Shout-Africa Celeb Focus: Emma Obrien

Zwa Celeb Focus: Emma Obrien

Celeb Focus is a column for African celebrities to tell their fans a bit more about their work, releases, events and updates. If you’d like to take part email us on

This week we interview legendary British photographer living in Johannesburg Emma O’Brien.(pictured here)

She has two passions in life; people and photography. Emma started her UK photography business five years ago, which she continues to run by flying back regularly to see clients.  She has now expanded that business to include the South African market and is looking forward to being just as busy with Joburg clients, as well as undertaking commercial commissions, Emma spends time working on community projects which focus on the humanitarian side of photography. “Photographs have the amazing power to inform, provoke thought and inspire change.  Johannesburg is a sobering place to live with the high crime rate and poverty levels, so I’d like to use my skills to document some of the positive aspects of the city and help people where possible”. Emma is working on a documentary project in Lenasia at the moment and has an exhibition running in Melville between the 7th and 15th December.

Emma welcome to Shout-Africa !

Thank you for inviting me.

What have you been up to recently?

My first solo exhibition in South Africa opened yesterday at Upstairs @ Bamboo in Melville (in Johannesburg) so I’ve been very busy over the last couple of months preparing for that. The exhibition is a collection of photos that I’ve taken over the last 6 months in conjunction with four charities I’m involved with here.  I’ve taken documentary photographs of people who live and work on the streets on Johannesburg CBD with Kenan from Urban Vision, a charity that helps the homeless, I’ve met and photographed families who have adopted South African children, I’ve spent time in Thembilihle informal settlement with the Love and Hope Development Camp and I’ve run a community photography project with the boys who attend St John’s College Academy.  A selection of photos from each of these projects are on display at Bamboo until December 15th, I’ll be there every day too to talk to people about the work.

Where and when are we likely to see you exhibiting again?

The current exhibition, Johannesburg City of Dreams, runs daily from 10am to 5pm at Upstairs at Bamboo in Melville until December 15th.  I’ll aim to put another exhibition on in April or May next year, so watch this space.

What’s the most memorable showcase, commissioned project or exhibition(s) you’ve done?

I ran a photography project with the St John’s College Academy boys earlier this year which was a really enjoyable and rewarding experience.  Over four weeks I gave them a set of tutorials on the basics of photography and then gave them a disposable camera each to go out and take their own photos for the brief, “Show me your World in Pictures”.  Fourteen boys in grades 10 and 11 took part and each produced a set of photos that reflected their home lives, their opinions on their environment and their hopes for the future.  The images were displayed for an evening at St John’s College and the boys each talked about their work and explained why they’d taken particular photos and what they’d enjoyed about the project.  One of the boys, Lebogang, is very shy and explained that before he’d taken part in the project he hadn’t gone out very much and that as a result of having a camera and spending time looking around and shooting photos, he’d found a new confidence and fascination about the world, he told me that the project had changed his life which is just amazing.  So the St John’s Academy project was really very special for me.

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a photography artist?

To be honest, being a photographer is what I am meant to do, so it’s the only career choice for me.

What forthcoming projects, collaboration or shows are on the cards?

I have a few projects running at the moment, I’m working on a documentary project in Thembilihle informal settlement in Lenasia photographing the people who live there, I’m also continuing to photograph families who have adopted children here.  The Love and Hope Camp are working on a Shakespeare play which we’ll be aiming to show in March next year and I’m assisting with that which is very exciting.  So as always lots going on.

Emma thank you so much for your time.

Get in touch with this South African based photographer via website: