An image to be sipped

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“The Oncoming Storm” by Jonathan Munshi

It was an unusual situation. I was the sole judge for a contest organised by Robi through Facebook, and had found an image I loved. I wrote a piece explaining my reasons behind choosing the photograph. There were other winners, chosen by the public. An exhibition had been arranged.

Shortly before the opening, it was discovered that the photograph had been submitted not by the person who took it, but by someone else. Luckily there was time to choose another image. One which I also liked. After the show, I wrote to Jonathan Munshi, the real author of the original winner, explaining the situation. Jonathan took it well, and since I’d already written the piece describing his image, I thought I’d post it here, along with our email exchange.

Jonathan Munshi
(c) Jonathan Munshi

We look for special moments, gentle light, a fleeting glimpse. Wide open vistas, majestic skies. We capture great events, reveal hard truth. Photography is the wonderful tool that straddles science and art, mystery and fact. It enchants as it informs. But largely, photographs illustrate situations as they unfold. Record incidents. Document what is visible. It is when photography takes on the intangible that it is at its poetic best. When what it shows is not an illustration of what was, but the mystery of what might have been. It is while describing the elusive and the amorphous that photography becomes magical.

The whole gamut of human experience displayed through this contest provides a visual feast of delightful proportions. Powerful portraits, breathtaking landscapes, the drama of the streets, the well crafted still life and the creative rendering of the colours of our flag reflect the incredibly high standard in this medium that the nation has attained.

The winning photograph is a great image out of many. However, it stands apart from the rest because of a tenderness and sensitivity that is rare. It rises above the aesthetic requirements of a well-crafted photograph, to become an important social document that is gentle, evocative and deeply significant. It is an image many would have missed. A situation most would have passed by and where many photographers would have put their camera away, if only for protection from the elements.

The monsoon is a special season. Bangladeshi songs, poems and paintings describe the rains in many ways. Some ebullient, some sad, often through expressions of love. But while walking through the warm rain might have romantic overtones for some, for others the reality might be very different. The patter of raindrops on a wet footpath might be music for some. For dwellers of the street, it has a harsher message. It represents wet clothes, sleepless nights, lost earnings, another hard day in an already hard life. Hiding behind the haze of fine mist, is perhaps a passionate dream. A longing for what one knows to be unreachable.

The city has many charms. The bright lights, the razzmatazz, the hope for a job, a chance to change one’s destiny, a sense of adventure. The promise of a better life draws people to the metropolis. But the bright lights are always not so sparkling. The paved streets not so glamorous. Nights not so serene. Yet, people struggle to create a life for themselves. Their tenacity, their resilience, their ability to overcome all odds are what make Bangladeshis special. It is the endurance and the enterprise of its people that makes this a great nation.

The image speaks to us at many levels. The subdued tones compress the tonal range, creating subtle shifts in shades of grey. It is rich in texture though it reveals itself slowly. It is a song sung on minor chords. It is not an image to be drunk but to be savoured and sipped with many a lingering pause.

Shahidul Alam

Dear Jonathan,

I was the jury in a contest where your photograph was entered by another photographer and it won! Not being aware it was your photo, I also wrote a piece about it, and it was just before the prize giving ceremony that it got found out. Happy to send you the piece I wrote in case you are interested

Best,

Shahidul

“Thank you, Shahidul Bhai, for sharing the piece. It is as beautifully written, as poetic, as I imagined it would be. It is a great tribute to the photo and is easily the best and truest attribution that anyone has ever given to this image. The photo was taken on the night that AILA made landfall. I was struck by this delicate little girl frolicking in the battering wind and the driving rain, seemly unaware of the full measure of the devastation that was about to follow. It was then, at that moment, that the image became for me an allegory for her turbulent life ahead, and for the lives of so many others on the street. I titled it “The Oncoming Storm.” Your lyrical words in some magical way captured the true essence of that moment, and did so much more eloquently than any picture of mine ever could. Thank you so very much!”

Jonathan

As for the person who submitted the photograph pretending it was his, the less said the better.

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