by Nick Knight .

John O

Portrait by Dave Hendley

John O was a lovely man.
John O was a lovely man and my black and white printer in the 1980s.
There were two brilliant printers then, John O Driscol and Brian Dowling.  John O printed black and white and Brian colour.
I worked with John O on all the early Yohji Yamamoto campaigns and then on Martine Sitbon and then Jil Sander and on all my portraits.
John O could print in ways that no other printer could or had ever attempted.  Using hand cut masks he managed to create prints that looked so beautiful and complex you would think they could only have been possible in Photoshop, 10 years before Photoshop was invented!
 He had the patience of a saint and an unflinching determination that would mean all night printing sessions were a regular occurrence.

There is something magical about an old fashioned darkroom, everything bathed in the red light, the trays of chemicals and just watching the image appear from nowhere on the wet paper.  Magical and in John O's lab totally wondrous even awe inspiring.
To allow us to view and discuss the images he would rest the wet prints on an angled viewing board where they glistened and sparkled as the water ran off them.
The deepest of blacks, jutted right up against delicate smooth dove greys.  Wood smoke and jet.
Depth of tone that made your head spin.
He created prints that felt like that could knock you clean over, they had such powerful visual impact.

It is a sign of any great artist and craftsman, that his or her work physically reminds you of that person, and John O's prints certainly did.
Physically John O was big man, bearded with curly light brown hair and a big strong frame.
He was easy to smile and his eyes twinkled with mischief and delight.  In all those years I can never remember him being sad or cross.
I can remember his singing and I remember his laugh.

He had a huge O. Winston Link print hanging in his darkroom, which he loved. It's the picture of the train at night, caught and rendered motionless by O Winston Links 100s of carefully positioned flash bulbs.  Maybe it was the huge amount of effort and care this photographer had put into his work that touched John O, as it was exactly the effort and care he would put into creating one of his stunning prints.

John O always wanted to work for the best photographers and in the 1990s he moved to New York and printed for one of the greatest photographers of all time, Irving Penn.  I know he would have made his new client really happy.
John O was a lovely man.

John Driscol passed away last week from lung cancer.


  1. 03:55 25 May 2012
  2. ericesquire
    11:18 25 May 2012
    the great one [s] go first.

    with respect

    eric esquire
  3. M
    14:31 28 May 2012
    John O was a friend of mine always first at the bar buying drinks for everyone, he was generous in spirit it was his nature. Also he had a preternatural sense of what the negative you gave him should become. I have many a print he made for me that I cherish , the residue of the man always on them. We will all miss him too much.

    The cemeteries are full of people the world could not do without.
  4. thenameisalicianelson
    06:07 20 Feb 2013
    so beautiful