"The Tira were burying alive babies afflicted by Orilla. Orilla means Shadow or Spirit (the missionaries use the word for Holy Spirit). A child born deformed or afflicted in certain ways is said to be afflicted by Orilla. If it is not destroyed the other children in the family will suffer."
- Extract from the memoirs of Mary Phillips
The life of my two grandparents, John and Mary, has always been closely linked to British colonial history. My grandfather was born in Lucknow, India, and both descended from General Gordon's brother, Henry. General Charles Gordon died in 1885 in Khartoum, Sudan, fighting against the Mahdi. After WW2 my grandfather was also sent to Sudan, in quality of District Commissioner of the Kordofan province. He had learnt Arabic from another officer in a Nazi prison cell during the war.
My grandmother was a surgeon, and followed John to Kordofan where she worked at the local hospital. For over almost 20 years they lived and worked in Sudan, Libya, Oman, Jordan, Yemen and Cyprus. They witnessed the independence of most of these countries as the British Empire quickly fell apart. In 1973 John was appointed Ambassador in Khartoum where he ended his diplomatic career before returning to Horsham, a small town in Sussex, England. He died there on May 8th, 1998. Mary still lives in the same house.
Hereafter is a series of photographs I took interacting with the family archive and following the traces of John and Mary across East Africa and the Middle East. On a documentary level, the project aims to talk about the last years of British imperialism and of its consequences on the life and territory of the countries I visited, and to do so through the history of a family. On a more personal level, it is a way for me to give shape to the Shadow the past casts upon the present.