The Fine Art and Documentary photographers take great pride in thinking themselves superior to the other main genres of photography, such as the family snap shooter or the amateur photographer, as personified by camera club imagery. However, after 30/40 years of viewing our work, I have come to the conclusion that we too are fairly predictable in what we photograph.

 

I include myself in this, and have been very careful to try and think of new territories to explore, but recognise that very often I also indulge in the list outlined below. I am aware of the basic rules, which dominate our work, and want to now attempt to group some of the more dominant strands of contemporary practice.

 

Portrait of Martin Parr, part of the Photo Paintings from North East Brazil series

 

This core subject matter and approach is also constantly shifting and changing as new photographers arrive and have an impact on our accumulative photographic culture and language. I have a rapacious desire to look at new work and do this through books, magazines, and of course exhibitions. Most of the work I see is generic; in so far I can read the influences. It is when the inspiration and lineage is not clear that my attention is alerted. I used this as a guiding principal for the recent curating of the Brighton Photo Biennial, and made freshness of approach to the subject matter a major criteria for selection.

 

Let me try and outline the basic genres that can be found.

 

1. The above ground landscape with people.

 

This is a relatively recent development with the major influence of Gursky, being the starting point. You take a high vantage and place people within the frame setting them in a larger urban or even rural landscape.

 

2. The bent lamppost.

 

You see this a lot in the USA, where they are blessed with many bent lampposts. The scene is urban and generally quite run down. This can be traced back to Stephen Shore amongst others.

 

3. The personal diary.

 

Nan Goldin gave this genre a major boost with the famous “ Ballad of Sexual Dependency ” project, but there are predecessors with the likes Larry Clarke and Ed van der Elsken.

 

4. The Nostalgic gaze.

 

Photographers love to shoot a factory, a shop, a club or some institution that is about to close. We, of course, welcome and praise the sense of community that is threatened.

 

5. The quirky and visually strong setting.

 

In terms of documentary we are much more likely to see a project done on a circus than say, a petrol station. The simple reason is that photographers love shooting situations where there is an inherent visual quirk. So we see plenty of this type of subject such as mental hospitals and animal clinics.

 

Read the rest on Martin’s blog HERE

I am slightly wary of overarching, temporal pronouncements. So I approached a semester-end student show at Pathshala (South Asian Media Academy) with some trepidation, mainly owing to the title: “Generation in Transition.” For the last few years, there had been discussions in Dhaka about the need to expand the definition of what constitutes photography. I was looking forward to seeing new experiments. But of all the influences on a changing zeitgeist, age seemed the least relevant, most fluid factor. Also, worryingly, this is the element most vulnerable to market instrumentalization and commercial fetish (like a certain type of “activist” photography had been in the past).

 

The photographs on view that day were an eclectic, electrifying mix. Alongside the formalist view of a dying river or the portrayal of a wealthy family (the 1%), there were suicide meditations, a song of faithlessness, mysterious objects, and a lone figure engaged in self-pleasuring.

 

The room was packed and audience comments revealed frisson and a jittery nervousness. There was the expected microanalysis: in the suicide sequence why did you use that color for blood? Down, down, deep into the rabbit hole. Then a photographer voiced a different, palpable discomfort. Looking at the dominance of more abstract, non-documentary work, he wondered if this was an imitation of something else.

 

Imitation of what, he was asked.

“Something foreign.”

An anxiety that a shift away from documentary reporting was somehow not quite “indigenous” or “authentic.”

 

What are our responses to these authenticity questions about photography, now? We have, after all, traveled down a complicated path of an internationally rewarded focus on “reality.” What are the external influences for that stark portrait of sweat down a laborer’s back? Those majestic images of manual labor? The dodge-burn intensified cloudscape? Our paradigmatic mode of exquisite black and white photography? Everything came from somewhere.

 

In the essay, “Are too many people taking photographs?” Pedro Meyer describes technology that has now automated exposure and framing to the point of rewarding a simple click. Last year, a photographer asked me to bring back a Holga when I went abroad. The year before, another photographer had asked for a Lomo. After two years of experimentation (with real, expensive film; the way it used to be), he joyfully showed us the fantastic results. Meanwhile, we found Facebook invaded by similarly stylized, off-kilter images. A new iPhone app had come out, and it allowed facile imitation of lomography. Of the Holga. Of everything.

 

This is a certain kind of slow-burn challenge for professional photography. Or, photography as a profession. Certain skills take a long period to acquire. I am humbled when I meet with photographers who have practiced their craft to a bright, shining edge. Then along comes some new software that duplicates that same, hard-earned, meticulous work into a click-and-click effect. It renders it into an unfortunate parlor trick.

 

Technology and economics made camera and techniques ubiquitous. Where will all these cameras go? There is now growing competition inside Bangladesh for scarce photography jobs and international awards that create an unhealthy star system. All of it is an intense pressure cooker. I worry that playfulness and true experiments will get lost in this new race. Are people forgetting to have fun? Will photography become the new MBA?

