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Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

Posted: January 4, 2019 in Uncategorized

Mohammad Rakib ul Hasan is one of most well known documentary photographer from Bangladesh with many international awards to his credit. His recent work on Rohingya refugees have been instrumental in drawing attention to plight of these displaced and wronged community.  It was a pleasure to talk to him and ask about his life, goals and artistic vision. He is a sensitive person who has used art to translate his emotions in visual form.

You can find more of his work on following sites

http://facebook.com/MohammadRakibulHasan

http://www.mohammadrakibulhasan.com

https://www.instagram.com/mohammadrakibulhasan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Rakibul_Hasan

 

  1. How would you introduce yourself as a person?

Some say our birth is a gift, some say it is full of misery, and some say it is a journey of life. Birth did not happen on our own wish; it is rather a consequence of an act carried by people other the person himself/herself. The shape of mind and consciousness that we have inherited get revealed over the time; we come across chapters of life one after another. We discover who we are. Personality grows over the time with the influences of experiences and knowledge. I am a person who is an observer and I am a witness of time.

 

  1. Describe your photographic odyssey. How it started and where do you see yourself now?

I am a sensitive person. I sense the world with huge possibilities. It is picturesque, a canvas in which we all participate, and everyone has a different role to play. Everyone has his/her own story. Each story is conjoined with that of the others. We live in a geographical territory that is a backdrop of our lives. I came into photography while I was studying film making at the University of Sydney. I had an assignment on telling a story with photographs. I was passing by the Sydney Opera House then, and suddenly I discovered that there was a form of ongoing activity carried by activists at the sail of the Opera; it was actually an anti-war protest. I took the photo with a film camera, and then I scanned it digitally. Later, I lost the original negative of the picture.

I later realized how a picture can be powerful and vivid as it is spread through the media and other medium. I finally became a full time photographer instead of being a full time filmmaker. If I cannot emphasize on and give meaning to a single still picture, how will I create a series of motion stills? However, I now practice both still and motion video for the demand of my clients and for my personal interest.

 

  1. You are one of those who have been properly trained in the art of photography. How would you describe your artistic vision?

First, I started with different discipline, but it was correlated with visual art. I was then a self-taught photographer. Later, I realized the urgency of learning it academically. Academy provides a precise way of learning so that one can easily get to the point. I studied History of Art and Philosophy at University of Oxford which gave me an in-depth idea about art and how it evolved over the past centuries and how one branch is connected to other. In photographic practice, I find that connection, and I practice both the documentary and fine art photography though they are opposites in nature. Art is a by-product of philosophy. Without knowing philosophy to the core while practicing art or photography, the creation can be useless, unworthy and unsatisfactory. Every artist in the world works with a philosophy and develops his/her own thoughts and delivers the messages through art in order to bring peace in society. Today’s society is a multicultural one due to the expansion of virtual platforms of interaction and real time communication system. I have studied in couple of countries. Every day, I see global news, use products of different global brands. It is no longer important that where I physically live, rather it is important that what I globally do. My photographic vision is to create contents for global audience. I blend past traditional artistic forms and styles with current contents of the world. In my fine art photography, I completely am free to produce anything I want photographically either by arranging a directorial shoot or sourcing found images from internet to make a ready-made artwork or appropriation art.

 

  1. Most of your work is based on underprivileged people. Is it a deliberate decision to focus on children of lesser God?

The prediction of first human civilization was in 3000 BC. Since then, since humans have been developing their thoughts, community consciousness and better methods for living. My job is to identify the odds so that it can be resolved with peace and stability. I have covered many success stories in various sectors of the society as part of commissioned works or editorial purposes. In my personal documentary projects, I usually feel the urge, despite my limitation, to become a visual advocate of those unfortunate poor people who are still underprivileged. As a cognizant person of the society, it has to be one of us taking the duty to establish peace where it is required. There are many philanthropists, journalists, social workers, scientists and many others from different occupations dedicated to improve our livelihood and quality of life. In many cases, children, women and elderly people are the victim of dirty politics as well as man-made catastrophes. The recent coverage of Rohingya ethnic cleansing by Myanmar government, shows the current landscape of force dispersion of over one million refugees who are now in Bangladesh living with uncertainty. They were brutally tortured, raped, and were victim of segregation in their own country. Many children, I found in the hospital at Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh, were fighting with life and death. Many people died due to gunshot and were burnt alive during the Myanmar Army set fire in Rohingya villages. It is one of the saddest stories of violence against humanity in the world.

Dildar Begum was raped by Myanmar Army, they killed her husband, two young sons and mother-in-law in 2017, Myanmar.

