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You were tiny. Your round dark eyes were like two drops of coffee on milk, your hair was a forgotten forest of night, and you were perfect. I couldn’t believe my eyes, my thoughts. How could I own something like you? How could you be mine?
You made me promise I would never let you go. I would never let you grow old. My very existence was about protecting you. When you were riding unicorns or stealing heart, I would guard your castle of dreams, shield you from the horrors of reality. I lay my life to do it.
In return, you kept me alive.
When I was crying myself to sleep, you would crawl inside me and whisper stories from the strangest lands. When I was tired, you would show how to fly. In pain, you were joy. In age, you were youth. You became my shelter, my place to hide – and all I had to do was ensure no one could steal you away from me.
I’m sorry I let somebody do that. I can still feel little parts of you. Your round dark eyes are staring back at me, almost in disbelief. I’m sorry I let you down. I am trying to hold on, I am trying to remember. You’re the very core of my being, and I am lost without you. You’re the only one who can save me from the monotony, from being somebody else. Let me protect you, one last time. I’m not ready to lose you, not just yet.
Only a week back, as I settled myself on a plane en route to London, the relatively aged woman next to me tapped my shoulder and said, “Excuse me, if no one sitting on those seats, can you please move?” On first instance, I thought she wanted me to exchange seats with someone she knew, but staring at the rather forlorn looking seats at the other end of the aircraft that she pointed at, I figured there was no real reason behind her asking me to move unless she badly wanted to put her feet up and sleep tight. Give it thirty seconds and my brown face, Bangladeshi passport and religious idealism seemed to give a broader and clearer picture. Sadly though (for her), someone did end up taking those seats and with perfectly good intentions, I smiled at her and said, “I guess you’re stuck with me.” In response, her expression was that of a rabbit who was just spotted a fox and doesn’t know where to hide.
Interestingly, and this is the part where my belief in karma got reinstated for the umpteenth time, halfway through the flight, I was the one running from one end of the aircraft to the other, looking for an air hostess who would provide hot water for her flu-struck son. A profuse note of thanks immediately followed and perhaps, a tiny shred of faith into the Muslim mankind reestablished.
It’s been ten years since 9/11 and it’s difficult to measure how tangibly the world has learnt on interfaith tolerance. The Muslim majority world has seen its fair share of wars, apologies, more wars and more apologies – but as we stand on the crossroads of an epitome resonating Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village, we ask ourselves – “Have we really taken any lessons home?”
Interfaith dialogue, next to terrorism and political leadership has been one of the most conversational topics across international media over the past decade. Numerous talk shows, documentaries, special news reports and so on have been released – many of which, supposedly trying to strike a fine balance between fundamentalism and “safe livelihoods”. I remember on a weekend night in Toronto a couple of months back, I caught a bunch of serious looking people packed with credentials discussing on late night CBC: “What is the moderate Muslim?” There seemed to be all kinds of discourse and deconstructions on screen, and like any talk show, bottomed down to a point of zero compromise and intolerance of philosophies. Assuming that is a subtler, more acceptable form of intolerance, we move on.
Question is, must we move on? Should we take a second glance, form a more informed opinion or hide under the liberty of indifference because this just isn’t my problem?
I have always been deeply moved by the initiatives and strength of my generation and those that follow. The fact that they are conscious enough to begin a movement, to reflect upon their choices and make sacrifices – however small it may seem – is amazing and this, like every other bit of good work, is another reflection where love and happiness breaks all boundaries to create a better world.
“So, tell me… what makes you mix a Masters in Economics with highly acclaimed photography?”
Sohrab Hura, now in his late twenties grinned and replied,
“I did it for fun. I also wanted a PhD in Economics, but ended up not going for it.”
Born in October 1981, Sohrab Hura is acknowledged as one of the most exciting new generation photographers in the world. Indian by birth, he sees the world as a place of real human stories, and brings in his experiences as an economist to expose the human dimensions in economic movements. Through his lenses, Hura believes it’s important to remain honest and share stories where personal connections are indelible. His work was exhibited at Chobi Mela V, and he returned to Dhaka this year at Chobi Mela VI to conduct a workshop for students from Pathshala South Asian Media Academy.
Sohrab Hura with a visiting student at Pathshala. Photograph Sarker Protick
We met at Pathshala on a lazy afternoon while his students were busily preparing their work for a ‘street exhibition’. Hura encouraged his students to move out of the box of exhibiting photographs only in galleries or defined spaces, and make it available for public viewing – even if it were only a fun experiment.
