The lens of Ghanaian photographer and filmmaker Carlos Idun-Tawiah serves as a tool to foster a more hopeful world, offering a nuanced perspective that promotes cultural understanding. Recognised for his recent successes in projects like Sunday Special and Boys Will Always Be Boys, Carlos’ achievement lies in his ability to use photography as a conduit for activism through art. This, in turn, contributes to a broader conversation about Black life and beauty. In this interview, you’ll gain insights into his perspective on photography, with his work serving as a reminder to accept the past, find peace in the present and nurture hope for the future.
Congratulations on your many recent achievements, particularly the recognition received for your projects Sunday Special and Boys Will Always Be Boys. How did you change your approach between these two projects?
Thanks. To be honest, the warm reception came as a surprise given how personal these stories are. They're both memoirs, but reveal different aspects of my childhood, and that understanding made pivoting easy.
With Sunday Special I sought to reinvent the archives from my family album and relive those surreal moments of Sundays in Church. Boys Will Always Be Boys, on the other hand is a social commentary, highlighting the power of the mundane in fostering community in boyhood. The fictionalised series is my rendition of brotherly love, and a wishful thought of the endless possibilities in a world filled with empathy and hope.
Your work is centred around remarking and reimagining the ever-changing landscape of Black life and Black beauty. What implored you to focus your creative energy on this subject and what continues to motivate you?
Speaking about Black life through my work is my service to humanity, because photography has and will always be about people. It's my desire to see a hopeful world, where my photographs are not just escapes from reality, but symbols of hope for reality; believing that our world could be healed through these stories, and that generations after me will be aware of how beautiful and resilient we have been, as a people, through it all.
For me, not many things feel as fulfilling as waking up every morning knowing that my art played a part in restoring hope to our world.
Is there a figure in your life who had a profound effect on you and your work?
I'd say my parents. My first interaction with photography was with my late dad's polaroid camera and who else could I try it out with than my beautiful mom. She loves to be photographed and finds so much joy in curating and sharing family albums.
This in a way compels me to explore the potential of the art form in building community, because if family photo albums could unite my family, perhaps this same language could unite our world.
For Sunday Special, you delved into your family’s photo album to revisit memories of your upbringing in a Christian Ghanaian family. Did the process of revisiting your family’s photo album impact your emotional connection to your past? Were you able to recall details from your own memory, or was it challenging considering the time that has elapsed since those memories were made? 
I'm grateful to have a family that prioritised memory keeping when it wasn't so popular, because flipping through those family albums brought back so many lost memories.  The joy from the nostalgia inspired me to celebrate time and reinvent the bygones, and yet seeing photographs of loved ones who had passed on prompted another side of this story, where I created these poignant biopics honouring the people that influenced my childhood and who I am today.
Your past work Obaasima emerged from your reaction to a publication describing hair braiding as a “coronavirus hairstyle”. What role do you think creative projects like Obaasima play in contributing to a larger conversation surrounding cultural perceptions of beauty and identity? Were there any specific moments or feedback from your audience that reaffirmed the importance of that piece of work and its impact in promoting cultural understanding and acceptance?
I believe photography holds enormous power to dismantle and rebuild notions of any kind. With Obaasima, I chose to use my work as a weapon against disdain and as a conduit to educate the world on the beauty and depth of African hair braids. This body of work ended up on the screens of CNN and on billboards and gallery walls throughout Toronto, London, Miami and Tokyo. And though that got a lot of eyes on my work, that was not exactly my goal; It was never about me, but my subject, Christel, and any Black girl out there who has ever been discriminated against because of their hair.
In your work, there’s a seamless integration of fashion photography. It maintains the intimacy of the story you are visually narrating while exuding the stylised tone seen in editorial. Despite its stylised nature, it still feels very organic and uncontrived. How do you achieve this balance between stylisation and authenticity in your work?
Coming across work from artists like James Barnor and Roy DeCarava in my early years of photography shaped my perception of image making. I grew fond of merging genres and making an image mean more than just one idea. I believe that pushes me to keep blurring the lines between the worlds of fashion, art, culture and storytelling through both my commissioned and personal work.
Also, I'd say the magic lies somewhere between being intentional and spontaneous. As much as I'd love to be in control of the outcomes of my ideas, I'm careful to allow my subjects to interact naturally with the subject matter; where I place them in these scenes and use my camera to observe their instinctive responses. That sounds like a social experiment now that I think about it. Perhaps, that's really what it is.
Your photo stories include a mix of coloured and black and white images. How do you decide whether a photograph should be in colour or monochrome, and what intention guides this choice? How does the use of colour, or lack thereof, contribute to the overall narrative of your work?
This question makes me realise how intuitive a lot of my creative preferences are. When in doubt of what looks better visually, I trust my instincts and how the photograph makes me feel.
Was there ever a personal moment when capturing an image that reshaped the narrative you intended to portray? I’m interested in hearing about the human connections that occur behind the scenes and how they add depth to your work.
Before the making of the photograph, Mommy, Smile, I already had an idea in mind, but during the test shots this little boy took the prop camera and pointed it at me, and that felt just right. It took me back to my first time with a professional camera, and the excitement of figuring out how it worked.
Moments like this make me embrace providence and happy chances in my creative process; where I take a leap of faith and follow the story where it leads.
Is there a specific image within your series Boys Will Always Be Boys that you feel perfectly evokes what you are trying to convey to the world? 
Hard to pick, but I'd say What Are Brothers For? speaks to me a lot.
Before photography, it was football. I loved playing the sport, but what intrigued me even more was how strangers could turn best friends over one ball, and the genuine sense of community and love I felt on that pitch every day. The happy kid perched on his brother's shoulder brings back those priceless memories, where life was simpler and we didn't have to do much to belong.
By the way, this piece was sold at Phillips Auctions in London in November for  £22,860 to a private buyer. It was my auction debut.
Of course! The last question is a bit existential. Your work Sunday Special is drenched in nostalgia, prompting reflection on the past. There’s a film called Midnight In Paris about a disillusioned writer who time-travels to 1920s Paris, where he meets his admired literary and artistic figures, leading him to re-evaluate his present-day life and relationships. At one point, a character says: “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present.” Do you find truth in this statement? How do you perceive the role of nostalgia in your work?
Life may not have started out exactly how I would have wanted it to, but looking at how those small beginnings have shaped me, I wouldn't change a thing about my past. This encourages me to be present, knowing that the good old days I may reminisce about someday are happening right now.
Nostalgia, while it could feel like a cheap escape, goes beyond that; it reminds me to accept the past for what it was, find peace now, and nurture hope for tomorrow.