Beauty and spunk captured in
Lee O’Connor’s debut photography book

For many an aspiring woman, finding one’s wings in life can be quite tricky. This perennial process of becoming is often the most revealing and raw, though no phase is more potent than that of early womanhood. New York-based photographer Lee O’Connor captures 30 women in her new photography book “Birds of Paradise”; each subject (or bird) on their own metamorphic journey. On the eve of her book launch at Picture Farm Gallery in Brooklyn, Lee shares with us how she spread her wings.


Tell us about your background how it has led you to photography.

Growing up, I was always drawing and painting. I was obsessed with drawing faces from fashion magazines. I didn’t really discover photography until art school, when I chose it as an elective in my freshman year.

Why “Birds of Paradise” and what does this project mean to you?

It’s a play on words, “bird” is a British slang term for “girl” and I call these women “Birds of Paradise” because they are the colorful women of New York (a.k.a. paradise); the colorful flowers against the grey background of the city. I felt compelled to photograph the creative, colorful women I was seeing around me, in my neighborhood. The project began in 2009, when Williamsburg and Greenpoint were chock-full of whimsically-dressed women, each the star of her own universe.

What is the common thread amongst your subjects?

All these women are aspiring, entrepreneurial women, making their way in the world, and creating the life of their dreams.

What do you strive to achieve with your audience?

I just want to creative beautiful images that bring joy and curiosity to the viewer.

There is a level of vulnerability involved with photographing strangers, how do you engage them?

It was very hard to approach these women…my heart would race before each encounter. I would usually just run up to them and compliment their outfit, and ask them if they would be interested in posing for a portrait series I was working on. I would then mention it was a paid project, so that usually sealed the deal. I never felt comfortable asking them to pose for me without some compensation…plus I really just wanted them to show up at my studio on the date and time we agreed upon.

Are you friends with any of the girls you photographed?

I have become friends with some of them, yes. We mainly all keep in touch, though, through social media.

Which aspect of photography is the most rewarding to you?

Capturing someone’s likeness for posterity. Freezing a moment in time.

Is there anything new you are currently trying your hand at?

I think I’m going to buy a bike this year. I’ve been in NYC almost 12 years, so I think it’s about time.

What is your WILD Wish?

To play the guitar…and sing simultaneously.


text by: Karen Lam

photography by: Lee O'Connor

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