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Friday, 3 July 2020

Tami Aftab: PUT YOUR TEETH IN




all pictures copyright Tami Aftab


I really enjoyed seeing  The Dog's in the Car by Tami Aftab (she helped organise Three Men Make a Tiger event, a three week festival of BA Photography by way of compensation for the lack of final degree show. Click on the link to see their work here, and to see other UK degree shows here).

I love the way Tami defines her relationship with her father, his personality, his life history through images that have a nod to everyone from (for me at least) Timothy Archibald and Keith Arnatt to Jo Spence and Duane Michals, that moves the family from a controlling, idealised (and ultimately patriarchal, male-centred) view to something more democratic, liberating and joyful. 

But also very difficult, because her father has hydrocephalus, a condition that causes short term memory loss. This is not work that comes with the rhetoric of empowerment and dignity, because to do that would ultimately not recognise the seriousness of her father's condition - empowerment can be disempowering, it can deny the voice.  If this had been made under the rhetoric of dignity and empowerment, it would have been at best anonymous and empty, at worse - the same really. 

Rather it confronts the illness head on through her images, her research, her way of working, and reveals her relationship with her father in the process.

The project then is also about the '...hushed tones that can surround illness... collaboration and consent... the space between documentary and performance.... it is a story about a father-daughter relationship, and how one family deals with illness and identity'

I asked her a few questions about her work. See more work here.





When and why did you start to photograph your father?

I began working on this story in 2018, but it started as an interview project through videoing conversations between Dad and our family, capturing how his short-term memory affects his daily life. These were really the foundation of this current project, as it led me to realise the importance of humour in understanding how we deal with illness as a family, and everyone who watched the videos came away loving my Dad for it.  Therefore, I decided to restart this project as a photographic collaboration. I feel as though it wasn’t a question of if, but of when I’d begin photographing Dad. He exudes personality and has no ego in his presence, it’s like he was always meant to be in front of a camera in this way.



What are the difficulties of photographing immediate family?

There are certain difficulties in photographing your parent. Sometimes I felt there was a sense of urgency to create work every time I saw Dad, which wasn't realistic and could sometimes taint the times we spent together at the beginning. But once I let that pressure go, I realised that the times to photograph came more organically and didn't overwhelm our relationship. Another challenge we’ve found is when we organise to shoot, we can’t guarantee Dad will be feeling up for it, as some days are more difficult than others. It had been tough for the last 3 months, as both Dad and I are high risk and had isolated separately to begin with, which made making images near impossible. But now we're back together, we've been able to make new work.








How does your relationship come through?

I think the most prominent parts of the images that show our relationship, is the notion of care and intimacy that comes across in the project. Dad and I are both very sensitive people, and I believe that shows in the imagery we create. Also, the sense of humour that comes across is definitely a reflection of our relationship, and how we interact with each other in daily life too.



Why did you decide to make it humourous?

It wasn't so much of a decision at the beginning, but more something that became prominent naturally and stood out in the images. When I was trying to create more documentary style conversational videos, I think I was trying to depict memory loss and illness in a way I thought was 'correct'. But the strongest part, to anyone who watched those, was Dad's humour. Therefore, when playing around with image-making, this humour resurfaced and became quite a dominant part of the project. I then started to think about the idea of comic relief in living with illness, and how it's something I don't often see documented. I definitely want people to come away from seeing the project with a smile on their face.

Has photography changed your relationship in any way?

In some ways, yes. I'm definitely more aware of the nuances of Dad's memory loss. So even when we're spending time together, without taking photographs, I'll start spotting things I would like to photograph such as the Post-It notes, or all of his hats. But our relationship doesn't feel as though it has changed, more that we just have an extra thing we do together now.

What is the dark side of your father's condition? Have you and can you photograph that?

Physically, Dad suffers from severe migraines and gets very tired throughout the day. Mentally, it can be very damaging to his self-confidence at times. Dad often describes how frustrating it can be when he forgets something important, and how he can find it hard to trust his memory. I have got audio from conversations, but I'm yet to photograph these moments. I do believe in the future that we'll start to document the tougher times too, but as a daughter, I put the photographer in me to the side at the moment.

How will the project progress?

The project is certainly a long-term one, so I think over time it will progress to places I haven't even thought of yet. I would love to create more video and audio within the project, to create an experience that is more three-dimensional. I also hope to have the opportunity to spend more long-term time with Dad, so that we can create work but also to have more dialogue that could help the work.

What will you do next?

Good question! Haha. I've just finished my Photography degree at London College of Communication, and the world I'm entering as a graduate seems very different from the one I was in at the beginning of my final year. I will definitely be continuing this project with Dad! I also hope to get further experience in the world of commissioned photography, and perhaps some intern work in order to learn more about the industry as a whole. I'm definitely nervous, but moreover excited, to be a 2020 graduate..



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