Posted: January 18th, 2013 | Author: wasifsdairy | Filed under: Writings on photography | No Comments »
Dear Akash Bhai,
This is a personal letter to you and to no one else. I am following you and your work for long time. There was a time when I was looking at Abir bhai, Kiron bhai’s and your photos day and night. Before closing my eyes, I was thinking I wish I could work like this man!
I went to the same school as you. And that school has changed my life. I have become different human being. I have fights with lot of teachers in the class; I disagree with them in lot of cases. But I do believe this school has changed the landscape of photography in Bangladesh.
The day passed, we have grown up. And you too. We have different paths. We didn’t meet regularly as you traveled a lot and you have different relationship with Drik & Pathshala. But I met you in Hamburg at your flat, on the streets of Shakaribazar, Shahbag, Dhanmondi and in airports. We smiled at each other and shared our thoughts.
I have decided to publish ‘Kamra’ because I thought we need to move on. There was not so much space in Bangladesh to talk about photography, to have debate and to be passionate about what we do. Previously It was more about grouping, where you belong, what camera you use, what award you get. And I am sick of that. This book is published by me and Tanzim Wahab. And I owe the responsibility.
I am sorry if I have hurt you with my text. But I think what I have written, I have written from my heart and I don’t apologize for that. I was hard on you, because I think you are one of the photographers who got the potential to go beyond our expectation. Because you have shown that potential in your early work, in your life. I have also written in Abir bhai’s text that his news photos don’t inspire me. He has so much more to give. I have asked Alam bhai, how does his idealism work when he works for World Bank. I have asked Nasir Ali Mamun, why he gives same bw (light & shadow) treatment in all the photos.
But I might be wrong and you have full rights to disagree with me, you can yell at me. But I was shocked that you think I am part of a particular grouping. I was shocked to see how your fans have posted ugly comments and you didn’t say a single word. I didn’t expect that from you Akash bhai.
I have emailed you quite few times (25.7.2012/ 28. 8 .2012/ 29. 8. 2012). I wanted to take your long interview. You were busy, you were traveling.
I am sure there will be time. When you read the text again and have second thought. I will wait for that time.
It’s a lovely day outside Akash bhai, there is a beautiful light. It’s winter. Lets go outside and get lost in the street. I am sure we can both take amazing photographs, which will be very different from each other. But I hope we still can appreciate our work with an honest heart and be critical to each other.
18 January 2013
Ten Photographs, Ten Stories
© GMB Akash. All rights reserved.
Photo from Akash’s website: http://www.gmb-akash.com/view_gallery_photos.php?album_id=29
Munem Wasif on G M B Akash
[Translated from Bengali by Naeem Mohaiemen]
By then, the inevitable happened. First Shahidul, then Shehzad, Abir, Kiron– one after another, a daring piece of work. All hard core black-and-white, capturing a humane moment. Akash also started out in this mode. There was a unique caring in his photographs. A forgetful rider on an exhausted horse at the beach. Or, an intimate scene of Akash’s mother bathing his grandfather. These early black and white photographs carry the shadows of that established style. In any case, there was tremendous pressure on the younger photographers. Difficult to stand with your head held high. Not easy to brush off the weight of that established structure. If there is no new language, new stories cannot be told. Then even breathing became difficult.
But for some reason Akash was not finding his voice. The images are good, light-composition, everything is in place. But even the good photographs were blending into one, somewhat bland. His blood was hot, his camera hand was itching. It did not take too long to break the rules. Color photographs, wide lense, sexy subject– combining all these, Akash crossed the boundaries, broke the old empire. This was a completely different taste. The established politeness of photography ran out the door. Joop Swart masterclass, Time magazine assignment. Bang, bang, bang– Akash was a superstar.
This photograph is from the time before stardom. Akash was still searching for himself. What should he photograph? Gay men live in Narayanganj. Akash’s own town. Shahjahan is lightly kissing his client. Bodies astray, men kissing men. Was the kiss real? A nearby man is staring at the camera! The pleasure of this photograph increases by another two levels. Were there conversations before snapping the image? Is the whole thing staged? I do not think so. It does not matter anyway. Garish colors, crazy fashion, a tilted frame, bounce flash, distorted shape. A barely controlled excitement. Every gesture has a reckless vibration. There is no comfort in these images. Rather, it aggravates you. Your curious eyes want to know, what is there? The smell is different.
