UMaine student explores photography while coping with disability

Posted April 23, 2013, at 5:38 a.m.
Last modified May 13, 2013, at 8:59 a.m.

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Derek O'Brien will be graduating from University of Maine, Orono in May 2013. O'Brien is a quadriplegic and uses photography as a way to escape the confines of his wheelchair.

Brian Feulner | BDN
Derek O’Brien will graduate from the University of Maine in Orono in May 2013. O’Brien is quadriplegic and has been making a photo a day with his iPhone to showcase the way he sees life and his love of photography.

Derek O’Brien hasn’t had the full use of his legs or arms since a swimming accident on July 23, 2005, in Atlantic City, N.J. O’Brien, a West Rockport native and new media student at the University of Maine in Orono, uses photography as an artistic outlet.

“It gives me freedom and lets my creativity flow,” O’Brien said.

However, O’Brien doesn’t look at his disability as a crutch, but instead said it helps him see a different perspective that most people don’t usually see.

“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 has started a photo-a-day project for the Bangor Daily News that began on April 4, 2013. He uses cues from archived pages on the now terminated site to come up with ideas for his photographs. An example of a cue that O’Brien uses is “make a photo that features stripes of some sort or lines.” These phrases help him remember the projects he’s working on, which can be a challenge because of a brain injury from his accident.

His project will be updated continuously on the BDN Maine website at until he graduates from UMaine in May 2013.