“Pappa”, an exhibition by Dubai-based Swedish photojournalist Katarina Premfors, is a moving tribute to her father, Kenth. The show features a series of photographs documenting the last 17 months of his life as he recovered from a stroke and later succumbed to cancer. The emotionally charged pictures portray his courage, determination and indomitable spirit, and the love and support he got from his family during this difficult time. The images compel viewers to think about their own mortality and to learn to value every moment and every relationship in their lives.
Kenth was living in Dubai, when he suffered from a stroke in 2011. Premfors, who always carries her camera with her, began photographing him more than a month after he was admitted to hospital. “He was partially paralysed and unable to communicate. In fact, his brain capability, development and mobility at that stage was quite similar to that of my 4-month-old daughter. The process of recovery was long and slow. But my pictures helped him to monitor his progress in physiotherapy and encouraged him to continue with it,” she says.
Her pictures over the next 16 months capture his valiant and successful fight to get well enough to return to Sweden, and his determination to continue physiotherapy even after he was diagnosed with cancer. The captions describe the daily challenges he and the family faced, the small triumphs they savoured, and the simple joys that became so much more meaningful, such as the tender moments shared with his son, daughter, wife and infant granddaughter.
The pictures of Kenth with his granddaughter are particularly touching. He is seen playing with her, feeding her, pushing her pram with his wheelchair along the harbour and finally, standing beside her in a photograph titled “A Beautiful Day”. “I had been waiting for the moment when I could photograph my daughter and my father standing side by side. When I finally got that picture, the cancer was in remission and I felt a sense of closure after a very traumatic period,” Premfors says.
But the cancer returned and spread quickly. The last picture Premfors took before he passed away shows the view her father could see from his hospital bed. “It has been a difficult time for us and we have been grieving in private. Sharing these pictures was a difficult decision for the family, but the process has been cathartic,” she says. “My father was lucky to have all of us around him, but there are many people, especially in the West who are dying alone. I hope my pictures will convey how important it is for families to take care of each other,” she adds.