Oliver Chanarin A Perfect Sentence showing a group of school children lying on their front forming the shape of a circle on an indoor basketball court

Oliver Frank Chanarin on the ethics of documentary images

The photographer talks to us about objectivity and consent in imagemaking, and creating his first body of work since the end of his 20-year creative partnership with Adam Broomberg

“There’s a flow of power between the camera and the person that is in one direction. I think that kind of ‘sneaking around’ photography is dead. There’s no space for that any more and for good reason,” says photographer Oliver Frank Chanarin. “But on the other side, there’s a lack of spontaneity. There’s something lost as well in terms of recording unseen moments and being a silent witness to the world, which is one of the beautiful things about making photography, and I think one of the reasons I became a photographer.”

These were just some of the considerations whirring around in Chanarin’s head over the several years he spent on his body of work A Perfect Sentence. It brings together portraits from different walks of life: young people, pensioners, gender activists, carnival performers, volunteers that act out disaster scenarios for emergency services. Commissioned by Forma, the project has been published in book form by Loose Joints and will be presented in a touring exhibition around the UK. “It’s about a journey around Britain and a series of encounters with strangers, but it’s also about photography, and about what it means to make photography in the age of the internet.”

This the first project Chanarin has worked on since the dissolution of his long-running creative partnership with Adam Broomberg in 2021. The two artists began their careers working at Benetton in their 20s and had never worked solo before. “Everything that we developed in our 20 year-long partnership was together, and after the end of our partnership, the death of our partnership, which was quite traumatic, I didn’t really know what I cared about any more. I had to go on a journey to try and figure that out. I didn’t know if I wanted to take photographs, even, but my instinct was to just go back to the thing that drew me to photography in the beginning and to try and use a camera in a very simple way: to have experiences, engagements, with strangers, and to use the camera as a tool for entering other worlds.”

Oliver Chanarin A Perfect Sentence showing a person with a moustache and sunglasses and wearing a wedding dress and veil on a black sofa. The image is covered in red handwritten mark-ups, and has different brightness levels like a strip test
All images © Oliver Frank Chanarin, 2023. Courtesy Loose Joints. Commissioned and produced by Forma with 8 UK organisations, and supported by Arts Council England/Art Fund/Outset Partners