I was able to talk with Karl Ohiri about his experiences of working with personal family stories. I was also interested to get some insight into his use of the defaced images from his family archive, which he used for the series ‘How to mend a broken heart’ (Fig: 1).
I asked Karl about his thoughts about why someone would keep a photograph after they defaced it. Ohiri felt that although the memories might still be quite painful, the photograph also still has a resonance. They still have connections for us. At some point there was this perception of happiness for the persons depicted in the, albeit a warped sense of this happiness.
We also discussed how the photograph on its own and outside context is perceived as innocent. This is especially true for the photograph within the family album that is rarely interrogated. The fleeting moments of a casually taken photograph cannot portray the nuance and complexities of the situation and contexts taking place outside of the frame. Additionally, the photograph represents a point in time after which anything is possible. It is only when the physicality of the photograph has been revisited, in the case of defacement, that we are able to gain a sense of something else that has taken place.
As our discussion was over the phone, Ohiri was not able to see the photographs from my archive that I was referencing (although I have sent them over now). He made the point of stating that “I can only visualise these images from my own library images” (2021), which creates a link to the research into the absence of the photograph and the way that we refer to images that we already know (Fig: 2).
Ohiri also made the point of saying that in the event of limited information it can create a void in which we speculate and fill with our own stories. Ohiri’s statement towards the end of our conversation confirmed my own conclusions and it was valuable to hear from someone with experience working with similar themes.
Paul Sng is a documentary filmmaker, currently working on a film about the documentary photographer, Tish Murtha. He also runs a website and social media platform called ‘Invisible Britain,’ which is about telling the stories of under represented individuals in the UK (Fig: 2).
Sng put some important questions to me whilst we were discussing my project: The importance of defining the audience? and why am I telling the story? These are especially important considerations for my project owing to its personal nature. Sng made the point that I do have the right to tell the story, which is something that is supported by Savannah Dodd, who suggests that being so close to the story means that I am best placed to understand the complex narratives and impacts that they are having (2011). However, it might be easy to take things a lot further because of the amount of access that I possess and also the willingness for the persons in the photographs to oblige to what they are being asked to do. I feel this is a continuing dialogue that needs to take place, especially as I see the project being iterative at different stages of its publication. Sng said that my story was compelling and there is something of interest in the work that I am producing. However there it is important to have a good sense of ethics and ensure that there are high levels of trust for all involved (Sng, 2021).
Dodd, S., 2021. The Ethics of Documenting Your Own Family. [Online] Available at: https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/the-ethics-of-documenting-your-own-family-7225ca8bd59a [Accessed 11 June 2021].
Ohiri, K., 2021. Conversation with Karl Ohiri [Interview] (12 July 2021).
Sng, P., 2021. Conversation with Paul Sng [Interview] (13 July 2021).