I look at the photographs even more carefully. Dancing, singing, sexuality, adoration, love– it is all so strange. Man or woman, dancer or prostitute? Many questions. Local people call them “kothi.” A family of nine between four walls– many characters. They all seem very strange– the photographs make them even more the “other.” Are photographers then some type of “specialized tourists”? We go to many different places and take such strange photographs– it all seems unfamiliar. That is when I remember Dayanita Singh and Mona Ahmed. As we look at her photographs, Mona is no longer a transvestite. Here the human relationship is more important than the photography. Dayanita and Mona became friends. A relationship of 13 years.
Meanhile Akash transforms from a photographer to professional magazine photographer. Very specifically defined. Geographies outside this country’s borders become his space of circulation. At the same time, that reckless mood of his photographs starts fading away. It is an oppositional relationship. His pictures become polite, restrained, beautiful in their construction. Akash keeps making work, here there everywhere– the clients are mainly western magazines. The sweat of child laborers, the brothel of Daulatdiya, a farmer drowning in floods, indigenous peoples, a corpse cut up by a train, drug addicted youth, shipbreakers, a chain-shackled madrassa student. Demand versus supply. One portrait, one wide shot, some detail, some relationships– a social story in 12 images.
Akash succeeded. But did we lose something special in the process?
Munem Wasif on GMB Akash [Kamra Volume 2]
[কামরা খণ্ড ২]
দশটি ছবি, দশটি গল্প জি এম বি আকাশের একটি ছবি নিয়ে লিখেছে মুনেম ওয়াসিফ
তত দিনে যা হবার তাই হয়ে গেছে। প্রথমে শহিদুল তারপর শেহজাদ, আবির, কিরন- একের পর এক দুর্ধর্ষ কাজ। সব হার্ড কোর ব্ল্যাক অ্যান্ড ও্য়াইট আর মানবিক মুহূর্তের ছবি। আকাশও শুরু করেছিলেন সেই ঘরানাতেই। অদ্ভুত মায়াও ছিল ছবিগুলির মধ্যে। সমুদ্র পারে উদাসী চালক আর ক্লান্ত ঘোড়া অথবা আকশের মায়ের তার দাদাকে স্নান করানোর দৃশ্য, আন্তরিক। প্রথম দিকের সাদাকালো কাজে আমরা সেই পুরানো ছবির ছায়াই দেখতে পাই। নতুন ফটোগ্রাফারদের উপর অনেক চাপ। ঘাড় সোজা করে দাঁড়ানো কঠিন। পুরানো কাঠামো ঝেড়ে ফেলা সহজ নয়। নতুন ভাষা না হলে নতুন গল্পও বলা যাচ্ছে না। নিঃশ্বাস নেওয়াটাই যেন কঠিন।