 

In Brian Palmer’s documentary on Pathshala (http://youtu.be/e-UFjWv0Zlg), the specter of the parachuting, ham-fisted western photographer is in the background as antithesis. However, that battle is actually over; even talking about it is a bit performative. When a Dhaka photographer recently told a foreign reporter he could not accompany him on a politically problematic story, no other photographer was willing to cover that same story. The reporter had to borrow a camera and take the photos himself.

 

 

A movement that started with the necessary idea of “southern eye” must now confront the aftermath of victory– where the southern eye is now its’ own power center. That means there are other groups and practices that are the new margin.

 

One question that intrigues now is why photographers, raised in urban centers like Dhaka, are sometimes drawn to capturing images of rural life. Donor funded priorities, such as the focus on “climate change”, are one possible explanation. Something else is at work here. Rural photo essays grant bucolic vistas that the city photographer hungers for. A momentary relief. Escape.

 

In C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), the escape hatch is a piece of everyday furniture. Beyond that are magical talking creatures and many adventures. It is no accident that Lewis set his book during the 1940s. The children wanted desperately to escape the gouging shards of a world at war. In other tales, it is a trapdoor, a sliding wall, or a mystical portal. Here, in contemporary Dhaka, it is a photograph. Stare at it long enough and you might forget about the insistent, omnipresent reality bite.

 

As per semiotic theory, we make sense of visual phenomena in several ways: resemblance (it looks like what it is), logic (cause and effect), convention (objects that have symbolic value), and signification (the visible signifying something else altogether, although often related). What was intriguing about that “Transition” student photo portfolio was the shift away from the first element: resemblance. Very few images were what they looked like, the meaning was not immediately clear. Even the familiar city had become unmoored from landmarks. It was everywhere and nowhere. This could be the start of something different. Perhaps all this needs to be married to the fever dream embedded within those earlier, bucolic images.

 

The challenge for the coming years should be to carve out spaces for these new practices. Reclaim a space where photography is not just “practical,” or a “career track.” Expand available options for imagining worlds, instead of guarding the citadel.

 

We need a generous context for experiments, things that do not fit. But we also need to be welcoming to those who wish to color inside the lines.

 

Cacophony. Patience. Surprise. Courtesy. Rebellion. Humility.

 

Photography, in and out of focus.

 

Naeem Mohaiemen (naeem.mohaiemen @gmail.com) works in essay, photography, and film. His photography was included in Drik’s ‘Chobi Mela V’ at Shilpakala Academy. Images accompanying this essay are taken from his project “Live true life or die trying,” currently on view at Marginal Utility, Philadelphia.

‘Letters to a Young Poet’ by Rainer Maria Rilke is must read for any young artist. I love the way he replied to Franz Kappus in the first letter when he asked whether his verses are any good? From first letter written in  ParisFrance on 17 February 1903

 

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? 

 

 

 

Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sound – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories?

 

 

 

Turn your attention to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of , this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.

 

And in his third letter (april 23, 1903) , he has written beautifully about critics.

 

In your opinion of “Roses should have been here . . .” (that work of such incomparable delicacy and form) you are of course quite, quite incontestably right, as against the man who wrote the introduction. But let me make this request right away: Read as little as possible of literary criticism. Such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are clever word-games, in which one view wins , and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism.

 

 

 

 

Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them. Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentation, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights. Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

 

Please read the whole book- http://www.carrothers.com/rilke_main.htm

Our old home

Dadu, sleeping. It will be so different to go mirpur when she will be not there

This is the pond that me and munmun went with abbu in the all the eid morning in our childhood to take bath and learn swimming

The cow…

Mehndi, nabila’s hand

Boro Chachu, coming back from the mosque.

Mosque, just in front our house. You have to listen the sound of this cracked mike at 5 in the morning!

Nabila in the dinning table

The beautiful sun in our corridor

Dadu, praying…

Boat

Our afternoon walk through the fileds

The cloud

Nabila & Boro chachu in the boat

Rice field and the wind

Reetu and Munmun.

 

Normally I don’t take photographs at my home or in my village or among friends. I guess I am tired of photography, so when i go for holiday sometime travel without my camera. But strangely now i feel like document these banal personal moments, like a visual diary. Basically I was amazed to look at old photographs in family albums, they were so honest.

 

I have taken all these photographs through I-phone, inspired by Imtiaz Ilahi. Though now i hate all this hipsatamic effects, want to go back to films.

22 February 2012

This Photograph is My Proof, 1974 © Duane Michals

‘This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!’


 

Duane is one of the few photographer who can use text in the images so well and provoke thoughts. His images are so simple and so moving. He has created a different world. Its intelligent but… He just turned 80.

18 February 2012

 

Tram in College Street

Adda in Malu house. And found Malik sidbe’s photo in one of the book.

Malu in his home. One of the few atel…

Coffee house

Fused Shamem

Poor Greg, 12 at the night he became nilayan’s model

Before leaving the party at Driknews…group photo!