Point, click, flush: my year spent in the bathroom (Video)

How’s this for a photography challenge: take a series of beautiful photos in one of the most mundane and visually unappealing environments – the loo

A small selection of the hundreds of photos taken in toilets over 12 months by Irish Times photographer Bryan O'Brien

A small selection of the hundreds of photos taken in toilets over 12 months by Irish Times photographer Bryan O'Brien


I have a love-hate relationship with smartphone photography. When an image grabs my attention during my day, the iPhone comes out, and within seconds it’s uploaded to Instagram, Flickr and Twitter. There’s great pleasure in seeing something visually interesting, recording it, and sharing it, all in a matter of seconds.

Then there’s the buzz of checking reaction online; getting positive feedback – being “liked”, favourited and retweeted. It’s not going to change the world, but it is fun.

However, it’s easy to start repeating photos or styles of photographs, and to be overwhelmed by the volume of others’ work online. So every now and then my phone stops being a camera for a few days, and I resist the urge to snap and upload.

What has maintained my love of the phone as a camera, however, is a decision to shoot images on a number of different themes as I chance upon them. As a photographer for T he Irish Times , most of the work I do is for the following day’s paper, or maybe the coming weekend’s magazine. It’s nice to also have a few personal longterm projects going on in the background on my days off. I lose interest in some of them; others retain my attention.

The adjoining pictures are part of a theme or collection that held my interest. They were shot on my phone over the calendar year 2012 using the app Hipstamatic. The theme: toilets.

All the images were taken in toilets and bathrooms over 12 months. They were in people’s homes, cafes, bars and offices, and all were vacant – apart from me.

Why toilets? Well I love to find what’s interesting and attractive, even in the ugliest surroundings, and toilets can be ugly, particularly public ones. I liked the theme because toilets aren’t obviously photogenic.

The bulk of images I see on social media are “pretty”: sunsets and sunrises, seascapes, cappuccinos and cute pets.

However, there is beauty to be found even in bad lighting, cracked tiles and the patterns made by rusty bathroom fittings; in clashes between brash wall paint and pastel-coloured toilet papers.

I’m also fascinated by the efforts people make to prettify and personalise the lavatory space, with coloured toilet paper, potpourri, plastic flowers, urinal cakes, and air fresheners.

The phone survived the year without being dropped in a sink or toilet.

Bryan’s regular photo postings are on Twitter, @bryanjobrien, and Instagram, bryanobrien

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