Archive for category photography
“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!
Yes, kids do grow up very fast. (=
Just the other day, she was all warm and cuddly, wrapped in blankets and sleeping peacefully in my arms. And now, she’s all grown, dreaming and looking up at the skies. I really made a grand effort to take a picture of her properly. You know, the typical smiling, laughing, playing kid who’s happy to be growing up.
However, in spite of my efforts (and some successes as well), I kinda fell in love with this photo. We were trying to make her sit and smile, but she kept falling back and staring up at the heavens. And what a sky it was that day!
I think she was dreaming.
I don’t really like blowing my own trumpet. In fact, I would rather be without it. However, I figured this is a news I can’t help but share, and I am thankful to a lot of people for bringing me to this moment. So yes, for people who know have played a role in my becoming, do know this is a toast to you for your support and love.
A couple of months back, I submitted three photographs at the Sony Cannes World Photography Awards 2009 Contest. There were 10 categories (for ‘Amateurs’) and recently, I came to know one of my photos have been shortlisted into the Top 10 under the category of ‘Music’. 183 photographers from across the globe have been selected and shortlisted (10 or more in each category under the labels ‘Amateur’ and ‘Professional’, so 183 in total), and I couldn’t believe I made it! It was even cooler to know I was the only one from Bangladesh, and it felt really good see my country’s name up in that list.
The second round of judging would have selected the Top 10 photos from the 183 shortlisted ones, and clearly, I didn’t make it through that round. That means I don’t get the prize money; however, I already had more than I could ask for.
So, I received a mail a few days back that read the following:
From a total of 25,370 images entered into the amateur categories alone, it was certainly a difficult decision for all our esteemed judges to narrow the many excellent entries down to the shortlist and then the winner. We thank you for your hard work and commitment to capturing and submitting some amazing images.
Having been short-listed, your work will be on display at the Winner’s exhibition in Cannes as well as featured in the 2009 SWPA Winner’s Book – so congratulations once more on getting to the top 10!
Sony World Photography Awards
World Photography Awards Limited
9 Manchester Square
London. W1U 3PL
Like I said, I already got more than I asked for.
Thank you everyone (you know who you are) for your continuous support and belief in my abilities. I still remember the days I dragged Tushmit or Amreen through Dhanmondi Lake to practice portraits, or begged Rajiv to buy me a camera. And Zabir, you know I would not have even participated if you hadn’t pushed me hard enough. I love you all. ❤
A very big thanks also goes to my niece, Zara (who is one now) on whom I practiced each and everything about photography I learnt. I don’t think I would have come to this day without her.
As for everyone who will get tagged in this note on Facebook, I am eternally grateful to you for giving me a place to express myself. I never thought I’ll be someone carrying a camera and loving it so much! (=
Thanks to all my Flickr buddies, RS peeps and folks at Drik. You’ve all been an inspiration! (=
The photo on Flickr
I still don’t consider myself a photographer. I am growing, learning and evolving every day. However, it still gives me joy to know all this. woot!
May God bless you all.
People walk past her, but MARTI’s eyes are fixed on something in front of her. The Chobi Mela V posters of Nelson Mandela behind her flutter in the breeze. It has been a slow, languid day. Suddenly her attention shifts and almost, in the flash of an instant, the shutter is pressed and the film rolls.
A smiling victorious MARTI turns to face me.
“It’s not always easy to capture the perfect candid shot,” the photographer from Paris replies, while fumbling with her numerous memory sticks.
“Oh come on, MARTI, if you are using a super-cool, expensive camera, doesn’t that do half the job for you?” I argue.
“Ah, my dear, I don’t think it’s about camera equipment at all. Good photography is about observation. Having a creative eye that picks up something unusual, strange, ironic, beautiful, joyful, tragic, or different. The important thing is to have the courage to get out there and do it. The courage to observe and interact with our surroundings, and to shoot lots of pictures and select only a few. Courage is what is essential. It doesn’t matter what equipment you’re using. It’s about an expression of the soul, which can be captured in many ways.”
“But that makes all of us photographers, doesn’t it?”
“Well of course, in the digital world, everybody is a photographer. We have cell phones. We can record any moment as it unfolds. I think what makes each of us different is how we choose to portray what we see,” she explains as we walk down a narrow Dhaka alley. The midday sun is hidden by the boarding houses and the hustling of the market place begins to slow down. “If you want to be original, look at a small neighborhood as an entire universe and choose a well-defined subject that really interests you. Then, comes the hard part. Say something no one else has ever said. Gradually you will emerge as a fine photographer.”
“But what if I’m really not good enough?” My obstinate allele kicks in and I look deep into MARTI’s hazel eyes to make my point. “I think if I start believing I’m very good, I will sound arrogant and over-confident!”
“I think when you are truly an artist; you don’t care about what other people think. You are compelled by your own deep passion and inspiration. When you are on a real path, each step you take transports you further along that path. Photography is a great adventure and we are each discoverers, pathfinders. Forging ahead is the most important thing,” MARTI replies with patience and smiling. “I don’t think you can ever say you’re not good enough.”
“When I photographed in Cambodia, I wanted to tell the story of the survivors of one of the most terrible genocides we have ever known. I was driven into the battlefields where mortar rounds were exploding everywhere. When the bombs exploded around me they didn’t ask if I were Cambodian or French. Bombs can’t read pieces of paper that says “PRESS”. Bombs simply hit and they hit indiscriminately. Sadly, they often take the lives of women and children who have never carried a weapon in their lives. While I was shooting, I never once thought about whether I was good enough. If I was the only photographer allowed into restricted areas, it was because I persisted, not because I was better than anyone else. Today my work is part of the Cambodian National Cultural Heritage Centre. I have ceded the rights to the work to the Cambodian people because it is their story.”
