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O'Hagan was brought up in Armagh during 'The Troubles', and has written about the experience. As an undergraduate, he studied English in London.
He began his media career as a writer for NME,The Face and Arena, and during this period became interested in photography. As of 2013, he is one of six regular "Art and design" critics for The Guardian website, and the only photography critic among the six.[check quotation syntax]
O'Hagan is a nominator for the Prix Pictet Award in photography and sustainability.[n 1]
The term "new lad" was coined by O'Hagan in a 1993 article about a young, brash and boisterous economist called David "Lad Lad Lad" Sturrock in Arena.
Everything was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s. London: Barbican Art Gallery, 2012. ISBN9780946372393. Edited by Kate Bush and Gerry Badger. O'Hagan contributes the essays "The unreal everyday: William Eggleston's America" and "Against detachment: Bruce Davidson's photographs of America during the Civil Rights Era".