Born and raised in Barcelona in an Italian family, cinematographer and graphic designer Pablo Di Prima grew up feeling like an outsider, not least because of his mop of red hair. “I think this shaped the way I experienced and grew up in my hometown where I was taking part of life as an observer,” Pablo tells It’s Nice That. “Maybe like a film director looking through the lens.” When Pablo moved to London to study at Central St Martins, his “foreigner” status was flipped on its head: through it, he fitted in.
Having made work for publications such as Dazed, King Kong magazine and now Fucking Young, Pablo’s latest work takes the shape of a film. Ogbomgbom is a collaboration with photographer Ruth Ossai, whose distinctive visual style, which celebrates Nigerian youth and identity, has in the past seen her team up with Akinola Davies for Kenzo.
Ogbomgbom uses grainy behind-the-scenes style footage of a cast of black male models spliced with a voice over and field recordings which recall memories of “kings”, grandfathers, dads and mums: tales of being raised, supported, protected.
We caught up with Pablo to find out more about his way into filmmaking, his working relationship with Ruth, and the inspiration behind the film.
How did you get into filmmaking and directing?
As kids, we imitate the people we are surrounded by. I deeply admired my dad Renzo. When we travelled, he always had a camera with him, that was my object of desire! Later on, at nine or ten years old, the camera became only a beautiful memory. I mostly painted. I painted everything, from portraits, still lives or the sea of the Catalan coast. I almost failed high school because I would only paint in class and never pay attention.
Then I moved to London, I was 18. Just starting my studies at Central Saint Martins, the foundation course in art and design. I was pretty broke, I needed to work. I started working in a bar but I just hated it so much. So I took on professional filmmaking and photography, at the beginning with really small commissions and jobs, then collaborating with bigger names such as Dazed, Levi’s X Campbell Addy, being studio assistant at Jamie Hawkesworth Studio or photographing Sampha.
I think this was mainly thanks to living in London and being in the environment of CSM: a tremendous cradle of creativity, where you always bump into someone who you can share ideas and new opportunities to collaborate, learn and have fun arise! It is very exciting and full of vitality. I feel like everybody is making something that is special. In Spain we say “el hambre agudiza el ingenio” which means: hunger makes you develop your inventiveness. If I hadn’t had to work maybe I would have never taken photography. However, I must say that I am very lucky to mix passion and work, and of course, the memories with my father.
How would you describe your creative practice?
As I said, when I was a kid I mainly painted. As a photographer, my way of viewing is heavily influenced by painting. Rather than thinking of a picture in terms of framing or other technicalities; I see compositions, colours and textures: with that I build my canvas.
This doesn’t only change the way I produce but also the way I learn. I am often surprised to see that when it comes to photography, I am more influenced by paintings and painters. I would consider myself as curious for everything. It’s really important to follow your curiosity! When I was a kid, I was terrible at academic methods, and my way to approach reality has always been through synthetic object like the camera on the canvas. Reality is subjective because in a filmed piece, picture or illustration the world exist in the way you focus through it, and the camera makes evident that you can actually have certain degree of control over reality.
What is it about film that attracts you over other creative mediums?
Film is the last of the techniques I got attracted by. It’s still so new for me, I think it has a great potential in our society to make a change. I really like what my friend Patrick Stasny said once: “I really like film because it has a way of bonding together different things that passionate me, it’s like the modernist idea of the total art: narrative, photography and music!”
How did the collaboration with Ruth come about – who approached who? What was your working relationship like?
A few months ago my collegue Rushemy Botter, who I met last year in Antwerp, approached me to work on set with Ruth Ossai for the first time for Botter SS18 campaign together with Ibrahim Kamara. We were working on a story about the fishermen from Dominican Republic. From the first moment I connected with Ruth’s work on beautiful, effortless, powerful Nigerian identity, energy and way of photographing. Her passion on storytelling with the hand painted backdrops is undoubtable and it has so much historical and cultural value. I knew that I had to create something again with her. Then, two months later, we made Ogbomgbom; a story on admiration, fatherhood and royalty of West Africa. It was also a pleasure to work with Abdourahman Njie (from Nii Agency) a great videographer and model who told me about his personal stories and Dennis Nyero. I feel like this collaboration has been very related to the “foreignerness” I mentioned earlier. Working around the ideas of fatherhood in Ogbomgbom film, where we see different people from very different west african backgrounds coming all together to the same scenario.
Are there any specific characters you referenced or was to just the general aesthetic of 17th and 18th century West African Kings?
Ruth referenced her own father/grandfather and forefathers throughout. The name of Ogbomgbom is Ruth’s grandfather’s nickname. Ogbomgbom aims to portray an ode to fathers and grandfathers, the kings. Filming West African gestures and props that show respect and symbolise high social status. The film takes inspiration from royal themes focusing on West African royal kings and high social status males as an arctic prism. We took studio portraits and took our own interpretation of 17th, 18th and19th Century West African kings with a modern twist, referencing to West African focuses such as the Senegalese wrestling, Yoruba greetings, Dashin Nigerian Naira on bodies and drinking from the horn were some of them. Sets were built up by hand painted backdrops made in West Africa as the backing for individual and group portraits of black male models such as Dimeji, Emmanuel, Joseph, Ike, James, Jamie and Daniel.
Tell us a bit more about the poem, and how it was interpreted for the film.
The tribute poem that Ruth’s father wrote to her grandfather which is juxtaposed with a field recording Ruth took when she lived in South Africa, where Xhosa fathers are singing to their sons, celebrating manhood. So the two recordings together were really powerful to end with.
The lm has a very distinct visual style – what did you shoot on and why?
I felt that this specific story had to be told in a very instinctive way in terms of style and movement. I used a tape camera that allowed me to move around easily and zoom in and out as much as I needed. It wouldn’t make sense for me to do a super HD kind of setting. We felt like it had to be a “home-made” type of film.
Tell us about the reference or inspiration for the 80s graphics at the end?
Ruth had in mind to use this specific 80s TV looking style for the title of the film so I contacted my university friend Leonardo Pellegrino, who developed the Ogbomgbom titles.