“When I came to conduct this workshop at Pathshala, I was hoping I will be able to encourage students to think about their photographic works at greater depths. This does not necessarily mean the quality of each photograph, rather the thought process that goes behind producing it. I want them to experience photography as storytelling, and be honest about what they’re offering. We discussed how a physical or psychological space can be used to interpret the stories, and how an average viewer might perceive it. That is why we decided to hang photos on walls and streets, and invite random pedestrians to take a look. It will help the photographers to understand how their work is communicating with others.”
Yet, I felt an irony. Hura is a self-taught photographer who has not been to any formal school to learn photography, yet finds himself ‘educating’ photography students. How does he see such contradicting pieces fitting into the picture?
“I think it’s important to get some level of formal education in photography to understand its parameters and ethics. I may not have been to a school like Pathshala [because we didn’t have such an institution in India] but I was well guided by very influential photographers, such as Raghu Rai. I am extremely privileged that way – I won a fellowship that allowed me to learn things from brilliant artists in a more informal setting.”
“I believe there are different ways of reaching the same destination. It’s the same with learning photography formally and informally,” added Hura. “I recommend people to gain some organized experience in the field before moving onto to exploring their photographic identities. However, I don’t think one needs to spend a lot of money going to an expensive school to learn those things. It can happen with a small investment, where not too many things are at stake and you have the opportunity to unlearn as you learn.”
As the evening sun was setting in, we could hear the bustling of the students outside. It seemed they were ready to show their work and had already gathered some audience. Hura’s experience with photography amongst the younger generation in Bangladesh was limited, but he recalled his time in Pathshala as intriguing. In what regards does Sohrab Hura – being young and dynamic – perceive the nextgen photographers from Bangladesh?
“The work is definitely good. However, many students are gradually experimenting with different formats. They’re cropping images into different sizes without realizing how it will appear on an actual print of that size. For me, the process is more important than the product. I pay attention to the formats. I think these photographers need to understand different formats in their actual dimensions and decide whether it suits their images or stories.”
A storyteller at heart, Hura shares how photography has changed for him over time. From being intrigued to recording personal incidents to finally settling into an international standard, and recently into a more emotionally connected space – he feels his journey has been privileged, interesting and surprising at the same time. In his work, he prioritizes context over other photographic aspects, and feels that one should remain clarified about their intentions before actually beginning to photograph a story. A strong base will certainly guide the story better.
The crowd outside was getting noisier and I could feel Hura’s excitement rising. The random pedestrian is an audience without baggage and often the most difficult viewer to communicate with. Both Hura and I were beginning to get anxious to witness how people were reacting. While we sipped the last bit of cha in our cups, Sohrab Hura summed up our conversation. On a final note, what advice would he give to aspiring photographers?
“Be honest. That’s it.”
One day in 1946. 11-years old Pedro Meyer receives a present from his father. It’s a camera. Intrigued, Meyer begins taking pictures. Over time, pictures become his becoming, and a legend is born.
Pedro Meyer is lauded as one of the most innovative and accomplished photographers across the globe. At the forefront of the digital revolution, he launched the first ever CD-ROM that combined sound and image to produce an emotional photo essay (I Photograph to Remember) depicting his parents’ lives, then suffering from terminal cancer. In that sense, many contemporary artists consider him the ‘digital guru’, a bridge between the analogue and digital era of photography. In 2004, Meyer set himself to host the first world wide simultaneous retrospective. The project, titled Heresies comprised over 60 simultaneous exhibitions in 17 countries around the world.
Pedro Meyer receives Chobi Mela Lifetime Achievement Award 2011. The awards were handed out during the opening ceremony on 21 January 2011 at National Theatre Auditorium, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Photograph DrikNEWS
This year, Pedro Meyer is a visiting artist at Chobi Mela VI who is also conducting a workshop on Digital Application in Contemporary Photography at Pathshala. He is currently based in Mexico and received the Chobi Mela Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
On meeting him at Goethe-Institut a couple of days back, I was immediately struck by his energy. His ability to immerse into a conversation and be intrigued consistently put us into ease. We discussed photography, art and storytelling. An obvious query was his decision to continue taking still pictures, when clearly a combination of sound and moving images could produce dramatic motion pictures or videos.