ছবিগুলো ভাল, লাইট-কম্পোজিশন সবকিছুই ঠিক ঠাক। কিন্তু কেন জানি আকাশের ঠিক জমছিল না। ভাল ছবিগুলোও যেন একরকম হয়ে উঠছিল- কিঞ্চিত পানসে। টগবগে রক্ত, নিশপিশে হাত। খুব একটা দেরি হল না তার ভাঙতে। রঙ্গিন ছবি,ওয়াইড লেন্স, সেক্সি বিষয়-সব মিলিয়ে ভেঙ্গে ফেললেন পুরানো সাম্রাজ্য। এক অন্য ধক। ছবির ভদ্রতা যেন দরজা দিয়ে দৌড়ে পালিয়ে গেল। জুপ সোয়ার্ট মাস্টার-ক্লাস, টাইম ম্যাগাজিনের অ্যাসাইনমেন্ট। ব্যাং,ব্যাং, ব্যাং- আকাশ সুপারস্টার।
ইহা স্টার হওয়ার আগের কাহিনী। আকাশ তখনও নিজেকে খুঁজছেন। কি তুলবেন? সমকামীদের ছবি-স্থান নারায়ণগঞ্জ। আকাশের নিজের শহর। শাহজাহান তার খদ্দের কে আলতো করে চুমু খাচ্ছেন! এলিয়ে যাওয়া শরীর, পুরুষে পুরুষে চুমু। চুমু টাকি আসল ? পাশের লোকটা আবার ফটোগ্রাফারের দিকে চেয়ে আছেন! ছবিটার মজা আরও দুই ধাপ বেড়ে গেল। ছবি তোলার আগে কি কথা হয়েছিলো? পুরাটাই কি সাজানো? না মনে হয়। কিছুই যায়ে আসে না। তীব্র রং, উৎকটে ফ্যাশন, তেসরা ফ্রেম, বাউন্স ফ্ল্যাশ, কৌণিক আকার। চাপা উত্তেজনা। পুরো ভঙ্গিমাটাই কেমন জানি বেপরোয়া। ঠিক যেন স্বস্থি দেয় না। বরং উশকে দেয়। কৌতূহলী চোখ দেখতে চায়, কি ওখানে? গন্ধটা একটু অন্যরকম।
ছবিগুলো আরও মনোযোগ দিয়ে দেখি। নাচ, গান, যৌনতা, ভক্তি, প্রেম-কেমন জানি? পুরুষ না নারী, নাচনেওয়ালী নাকি বেশ্যা? অনেকগুলো প্রশ্ন। স্থানীয় লোক এদেরকে ‘কোতি’ বলে। চারকোনা দেয়াল, নয়জনের পরিবার-নানান চরিত্র। মানুষগুলিকে দেখলে অদ্ভুত মনে হয়, যেন ছবিতে তারা আরও ‘অপর’ হয়ে উঠে। ফটোগ্রাফাররা কি আসলেই ‘স্পেশালাইযড ট্যুরিস্ট’? নানান জায়গায় যান আর এমন সব কিম্ভুত কিমাকার মুহূর্ত তুলে নিয়ে আসেন- অপরিচিত ঠেকে। ঠিক তখনই দয়নিতা সিং এর মোনা আহমেদ এর কথা মনে পড়ে। ছবি দেখতে দেখতে মোনা আহমেদ আমাদের সামনে আর হিজরা থাকেন না। এখানে ফটোগ্রাফি বিষয় না, সম্পর্কটাই মুখ্য। দয়নিতা আর মোনা বন্ধু হয়ে উঠেন।১৩ বছরের সম্পর্ক।
এদিকে আকাশ নিছক ফটোগ্রাফার থেকে পেশাদার ম্যাগাজিন ফটোগ্রাফার হয়ে উঠেন। বিশেষভাবে নির্দিষ্ট। দেশের সীমানা পেরিয়ে বৈদেশিক ভূগোল হয় তার বিচরণ ক্ষেত্র। অন্যদিকে আস্তে আস্তে তার কাজের বেপরোয়া ভাব ম্রিয়মাণ হতে থাকে। বৈপরীত্যের সম্পর্ক। ছবি হয়ে উঠে নির্মাণে আরও ভদ্র, পরিমিত ও শোভন। আকাশ ক্রমাগত কাজ নামিয়ে যান, এখান থেকে ওখানে- খদ্দর মুলূত পশ্চিমা ম্যাগাজিন। শিশু শ্রমিকের ঘাম, দৌলতদিয়ার পতিতালয়, বন্যায় ডুবন্ত কৃষক, আদিবাসী জনগোষ্ঠী, ট্রেনে কাটা লাশ, নেশাখোর যুবক, জাহাজ-ভাঙ্গার শ্রমিক, মাদ্রাসায় শিকল পড়া ছাত্র। চাহিদা বনাম জোগান। একটা পোরট্রেট, একটা ওয়াইড শট, একটু ডিটেল, কিছু সম্পর্কের ছবি- ১২টি ছবির সামাজিক গল্প।
আকাশ সফল। আমরা কি বিশেষ কিছু হারালাম?
