took that as a sign.

> I changed career paths because …

Life changes, and I’m now a single mum to three beautiful children. While I loved performing, it was becoming impossible to be a good parent and tour the 90 or so nights a year that were necessary to keep the income flowing.

Three years I ago decided that it was time for my kids to shine and me to be there for them full time. My family is full of artists, and I’d always thought that my place in the arts was strictly in music, so had never had the confidence to try the other side of the coin. But I’d always adored looking down the lens of my old film Nikon and capturing light, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a go.

The one thing that I really felt the need to do was to transfer the passion and soul that I was known for with my cello, to photography. Not an easy task for a beginner, but it was a good goal to have.

After about 6 months of what I’d now call ‘mucking about’, I finally reached the point where I had the confidence to put my name out there and take more demanding jobs. Weddings, modelling portfolios and portraits started rolling in pretty quickly, and in my second year of being a photographer I was lucky enough to be asked to exhibit at the Jetty Theatre.

I then started shooting album cover and poster shots for musicians such as Jesse and Phil Emmanuel, Damion Towner, actor Scott McGregor, and from there I was asked to shoot some of my old classical music colleagues at the Bangalow Music Festival. I found that to be an incredible experience, as I was able to ‘play’ the music with my camera and show the world the performance from the performer’s eye view. That’s when I finally started to see my goal realised.

> What I enjoy most about my new life is …

The big difference between music and photography is the people contact. As a musician, I felt once removed from the audience by the edge of the stage, or by the stage door.

As a photographer, I come into close contact with an incredibly diverse and interesting selection of people from all walks of life, and I love that. I’m a people person, and in that regard I think photography suits me better than music.

It’s so great to meet so many interesting people, get to know them, then make them feel and look fantastic. That’s a gift I love to give, and I’m passionate about photography.

> Describe your typical day.

It’s madness! My day starts at 6.30, picking up the emails that I haven’t had a chance to attend to yet, then getting the kids ready for school. The usual Mum’s mad taxi rush to work and school, then after my mandatory trip to the coffee shop for a takeaway coffee, it’s back to the studio. Sometimes it will be shoots all day, other times it will be processing, but I need to be able to keep going at a fairly high pace or I get behind. Then from 3pm it’s the kids’ time until about 9, when I start work again … often until the early hours of the morning.

It’s definitely a lot more time consuming than music, but I’m happy doing it provided I take at least half a day off a week to unwind. Weekends are usually very full during the wedding season; I do between 1 and 3 weddings a weekend, then 1 or 2 days of real estate photography, some corporate clients, babies, families … hey, I’m starting to feel stressed, might stop there!

> Some of my best work as a photographer …

In 2009 I was asked to put on an exhibition at the Jetty Memorial Theatre, which was a fantastic learning experience. I had always thought that artists had it easy – they could put their artwork up and not have to worry about getting it wrong in the heat of the moment. I was SO wrong about that! I discovered that an exhibition is an instrument of torture; you spend hours trying to decide on images, throw them away, alter them, get them to the point of framing then go into crisis mode again and throw them away and reshoot. By the time they had finally managed to somehow make it to the walls, it was an anticlimax!

Other highlights have been shooting the Bangalow Music Festival in 2009, then being invited to exhibit 25 works at the 2010 festival, most of which sold. In 2009 I won 2 bronze awards at the International Aperture Awards.

And again this week I was delighted to have received 2 silver and 2 bronze awards at the 2010 International Aperture Awards competition, for my work in the Wedding, Portrait, Photojournalism and Abstract / Illustrative categories.

This year has been a great year for me, as I’ve had some big contracts with government departments, the BCU, and a chamber orchestra in Sydney. My work is now being hung in up to 10 metre lengths in BCU offices between Beaudesert and Coffs, is featured in magazines and government brochure, and on many touring performers’ posters and albums. But it’s just as satisfying to see my clients happily using their images on their Facebook profiles and feeling good about themselves!

All that lack of sleep is starting to pay off, and the camera has become as much an extension of myself as the cello.

> In the future I want to …

I’d love to open a big studio with other local photographers, one that has a gallery, an amazing barista at the front door (no more takeaway coffees!) and 2 or 3 studios where we can all work alongside each other in our own specialties.

Photography can be lonely, so sharing it with other like minds would be great and providing the area with a really vibrant place for people to buy local images, have a coffee, and have their photos taken. And maybe I could even slip in some chamber music in my spare time … I can only dream!

> Thank you Trish.


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