“It’s because I began with still photography and felt passionate about it,” explained Meyer, smiling. “I don’t think videos or motion pictures have the same depth or emotional connection with its creator. It’s somewhat very passive. But with still photography, I can feel passion, emotional involvement and personal connotations.”
That being said, does digital photography allow the same intensity of personal attachment between the photographs and the artist? A 2010 editorial piece from ZoneZero (the online photography platform that Meyer founded) eloquently summarizes his take on the boom of “photographers” everywhere. He feels gratified and elated with the fact more people are taking interest in pictures. In his opinion, any simple image – years from now – maybe an important document in history.
“It’s amazing how technology has allowed people to become part of an extraordinary ability to tell stories through images,” added Meyer during our conversation. “I remember on the boat trip I went to [in Bangladesh], I took a picture of a man in a different boat on the river. He also took out his mobile phone and took a picture of me. This is exciting! Technology has allowed people – irrespective of economic conditions – to somehow be engaged in the photographic process. This was unimaginable even a few years ago!”
“So, what makes a photograph the photograph?” I asked.
“Well, first of all, the photograph does not exist. The photograph that we like is based on our cultural differences, age differences and other contextual factors,” Meyer replied. “A fifteen year old boy in Mexico will like a very different photograph from a fifteen year old boy in Bangladesh because they belong to different cultures. For each of them, at that moment, that photograph is significant. As they grow older, the photograph may no longer be significant; another photograph may seem more meaningful. The photograph is anything that we like, and our likings change as we settle into different contexts.”
True, the way we perceive our surroundings change over time. Yet the restless dynamism of the 21st century makes me wonder whether we’re changing too fast. The younger generations experience rampant mood shifts. What would Pedro Meyer’s advice be to the next generation of photographers? How will they keep up with the rising demands of the world around them?
“That’s simple! You have to keep learning. You have to be genuinely curious and continue learning as you age. In the analogue era, there were a few techniques you’d need to master. In the digital era, not a week passes without something new happening. It is important to adapt to these new things, to changing surroundings in order to keep up.”
As we continued exchanging perspectives, Meyer enthusiastically took out his camera and began explaining how fast technology was progressing. The possibilities were exciting! Pedro Meyer’s magnanimous persona comes from his curiosity towards the evolving events around him. He believes in learning something new each day. Though the world has much to learn from his unwavering wisdom, Pedro Meyer lives in the moment and grows with it, thus making him the extraordinary visionary he is.
This year’s Chobi Mela features more students and ex-students from Pathshala than in previous years, and this is only a reflection of the high quality of work that is being produced in the institution. The new breed of photographers is more dynamic and experimental, breaking traditional approaches and encapsulating intimacy and personal connection in their respective stories.
An exemplary work from this lot would be Syed Asif Mahmud’s “My City of Unheard Prayers”. Mahmud is a second year student from Pathshala exhibiting at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy during Chobi Mela VI. His work is a series of images that represent his perspective on a metro life and over time, has developed into a personal account of his becoming in the chaos of an urban jungle. Although he has spent most of his life outside Dhaka, his work focuses on Dhaka and the journey he feels entangled in with his friends, thoughts and emotions.
“Because of the theme being ‘Dreams’, I felt much privileged. My story reflects on my dreams, nightmares and the reincarnation of dreams. I focused on two aspects of the city life – isolation and the rat race. I’ve primarily come from the northern part of Bangladesh and have often felt unattached or restless with the lifestyle here, and I’ve seen that same sense of isolation being reflected in many of my contemporaries. Competitiveness, anxiety, fear, isolation, depression – all these feelings encapsulate my mental state and my evolving dreams, and that is what my story is all about.”
On the other hand, Mohammad Anisul Hoque – also a student from Pathshala – tells a very different story. His work is selected for a digital exhibition at Goethe-Institut Auditorium on 23 January, titled “High Life”. Hoque holds a degree in botany and enjoys taking family pictures. His work is a selection of photographs that reflects the comfortable urban lifestyle of an affluent family in Dhaka and he portrays the various shades of colour and glamour in their lifestyle.
“When we think about our lives and what we all eventually dream about, this is the kind of lifestyle that we all want to settle for. We want the comfort of our families, the luxury of affluence, the security of our homes and the guarantee of a smooth way of living. My story portrays the lifestyle that many of us dream to have.”