GMB Akash posted following status update: “Delight in reading one of my junior, who expressed his world-famous-expertise in a publication by claiming my work declared as ‘GMB Akash is a ‘successful Specialized Tourist’, not a ‘Successful photographer’ (the summary I understood from the article), enjoying the fact that Bangladesh’s most famous photography school endorse it.” 12th January
“I surely do not have time to read juvenile and nonsensical rants like what they produce.. But I must fight corruption and promote integrity. It’s a sad, sad situation just thinking about that if you are not in politics, nepotism and only focus on your work then you have to pay in a long run and live full of your life with lag in your path. In the article it has also written: ‘I self-made my photographs, ‘I work with sexy topic’, ‘I work only for international magazines’, and I only take photograph on the basis of ‘Demand and supply’ etcetera and etcetera. What will be my expression after knowing first time that my photography topics are sexy! Hell yeah!
My friends, thanks for standing beside me always, I have much esteem for your meaningful comments, always inspiring and an abode to energise my heart and soul.” 12 January at 15:11
“I have full feelings on every one’s emotions. every one@ its not the fact that its downing my heart but it is making me surprised how people can even think thus, & if senior (at least the writer is senior in the industry by 2013) comments such childish (they published it calming my photographs are fake/self made, my photography topics are sexy (!! I never know we photojournalist are fashion photographers!!) what will happen to next generation living under that umbrella! seriously its insane, just simply insane.” 13 January at 12:53
Naeem Mohaiemen posted the following response:
Dear Akash,I appreciate your photography and have followed your work for years. However, with all due respect, you have misunderstood Munem’s essay, which is a very positive essay about your early, rule-breaking photography.If you read the full essay in KAMRA VOL 2 carefully, you will see that:1. does not call you a “Specialized Tourist”, he calls all photographers “Specialized Tourists.” That includes Munem Wasif himself, and all photographers working in Bangladesh. His critique is of the entire photography industry, not of you.2. Munem praises your early photographs. Your early photo of two gay men kissing was selected as part of the “10 Photos, 10 Stories” series in KAMRA Vol. 2. These were selected as 10 iconic photographs from Bangladesh. The other 9 selected were photographs by Rashid Talukdar, , Saida Khanam, , Shafiqul Alam Kiron, Family Photos, Azizur Rahim Peu, and Rasel Chowdhury.3. In the first part of the essay, he describes the set “style” that came about due to the early success of Shahidul Alam, Shehzad Noorani, , and Shafiqul Alam Kiron. He describes your photos of Naraynganj brothels as being the first to break with that trend of black-and-white photography, instead going for loud colors, wide angles, etc. The description is of a young photographer who broke the rules.4. In the last part of the essay, he expresses his disappointment with the photographs you do on assignment for magazines, because he believes those are much more rule-bound. The client demands very specific things from photographers, and rules cannot be broken.5. The last two sentences, which you misunderstood, is talking about the loss to Bangladeshi photography. Munem believes that magazine photography, with its very specific demands, has taken away the possibility of some very unconventional work from you, which would change Bangladeshi photography. The exact sentence is “Akash succeeded. But did we lose something special in the process?” (আকাশ সফল। আমরা কি বিশেষ কিছু হারালাম?)I have translated the full article. Please read it here and you will see that things are not where you think they are.
Second response of Naeem Mohaiemen to Akash:
I wrote an essay for this current KAMRA, Vol. 2: “Social Reality’s Reality Quest: from Colonial Portrait to Development Discourse.” The same journal in which Munem’s essay on your work also appeared.
