Sean Hillen’s photograph’s are not the pictures that most people would think about taking. His subjects are half eaten sandwich lying in gutters, coins abandoned by a beggar in the doorway, broken umbrellas stuffed into litter bins and the carcasses of bicycles shackled to railings by their locks.
Sean, originally from Newry, has worked as a professional photographer for over 20 years. He sees himself as both an artist and a campaigner, who happens to be a compulsive photographer. These themes are to the fore in his bicycle project.
Sean started photographing bicycles when he had a studio in Buckingham Street in 1998. Walking back and forth through that deprived area of Dublin he was struck by the large number of vandalised bikes. He decided to start taking pictures of them because as he says himself, ‘nobody else was doing it and I believe they represented some kind of a message’.
Having spent nine years taking pictures of what has amounted to thousands of photographs of smashed Dublin bikes Sean is in no doubt about what these pictures mean. He says ‘it’s a fuck you back attitude by a disenfranchised underclass’.
He believes its no coincidence that bikes and not cars are the item of property most likely to be damaged on our streets. He puts this down to mass production and its fostering of a throwaway mentality. People are no longer interested in repairing bicycles because they’re seeing as disposable and as having no value, unlike cars.
Sean’s father was a bicycle mechanic and he spent his own youth fixing the machines. Occasionally he rescues a bike from the Liffey or from one of the two canals, but it’s through his photographs that he hopes to give some renewed life to what he calls these wonders of human ingenuity.
Sean’s bicycle project has been described by some as being some of the most depressing pictures they have ever seen. This has not prevented his work from being shown at major civic occasions such as the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and being incorporated into documentaries. Sean’s work is permanently on display at his website. His work has also help to spawn galleries of broke bikes in other places.