Tushikur Rahman joined Pathshala during Chobi Mela V. In two years, he feels tremendously humbled and thrilled to have picked up so much from the institution. His work “Fatalistic Tendency” portrays an amalgamated state of mind engulfed with depression, suicidal tendencies and the death of dreams, and was one of the digital exhibits at Goethe-Institut Auditorium tonight.
“My friends tell me my work contradicts my personality. They usually know me as someone who’s very amicable and cheerful. These photographs – on the other hand – reflect on a more anxious and devastated personality.”
Tushikur Rahman carefully places a selection from his work, “Fatalistic Tendency” on the walls of Pathshala for the street exhibition. Photograph Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Chobi Mela VI represents a tremendous journey – not only in terms of the festival, its exhibitions and the visiting artists, but also the students of the institution and the art of photography. As Dick Doughty, the Managing Editor of Saudi Aramco World Magazine and a visiting artist who is conducting a workshop tutor at Pathshala during Chobi Mela VI phrases it,
“I felt inspired on coming to Pathshala this year. The institution is shaping to be an important and remarkable center for photography, and instead of bringing ideas from elsewhere, it has begun generating its own unique ideas.”
Only a few hours remain to the grand opening of Chobi Mela VI – the unique international photography festival of our time. Everyone is bubbling with excitement. The festival not only attracts photography connoisseurs and students from around the globe, but also becomes the talk of the town. To make things fun, we went around Dhaka and virtual social networking platforms to find out what the aam janata (general public) has got to say about this year’s exhibition(s).
Mashroor Nitol, a 22-year old from Khulna University of Science and Technology is a young photo enthusiast and has been to some of the Chobi Melas in the past. He feels drawn to the festival because of the selection of photographs and their diversity, and how different photographers relate and approach a common theme. He’s thrilled to be in Dhaka during this year’s exposition, and remarks excitedly:” When I think about Dreams as a festival theme, I imagine myself in a place where each image somehow relates back to my own dreams – things that I experience in my sleep as well as those I aspire in life. I love the way Chobi Mela tends to make us rethink everyday experiences, such as dreaming as more than what they are and adds fresh perspective into the way I see my relationship with the photographs.”
Meanwhile, 19-year old Musfiq talks about how he has colourful and black-and-white dreams. “I’ve never been to Chobi Mela in the past, but some of my friends are constantly discussing it. The posters seem to be everywhere! The theme sounds interesting and I want to know how dreams are expressed through photographs. Scientifically, I’ve read how dreams are colourless, but I see many colours when I dream – and to see it being portrayed through a visual medium will help me understand how other people also dream.”
Chobi Mela VI posters on the walls of Dhaka intrigue pedestrians. Photograph Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Cha-wala Shah Alam has seen strange-looking vans with pictures all over them two years back in the streets. He found it rather amusing and thought they were promoting tourism in Bangladesh. On meeting up with him, we explained how the vans represented the moving exhibitions of a much larger festival and that these photos – in fact – were some of the most iconic pieces in the world. Shah Alam raised an eyebrow and said:
“Toi eto daami sobi raastaye raastaye ghurbo kya? Manushey toi kisu buzbona!” (translate: Why are such priceless photographs roaming around in the streets? People will not understand anything!)
We told him how the mobile exhibitions provided everyone with an access to the festival, but Shah Alam remains unconvinced.
On the other hand, 32-year old Ariful Zaman works at a private bank and enjoys doing nature photography. He is a regular Flickrite – one of the largest online platforms for photo sharing and showcasing – and tells us how Chobi Mela instills a sense of pride in his heart.
“To imagine some of the world’s best photographers coming to Bangladesh and experiencing our country in ways beyond the usual stories of poverty and natural calamities is an honour, and it feels good to know they take positive memories back home. The fact exhibitions that have been to New York or London or Paris are being shown in the same way to Bangladeshis is an overwhelming opportunity. For us enthusiasts, this is a remarkable experience. I’ve been coming to Chobi Mela since 2004 and every time, I feel excited to meet so many photographers from different corners of the world as well as see such versatile bodies of work.”
Speculations are high and everyone is anxious. What will Chobi Mela VI be like? How will photos share stories of dreams? Where to go and what to see? Chobi Mela has been growing each time and on its 6th season, it brings together thoughts, images and stories that keep civilizations alive and with life. At a time of chaos and divide, dreams are what holds us together – and Chobi Mela VI promises to deliver diversity and unsung stories of time.
Only a few hours to go!