Derek O’Brien thumbed through a few pages of a photography book containing images he had made of landscapes and found still-lifes.
“I really like this one.” O’Brien said as he pointed toward a black-and-white image of the breakwater in Rockland.
Some of the photographs in the book O’Brien would never be able to make again.
On July 23, 2005, O’Brien and some friends went swimming in the ocean near Atlantic City, N.J. In what O’Brien calls “Baywatch-style,” he ran into the water at the beach and hit head-first on a sand bar.
A nurse who was nearby saw O’Brien lying in the water and ran to his rescue. He had broken his neck and was drowning. After being taken to an Atlantic City hospital, he was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he remained for several months.
O’Brien lost the use of his legs and had only partial use of his arms and right hand.
Now O’Brien is a new media student at University of Maine, in Orono. He still makes photographs but now he says, it’s for a creative release and to find freedom from the confines of his wheelchair.
O’Brien said that being in a wheelchair gives him a different perspective with his photography.
“Before the accident … I would lay on the ground to get that perfect shot,” said O’Brien. “I don’t have that luxury anymore. I’m confined more to this wheelchair, but I’ve adapted to make it work for my photography.”
O’Brien will graduate from UMaine on May 11.