Bonna sang beautifully last night at the launch of the new UNESCO office. “megher pore megh jomeche”. A haunting song by Tagore. The lilt in her voice and its delicate quiver, like the changing light in the wet leaves in the rain. The monsoons are here. It is my birthday today, and my treat to myself was to tear myself away from my laptop and take a walk in the rain in the morning, camera in hand. I came across this working mother carrying her child, delivering food to wealthy homes. The land she walked on would fetch well over three million dollars an acre in current market prices. About the cost of the diamonds in Prince Moosa’s shoes.
© Shahidul Alam/Drik
It is also Nasreen’s chollisha (forty days after death, significant to Muslims). Rahnuma and the others have joined her family at the family graveyard at Ghazipur. The sky is still crying.
And then there is happy news. The National Geographic just informed us that Omi (Saiful Huq, my research assistant at Drik and a Pathshala alumni) is one of the four awardees of their All Roads Project. Sucheta Das, who works closely with Drik India won an honourable mention. Omi will be feted in Hollywood and the National Geographic Office in Washington DC. They are both over the moon, as indeed I am, having nominated them. It was Pathshala alumni Neo Ntsoma last year. Pressure is on for the hat-trick. Unless they arrest me for nepotism.
Here is an introduction to the photographers:
Saiful Huq is a thinking photographer. While his power of visualisation has never been in doubt, it is the reason that he photographs that is more compelling. The trappings of conventional photojournalism lay heavy on all of us. The play of light, the use of lines, the geometry of the image are all seductive. But Huq takes us beyond the dynamics of image construction. It is his concerns as an individual that his photographs give us an insight to. The urge to show the helpless victim, the tearjerker image that looms large on billboards, are often the first choice of photojournalists trying to make their mark. That a young photographer has been able to resist those easy options says a lot about Huq.
© Saiful Huq
His is a reflective stance, not a judgemental one. And in showing the plight of victims of meaningless violence, he chooses not to show them as victims, but as people who find themselves in a strange unfamiliar land. One they have never had to deal with before. It is the humanity of his images rather than the power of their construction that is central to his images. The visual strength is a bonus.
It is not often that a woman in a majority world country gets a job in a wire agency. It is even more rare to find a woman who gives it up to take the risk of going freelance. Shortly after winning an award at World Press Photo, when she was riding high, this young woman decided to give up the glamour and the pay, to return to her native Kolkata and try to find her own way to work. No guarantees, no press pass. Just she and her camera. It was a brave decision to take, but I believe the right one. If success can be predicted, then talent, guts, and sensitivity make up the right mix for a photographer to evolve into more than being a chronicler of moments of passing interest.
Sucheta works with an intimacy and an intensity that gets her close to her subjects, but keeps her from getting sentimental. She photographs people when they are most vulnerable, in situations they least want to be known for, but has developed a trust that not only allows her access, but a shared ownership of images that speak of their dignity despite their situation. It is a rare gift, especially in one so young.
Tarubala Bibi, 30, poisoned by drinking arsenic-contaminated water, lies on bed at Chhayghari Pitala village in Baharampur block in Murshidabad, 265 km north of the eastern Indian city of Kolkata May 18, 2005 © Sucheta Das
posted: Dhaka 2nd June 2006