http://tinyurl.com/a9zmclnAt one point in the essay, I wanted to talk about the transition away from the 1980s/90s black-and-white social reality trend (I gave Shahidul Alam, Shehzad Noorani, Shafiqul Kiron, Abir Abdullah as four key examples of that trend). While writing this portion I had a long discussion with Munem Wasif (co-editor along with Tanzim Wahab of KAMRA) about what were the works that caused a break. Munem pointed out your color photographs of transvestites as the work that first broke with the trend. So I included your work as the example of the one significant early break with the trend.Think about it for a minute– the person you are so incredibly critical of in your status update, he highlighted your work as an example of the one work that was a rule-breaker, new genre creator. As he wrote in his own essay: “Akash crossed the boundaries, broke the old empire. This was a completely different taste. The established politeness of photography ran out the door.”There is a concept called critique with love. We critique those from whom we expect a lot, because we want them to be better, to keep striving. Unfortunately in Bangla culture, we often only see the critique and fail to see the love.There is very little to be learned from empty praise such as “inspiration” and “proud.” In the era of facebook, these have been reduced to instant greeting card sentiments, they take very little time or effort to write. I believe there is more to be learned from someone who admires your radical early work and wishes you would return to it.
Posted: December 29th, 2012 | Author: wasifsdairy | Filed under: Writings on photography | Tags: Bangladesh photography, Bijon Sarker, BPS, Experimental BW, Kamra | No Comments »
Bijon Sarker died today.
When I heard he had an accident, I was at Pathshala. Suddenly I didn’t know what to do, whom to call. I though of calling Popi da his son, but we weren’t on good terms since Bijon da’s interview in Kamra. It was hard for me.
@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding
Came back home and found scroll news on tv screens that Bijon Sarker is severely injured. I called Chandan bhai, he was on his way to the hospital. We realized he would need lot of money for his treatment. I tried raising little money from students, friends, collogues, from Drik, from Pathshala. It was hard but we managed to raise a little money. Of course that was not enough. I went to hospital few times, there was nothing we could do. He was in ICU, alone.
@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding
Next day I had to fly to Cambodia. Saw the beautiful festival in Siem Reap, biked with friends in the countryside, had wonderful food in the streets. I came back after few weeks and got involved with so many things. Called Munni apa and Chandan bhai to get his update. But nothing much, Bijon da was still lying in his bed senseless.
Bijon da was one of the few photographers of his time who pushed the boundary of images while everybody else was busy making pretty photographs. He experimented in the darkroom and created images that we had never seen. He was concerned about the Bangladesh Photography Society. He missed Beg Shaheb as his companion. He was sad he didn’t manage to inspire the next generation of photographers to experiment and to learn to see the unseen. He was a poet who walked alone in the narrow streets of Old Dhaka. No body has written a feature about him in a newspaper, there was no book by him; his negatives have been eaten by ghun poka.
@ Bijon Sarker/ From BPS catalog
@ Bijon Sarker/ From BPS catalog
I promised him I would arrange a darkroom, papers and chemical, so he could start making photographs without a camera. He told me nobody must go to the darkroom; nobody could see his images before he had finished. Yes Bijon da I promised. I failed.
@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding
Bijon da died today; there were only a few people in Shahid Minar. We couldn’t manage a little more space for this artist to work. He was the Man Ray of Bengal.
Posted: December 21st, 2012 | Author: wasifsdairy | Filed under: Interview | No Comments »
As deep as you can go
Munem Wasif finds his important images close to home
Interview Laura Vuoma/ PhotoRAW magazine
How did you discover photography?
“Deciding to become a photographer took a long time. Bangladesh is a society with a lot of class divisions. Photography has no practical future here. My father told me once that if I want to be a photographer I will have to eat with the drivers. He was referring to weddings, where drivers get their food at the end.
I studied sociology as my main subject and photography on the side. At that time my mother died and that was a big change for me. I decided to find my way and support myself with photography.”
How do you see the importance of documenting one´s own country?
“For me photographing in Bangladesh is a choice. At the same this is a poor country with a lot of economic and political problems, so travelling with a Bangladeshi passport is quite difficult. And the kind of work I do takes a long time, so financially it is better for me to work in my own country.
Nowadays I can work abroad if I want to, but I just don´t feel like it. I don´t really enjoy the kind of magazine work where you go to another country and spend maybe a week there. For me photography is a way to express myself. If I don´t feel connected or emotionally driven for my subject, I cannot do a good story.
Bangladesh is ugly and beautiful, completely full of contradictions. We have millions of problems, but the beautiful thing that we have is human warmth.”