We walk past houses painted in shades of orange and white. An intersection between the market and the residences leads to the river. As MARTI and I walk in the direction of the watery wastelands, my eyes suddenly stop at the sight of a group of teenage boys sitting in a circle taking drugs in broad daylight.
I look at MARTI and grumble.
“What I hate about being a struggling female photographer is that I just can’t go everywhere and photograph the most interesting subjects, largely because of my sex and for reasons of personal safety. That’s why I sometimes feel it’s unfair that the boys get to go to all the exciting places!”
MARTI stops and turns to look at me. Her face has resumed its tranquility and she smiles back at me.
“Yes, it is unfortunate that photography is still seen in many parts of the world as a man’s profession, but that is changing. It is true that women cannot, for example, go to the park at night in Dhaka without being accompanied and take photographs of drug addicts taking narcotics. But hey, look at the bright side! As a woman, you have the gift of entering into intimate situations more easily. Besides, the scenario has been changing over the last fifteen years. When I was in Cambodia, I was the only woman photographer around. Today there are many courageous women out there.”
“I think one issue that comes up for women, however, is that of being responsible mothers.” MARTI continues. “When I was in the Cambodian jungles, there were mines all over the place and I had to be careful. I had my small son at home and could not overlook my responsibility as a mother.”
“But isn’t that a pity, MARTI? That we are the ones who are called on to make sacrifices? If you were a man, would you have considered all that while you were photographing?”
“Perhaps not. But for me it was not a question of a sacrifice. It was a conscious choice. And that is often one of our strengths as women. We can make conscious choices because we are the caregivers,” she replies. “A good number of the professional photographers in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, have no children. Some of those who have families at home have financial securities, so their wives and children are taken care of if something happens to them. Yet, there are people like you and me, Diya. In spite of our situation, we go out into the streets and shoot in potentially dangerous situations. I have been arrested more times than I can count, but I try not to take unnecessary risks. I have to be true to myself on that one. A front page story in the New York Times may not be worth my life. We all struggle everyday of our lives to be ourselves. There are always events that challenge our deepest sense of who we are. For women it’s always a particular challenge. When you have young children, there is a huge responsibility, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up photojournalism. You might need to take some colleagues or friends with you.”
We have started walking again towards a trash dump along the Buriganga. MARTI tells me about Uma, a child that she has been photographing in India. Uma is a young 8 year-old girl who lives on the edge of a toxic waste dump near Pondicherry. Uma and her family hunt for metal in the smoldering burning plastic. MARTI has spent time learning about Uma’s life. What surprised her most is that while Uma lives under difficult conditions, she doesn’t complain. On the contrary, she is a happy child. The families there are gypsies and there is a strong bond between them. MARTI told me how she has seen really miserable children in Cambodia because so many of them are orphans and they suffer from extreme solitude. No one cares about them.
“Say MARTI, is there any formula for being a good photographer?” I blurt out the question. It’s been playing inside me for a while, and considering how MARTI has been to many places and worked extensively on varying projects, I had a feeling she would have some advice for me.
“None, except one, and that is absolute integrity. Our photographs should portray the truth, not lies. I always feel I need to be respectful towards my subjects.” MARTI is walking ahead of me and has to shout out the response. “If you want to photograph someone and that person isn’t very willing, something you can figure out through body language and expressions, it’s best to back off, unless you’re telling a story of socio-political importance. People have a right to their own lives and peace of mind. Stay with the truth
and your own integrity. When you meet Uma, you will see the hardship she goes through. However, that doesn’t make her unhappy. When I photograph her, I don’t make it appear as though misery is the only truth about her life. I also try to portray the small joys that make her smile!”
While I pull out my camera from the backpack, MARTI has already begun shooting the kids along the river. The Dhaka sun shines in the west and pecks a glint in the eyes of the two photographers now shooting in the same place. They may be distant through their age, experience and knowledge, but somehow, they share the same world behind the lens. I look above my viewfinder to see MARTI, playfully capturing moments of interaction with a group of kids. She is indeed the friend who has made me feel differently about myself and that is a bond we will share for a very long time.
MARTI is a photojournalist and writer based in Paris, France and in Pondicherry, India. Her photos have been exhibited in London, Paris, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Tokyo, Phenom Penh, Chennai, and Dhaka. Her work is part of permanent collections, including the Musee de Louvre in Paris and the International Museum of Photography in Switzerland.
MARTI’s work has been selected for the Angkor International Photo Festival in Cambodia, The United Nations High Commission on Refugees International Film Festival, The City of London Piccadilly Soho Show, and Rencontres Photographiques in Paris. She was recently selected for the Singapore International Festival of Photography and has just been shown at Chobi Mela V in Dhaka.
She is also a Penguin author and has published her work in books, newspapers and magazines including PHOTO Magazine, the New York Times, Washington Post, and le Monde-Guardian Weekly. She has won a Rolex citation for her environmental work and is a United Nations ECO SOC representative for NGO’s in Geneva. MARTI is particularly concerned about the dying oceans, disappearing nature, and the social conditions of children. Her book, This Earth of Ours, has a prologue by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.