Brian O’Neill – Beach Boulevard

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

Although Brian O’Neill’s southern California subject, Beach Boulevard, extends from the San Gabriel mountains to the Pacific Ocean, his emphasis appears to circle around one of the end-points: the urban landscape of Huntington Beach, a costal community. His perspective is a combination of street photographer, with hints of photographic-documentary, overlaid with historical social trivia that are related to the some ‘facts’ about this urban location. 

The historical trivia, a 1923 newspaper clippings reproduction, an older Vicinity Map, an OC Business city Profile Article, vernacular photographic reprints, a list of Oil production statistics (1920 – 1957), and a city charter for Enhancement responsibilities are printed on half-pages that layer O’Neill’s photographs. The juxtaposition of written and visual information may or may not be directly related, but on occasion there appears to be a correlation; such as those individuals enjoying a day of the beach ‘back then’ and now.

O’Neill, a trained sociologist, appears to be interested in the visual clues that make-up this region: truncated houses and plants hovering over brick walls, botanical plants appearing to overcome or circumvent a walkway or fence, a huge rock sitting on a pallet but ensnarled with a wire netting to ensure that it does not wander off, while sneaking in a partial urban portrait of what brought him to this area, an industrial desalination plant. Perhaps it is this weird potpourri mixture that makes this book so intriguing for me.

I suspect that street photographers can probably be classified in two categories: those who live locally who provide an insider’s viewpoint or those who dropped in from Mars and provide an outsider’s viewpoint. Illinois and Ohio are probably as alien to southern California coastal communities as is Mars, thus O’Neill is a stranger in a strange land, and we may assume that he provides his evidence as to how strange this new land is to him. As a southern California local, I find his photographic subjects appear odd and quirky, some things I don’t think I would take notice of, least photograph, thus his ‘strange’ perspective is engaging. Seeing something I might not otherwise have paid any attention to.

I agree with O’Neill’s assessment that “this book is a visual diary, of sorts.” On occasion he wanders into the realm of photo-documentary, such as the street view of the fore mentioned desalination plant, sun setting on a Mobile gas station, or a skewed view of downtown Huntington Beach on the ocean’s edge. Otherwise, many of his photographs are presented as thumbnails, which he has termed “fragments”, printed on a half-page, severely truncated, ambiguous as to location and even to what the subject is.

I noted O’Neill’s wry visual humor as it is revealed in the last page spread below, a large sign proclaiming Huntington Beach should be known as ‘Surf City USA’ juxtaposed with a much smaller civic street sign that proclaims ‘No Stopping at Any Time’. As if to infer: come visit, just don’t plan to stay.

Regretfully, as this review was going to press, I found out that this delightful and relatively inexpensive book ($15.00 USD) is now sold out. A further disclaimer, O’Neill is a contributing editor for PhotoBook Journal.

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Douglas Stockdale is the Senior Editor (& founder) of PhotoBook Journal

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Beach Boulevard, Brian O’Neill

Photographer: Brian O’Neill, born in Ohio and residing in Arizona

Publisher: Immaterial Books, Campaign, Illinois, copyright 2021

Essay; Afterword: Brian O’Neill

Text: English

Stiff cover, spiral bound, References & Archival Resource lists, printed in Campaign, Illinois. ISBN: 978-1-7355008-2-9

Photobook Designer: Brian O’Neill

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.

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