What has photography taught you about yourself?
“The camera has given me a chance to see the extreme rich, the extreme poor and also the middle class in my country. I have started to see the relations between these groups, the way this society works. If I compare myself to my friends working in offices, I feel I look at my country more critically.
I think that one of the most important qualities of a photographer is adapting to different customs and values. You need to be open to a lot of things. You have to listen. You have to go really in depth. You have to observe and be patient. You cannot always think about your own comfort.”
How would you describe your imagery?
“For me the common thing is human emotion. Looking at all the work I have done so far, I see more self-reflection than a full story.
For me single images are very important. Of course the story becomes important when you put images together, but I think single images also carry a story. When I do social stories, of course I research a lot. You have to put the story in context. But I feel some of my images are also research in themselves, visual research of a specific place.
I love black and white photography. When I was studying, all the photographers I looked up to were black and white masters. Clearing the colours out helps me to sum it up.”
Is there something that defines Bangladeshi photography in your opinion?
“I don´t think that your biological or geographical place defines how you look at things. Bangladeshi photography is really global. And even if there is something in common that is particular and interesting, I will not call it Bangladeshi.
The reason I started teaching was that I was tired of the work that was coming out of our school, Pathshala. It was all the same social documentary. People were trying to copy other photographers who had become successful. I wanted to break all the rules and open up new windows. I never showed my work in my class, since I didn´t want to encourage my students to be like me.”
What draws your attention in a story?
“For me it´s enough if you get a sense of feeling or mood looking at a body of work. Like a piano piece by Erik Satie, which is really simple but just grips you when you hear it. I feel there´s today so much to look at, but very little you can get connected to.”
How do you see the future of photojournalism?
“I´m not so sure about this whole concept of saving the world by doing photo stories. Who is portraying whom? The majority of the people in the world don’t have their own voice, they are being depicted by a particular group. The position of a photojournalist as a messenger seems very religious to me. Humanistic social documentary is important, but it can also build an emotional trap for the audience. There is a lot of politics and different interests involved in this industry. The result depends on how you engage yourself to the subject and where and how you publish it.
And it´s not only about photojournalism, it´s other images too. We are living in a world where it is difficult to be sensitive.”
Posted: September 8th, 2012 | Author: wasifsdairy | Filed under: Curation, Students Work | No Comments »
It was truly inspiring yesterday. We had our final presentation. It has been wonderful experience for me in last three years; Pathshala has given me so much as a student, as a teacher. I think more than photography I have changed as a human being.
But it was also not that easy also. I have different kind of students. They were passionate, lazy, egocentric, blank, sweet, old, psycho. Mix of personalities. I guess it was harder for them than to me. I was rude, mean, arrogant to them but thorough the process I have also learned to be patient, adaptive and calm. But we also learned to love each other.
Thanks to Abir bhai who trusted on me and ask me to teach. Thanks to Biraz for traveling to Australia otherwise i think i will not become a teacher. I was just there to fill up the gap as a proxy teacher but sadly the proxy became too long.
Please have a look at their work at senses www.inandoutphotos.com. I hope it will be good enough to explain what they have achieved in a short period of time.
Now its time for me to come back to the street where i belong and take photographs. A short break…
In & Out
In & Out is a space for new generation Bangladeshi photographers. It is no longer unknown that Bangladeshi photography has reached to the global scene for it’s long tradition of quality. It is hard to own a tradition which is well-recognized but the tradition then becomes a barrier for new way of seeing. Trend can create an underlined pressure for those works which do not fit-in to the scene.
New generation photographers of Bangladesh are showing their potential, producing works that are liberated from any trend but there is a void of space in the mainstream. Local photographic scene is not ready to offer a space for such works. We inspire those works which do not fit-in with the mainstream, in transition and stays somewhere in-between.
We support those photographers who have created unique and own visual expressions and new contents. In & Out does not intend to hold any work permanently and we expect a flow where new works will get in, grow, succeed or fail and then move out to leave a space for others.
Munem Wasif & Tanzim Wahab