Munem Wasif: Human Emotion

Posted: December 21st, 2012 | Author: | 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.”


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