Teaching Derek

Posted April 28, 2013, at 6:26 a.m.
Derek O'Brien will be graduating from University of Maine in Orono in May 2013. O'Brien is a quadriplegic and uses photography as a way to express his creativity and find freedom while being confined to a wheelchair.
Derek O'Brien will be graduating from University of Maine in Orono in May 2013. O'Brien is a quadriplegic and uses photography as a way to express his creativity and find freedom while being confined to a wheelchair. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien works in his senior capstone class at the University of Maine, in Orono where he'll be graduating in May. O'Brien is quadriplegic and uses photography as a creative outlet and as a way to find freedom from the confines of his wheelchair.
Derek O'Brien works in his senior capstone class at the University of Maine, in Orono where he'll be graduating in May. O'Brien is quadriplegic and uses photography as a creative outlet and as a way to find freedom from the confines of his wheelchair. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien goes to dinner with friends (from left) Kaity Perreault and Brianna Johnston on the University of Maine campus in Orono. O'Brien will be graduating from UMaine in May from the school's new media program.
Derek O'Brien goes to dinner with friends (from left) Kaity Perreault and Brianna Johnston on the University of Maine campus in Orono. O'Brien will be graduating from UMaine in May from the school's new media program. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien (right) waits in line at a University of Maine dining hall with Brianna Johnston. O'Brien will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013 from the school's New Media program.
Derek O'Brien (right) waits in line at a University of Maine dining hall with Brianna Johnston. O'Brien will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013 from the school's New Media program. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien, a University of Maine quadriplegic student, answers a call during one of his classes. O'Brien will be graduating from the school in May 2013.
Derek O'Brien, a University of Maine quadriplegic student, answers a call during one of his classes. O'Brien will be graduating from the school in May 2013. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien (left) shares a laugh with Chris Protzmann during their senior capstone class at  University of Maine in Orono. O'Brien is quadriplegic and will be graduating from the school's new media program in May.
Derek O'Brien (left) shares a laugh with Chris Protzmann during their senior capstone class at University of Maine in Orono. O'Brien is quadriplegic and will be graduating from the school's new media program in May. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien pushes an automatic door opener at his dorm at the University of Maine in Orono. O'Brien is a quadriplegic student who will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013 and uses photography as a creative outlet
Derek O'Brien pushes an automatic door opener at his dorm at the University of Maine in Orono. O'Brien is a quadriplegic student who will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013 and uses photography as a creative outlet Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien (right) talks to his brother Shane at the University of Maine in Orono, near their dorm. O'Brien is a quadriplegic student who will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013.
Derek O'Brien (right) talks to his brother Shane at the University of Maine in Orono, near their dorm. O'Brien is a quadriplegic student who will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien uses calendars and lists on his iPhone to keep track of his day-to-day activities. O'Brien had a swimming accident in 2005 that left him a quadriplegic with some brain damage, which has led to memory problems. O'Brien will be graduating from University of Maine in May 2013.
Derek O'Brien uses calendars and lists on his iPhone to keep track of his day-to-day activities. O'Brien had a swimming accident in 2005 that left him a quadriplegic with some brain damage, which has led to memory problems. O'Brien will be graduating from University of Maine in May 2013. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien moves one of his wheelchairs against the wall to be charged in his dorm room on the University of Maine campus in Orono. O'Brien can't plug the charger in himself and usually goes out into the hallway to try and find someone who will plug it in for him. He will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013.
Derek O'Brien moves one of his wheelchairs against the wall to be charged in his dorm room on the University of Maine campus in Orono. O'Brien can't plug the charger in himself and usually goes out into the hallway to try and find someone who will plug it in for him. He will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien works on an assignment for one of his new Mmdia classes in his dorm room at the University of Maine in Orono. O'Brien will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013.
Derek O'Brien works on an assignment for one of his new Mmdia classes in his dorm room at the University of Maine in Orono. O'Brien will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013. Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien works on an assignment for one of his new media classes in his dorm room at the University of Maine in Orono. O'Brien will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013
Derek O'Brien works on an assignment for one of his new media classes in his dorm room at the University of Maine in Orono. O'Brien will be graduating from UMaine in May 2013 Buy Photo
Derek O'Brien looks over an image of a sailboat he photographed while at a camp for disabled people in Rhode Island. O'Brien will be graduating from University of Maine in Orono in May 2013. He uses photography as a way to be creative from the confines of his wheelchair.
Derek O'Brien looks over an image of a sailboat he photographed while at a camp for disabled people in Rhode Island. O'Brien will be graduating from University of Maine in Orono in May 2013. He uses photography as a way to be creative from the confines of his wheelchair. Buy Photo

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.

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