Bryan O’Brien . Permanent Placement Possible

The three words that make up the title of this work were written about me. They appear at the end of a memo from a social worker: ”foster mother happy to keep baby until permanent placement possible”.

I was a ten-week-old baby then, living in foster care in East London. I had been born in Romford. A 21 year old single Irish woman travelled there, to give birth in secret, and to have me adopted. A few weeks after this memo was written I would be brought to an orphanage in Ireland. From there I was adopted into my family.

During this time I was in a limbo, between families , institutions, and communities. I have an abundance of paperwork from that period that allows me to map this part of my early life.

However, as an Irish man I’ve only been able to explore these details because of a legal anomaly. People given up for adoption in the UK are entitled to acquire their adoption records. Adopted people born in Ireland have limited or no access to this information, and when it is acquired it is often obscure, or even censored to protect the identity of the birth mother. As a result In Ireland people resort to social media, genealogists, and DNA websites to help establish their personal histories. They are looking for more than their birth parents. They are looking for more than medical history. They are seeking something that they often find hard to define, the missing piece in the puzzle.

This project exists primarily as a ten minute long multimedia piece. I travel to the place where I spent the first months of my life and record that journey and then I engage with other adopted people who have made their own journeys. ‘Permanent Placement possible’ consists of video interviews, photography, audio, archival photos, and documents. It offers a glimpse of the journey adopted people make in searching for identity. This search is often motivated by a desire to fill a blank or to find for a missing jigsaw puzzle piece. Some of those that I collaborated with in making this work describe this drive as being a sort of nostalgia for a place one has never been.


I’m a journalist based in Dublin, Ireland, making photography and video for The Irish Times on news and feature assignments and also working on longer term documentary projects and collaborations. Themes that interest me include identity, ritual and rural living.