Oral History Teaching

Using Photos in Interviews and Memory Books

Compiled by: Golestan Jafarian
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Following the series of articles in the field of "Training in Interview", which began with the articles "Good Start", "Ethics in the Interview" and "Characterization in the Interview", we now pay attention on to the topic of "Using photos in interviews and memory books."

Photography is an independent art. Photos are usually published as photo books or displayed in galleries. The position of the photo has changed a lot over time. In the past, photography was dedicated to special occasions and such as pilgrimages, weddings, etc. For this reason, photographs often carried many memories, and visiting family albums at nights and family meeting was a fascinating entertainment. But, as photography is so easy and cheap today, photography has moved away from its social position then the past. Each of us takes several photos a day; photos that are sometimes deleted without even having a chance to be seen again due to lack of memory.

In the field of oral history, photographs are tied to the narrator's life and memories and narrate passages from his/her life. In this area for photos, two main applications can be considered:

.1  Using photos during the interview and recalling forgotten memories

 2. Using photos in memory book

It is noteworthy that in the articles "Characterization in Interview" and "Ethics in Interview" that have been published before, we have discussed the role of photography in characterization and the ethical aspect of using some photographs, respectively.

  1. Using photos during the interview and recalling forgotten memories

There is usually a story behind each photo. During the conversations, the interviewer may receive a photo whose story is somehow tied to the narrator's life at some point. For example, the narrator or his/her friends and relatives are among the people in the photo, or the narrator was present at the time of taking the photo, or there was a photographer, and so on. In that case, the photo will probably be helpful in recalling faded memories. In other words, the narrator's reaction to the photo can be the beginning of expressing new memories. Next, the interviewer asks questions such as: Where did you take this photo? Which area was it? Who are in the photo? And more detailed questions such as: How do the people in the photo relate to each other? And photo helps the narrator to retell as well. The narrator may not even be in the photo, but s/he begins to define, for example: "I was here that day and driving the loader; whatever the comrades suggested me to take a photo, I did not accept, but I was seeing them taking photo." Sometimes it is possible to gather the people in a photo together or place the photo on a piece of white paper where the fighters travel, so that everyone can tell or write their story from the photo.

Sometimes it is possible to gather the people in a photo together or stick the photo on a piece of white paper and put it on the wall where the fighters travel, so that everyone can tell or write their story from the photo.

An example of this method, which can be called "the expression of photographs", was an exhibition held in 2008 at the Silk Road Gallery of photographs of Forough Farrokhzad's funera5l. During the exhibition, visitors were asked to write the names of the people in the photos on a piece of white paper next to each photo. For example, Mr. Houshang Ebtehaj was one of the visitors and they said, "This is me, this is Jalal Al-e-Ahmad, this is Simin Daneshvar." In this way, many people became known, and later this collection of photos was published in the form of a book entitled "He was planted in the garden that day."

  1. Using photos in memory book

A collection of photographs is usually published at the end of the memory book. These images actually complement the events of the book and are effective in characterizing the heroes.[1] [1] The selection of photos is very important for this section because it adds to the volume of the work and affects the cost. This means that a book with 15 pages of pictures, which is sometimes published in color, will definitely be more expensive than a book without this section. So you have to be careful and choose a photo that is storytelling and informative for the reader.

2. 1. Write a description for photos

Some people think that writing description for photos is useless and that the photo should be artistically quality and able to speak. Photographers are often in favor of this view. They believe that the photo itself tells story and any explanation is unnecessary. For example, when the reader sees the photo of Martyr Hemmat as adult age, s/he is able to recognize him as a child, so it is not necessary to write "Hemmat as a child" next to the photo. Books "Narrative of Victory" were published in the 2000s in line with this view.

However, since most oral history photographs are family photographs taken by non-professionals, they cannot be published without description. In other words, these photos often do not tell the story on their own. So here it is important to write a minimal description for the photos and it will help to express the photo and better understand the reader.

  1. What information is important in the description of the photo?

In writing description for photos, what matters most is time. Uncertainty about the date of the photo can be misleading. Sometimes the date can be found on the back of the photo because it was taken with a time camera - which was common in the 1980's; so the date is known, but it should be noted that this date is usually in AD and must be converted to the solar. If the date of the photo is not known, it may be possible to estimate its time to some extent based on the evidence in it, such as hairstyles, clothes, and so on.

In the case of group photographs, it is better to first identify the narrator (main character) and then, if a martyr or fighter is present in the photograph, and their name should be mentioned. For example, the third person from the right is martyr Hemmat. People in group photos can be identified by showing the photo to different people related to the subject.

The name of location is also important in writing the description for photo. For example, Karbala 5 operational area. Here, natural phenomena such as mountains, rivers, etc. can be helpful in identifying the geography and location of the photo. For example, a photo of a high mountain cannot belong to the southern fronts, but was probably taken in the west of the country.

Sometimes if the photo has a story that is specifically addressed in the text, a short part of the text can be placed under the photo.


[1] See the article "Characterization in Interview" for more information on the role of photography in characterization.

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