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Byron Shire
April 19, 2021

My neighbour Sean – photographer of the Bay

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Photo Sean O'Shea
Photo Sean O’Shea

Phillip Frazer

Sean O’Shea is a cheerful bloke, can be serious too. He takes photographs, mostly of the sea, the surf, and the humans and animals who interact there. Through social media, these photos are viewed and loved by countless people around the world. But to be honest, Sean doesn’t look like he belongs to the surfer community, nor the glamour photographer set. That’s because Sean’s neither. He’s an artist.

Up until five years ago Sean painted intriguing canvases of semi-abstract images – people, animals, buildings, landscapes – and was making a good living from his art, living in the Byron industrial estate with his partner Tracey.

Then, in 2012, Sean got a good (but not fancy) camera to take shots of his paintings before they were sent overseas. One morning he went to Tallow Beach and saw dolphins threading their way through the waves beyond the break, so he strode into the surf to get a closer look, camera in hand. A bloke in a wetsuit was sitting on his board looking toward the dolphins, and Sean was just a few metres behind when, suddenly, a dolphin launched itself out of a wave. Right there.

He’s looking directly into the eyes of a dolphin who’s looking directly into his eyes. This very large animal is airborne flying toward him as he stands in water up to his chest, both arms aloft, one holding the camera, and Sean snaps a picture of the flying dolphin and the surfer. A picture that changed his life.

That’s when Sean had an epiphany. He understood at this moment that the vast natural world, of creatures and plants of the land, sea and sky, constitutes a profoundly other world than the one we live in when we go to the supermarket to buy milk or sit in a car texting arrangements for lunch. As the dolphin slid again into the sea, he knew this would be the world he would inhabit, in the Bay, taking photos, making videos, because he wants to share this wonder with the rest of us.

Story continues below photos

The photo – Sean’s first – was going viral online, so he sent it to a few newspapers, and although The Echo didn’t print it, the Daily Telegraph did, on page 3. They even gave it a terrific caption – it began ‘It’s the quintessential image of freedom and joy’, which is not a line you often see in the Murdoch tabloids – and that, folks, is how Sean O’Shea began his career as the photographer of the Bay.

Now I know this bloke pretty well because he and Tracey are our neighbours here on Coorabell Ridge. Recently we ganged up and convinced Sean that, despite the millions of people around the world who’ve been wowed by his photographs on Facebook or Instagram, we need a big beautiful book to show his work off at its best, in a more permanent form. He and Tracey have started designing and planning, and next Sunday May 21, their seanoshea.com.au site will launch a crowdfunding drive to get the book on the road.

Check out his amazing photos at SeanOSheaArt. He still uses a modest camera, sometimes in a plastic bag when he’s swimming out in the Bay, and a tripod held together with gaffer tape. Every day he drives off in his 2003 Camry, to stream sunrise and sunset live from the beach.

Sometimes artists need help monetising their talent, just a bit, right?


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