 

Sanwara Begum was raped by Myanmar Army during ethnic cleansing then she was 17 years old. She crossed the border with her family and now lives in Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh and recently got married a Rohingya man who has accepted her even knowing all these incidents happened to her.

 

  1. You have made a name at international level despite being a citizen of a third world country. How were you able to achieve this? Can you share your struggle and secrets of success?

I do not consider myself as a successful photographer or artist. Success doesn’t depend on winning awards or making a lot of money. Success is “seeing others happy”, success, on personal level, to me is when I will find the world without war and our children will have a safe refuge. It’s true that I have won several prestigious awards, recognition, and have had the privilege to work with some world class organizations, which I feel is helpful for one’s voice to be heard. But when I become someone else’s voice who does not have one otherwise, it becomes a significant duty to deliver their message to the world so that the other people can be aware and continue dialogue to change the horrific situation and attain peace. The secret of being a conscious photographer is to love what you do and, earning honor requires hard work, proper self education with quality knowledge and attention. Nowadays, it does not matter anymore where a person lives; even many western photographers are based in the third world.

 

Almas Khatun  was raped and tortured by Myanmar Army during the ethnic cleansing in 2017, Myanmar. She lost eight members from her family. Her husband, two sons, four daughters and father were murdered by Army.

 

  1. Where do you see contemporary Bangladeshi photographers compared to international scenario?

The major problem in learning photography in Bangladesh lies on the fact that there are inadequate quality education providers. Education is vital for producing great quality photographers and artists. In western countries, people have easy access to higher education in art related disciplines. Despite the odds, Bangladeshi photographers are doing well in comparison to the contemporary photographers as many have started taking photography seriously and have started learning photography from abroad. Bangladeshi higher education institutes such as universities should open a new department of photography and research center so that the entire nation can get benefited.

Badu Begum  was raped by Myanmar Army during ethnic cleansing in 2017 as the Myanmar government never recognizes Rohingyas as their citizens. Badu has lost her husbad who was shot by Army.

 

Rabija Khatun  was raped by Myanmar Army in 2017. She has lost four family member. Her husband, two young children, and brother-in-law were murdered by Army.

 

  1. What is the reason for your preference for black and white pictures?

I really do not consider myself as an entire black and white photographer as I regularly shoot in color. Black and white, however, gives me more control over color scheme and palette of black to white shades, which is monochrome. It has its own impact of isolating content, and it prevents the bias for colors. Both medium have their own aesthetics.

 

  1. From whom have you been most impressed in photography? Do you still keep learning from the work of masters, or do you feel they hinder and blunt your innate personal vision?

I was fascinated by photography during the time at UBS Film School, at the University of Sydney. I encountered with motion visuals; I saw frame by frame as to how people tell stories applying mise-en-scène. I still do learn from master photographers, artists, and even from children as they have a great mind of imagination and abstraction. The great master Sebastião Salgado has been a great influence on my photographic world. His way of seeing world made me insane. I still wonder how he did that; his photo series are well-told classical form of photographic art and documentation. I am now a great admirer of Andreas Gursky, Gerhard Richter, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Demand, David Hockney and Man Ray. When we were born, our brain was a tabula rasa – an empty slate. Gradually over the time, we develop our visual sense and sensibility. There is nothing called intrinsic knowledge except for the form of the body and its mechanism. I have learnt by seeing the world, observing the environment, and experiencing the life and the work of others.

 

  1. Apart from photography, you have a deep interest in literature and painting. How has it changed your own personality and worldview.

All form of art is interconnected with each other. One must know the history of art while working in this arena or before beginning as an artist. Literature, painting and dance, for an example, come from the same root. I used to write poetry in Bengali, and paint. I was good at it, but later I found photography as the most compelling way of communication. I then remained with this field devotedly. Literature is a medium that can sharpen one’s imagination power. When you read a novel, you subconsciously travel with the time and be a part of those places, become a character of that novel and live the moments created within. When I read Shakespeare, I felt that I am a part of his stories. Every type of artwork helps build one’s mind and thought and in fact, one’s personality. It also gives an overview of the world and helps create one’s own world too.

 

  1. Do you really think you have been able to make a difference in the field of art or changing social sensibilities toward human miseries?

No one can control the whole universe except the supreme power what we call God. We do not know much about Him and His intentions. We, humans, are intelligent and sentient beings, and that is why, we have more responsibilities than other animals. I know my limitations, and I can only predict about the degree of change that may happen through my work of art or photography. I am more like a messenger who deliver news and voices of others. I always try to reach those people who can collectively change the human condition and can make social changes for peace.

Rohingya refugees are entering Bangladesh while empty houses in the villages in Myanmar have been set fire by Army.

 

  1. What is your photography routine? How much time do you spend on it and how are you able to manage it? Do you work randomly or in a planned way with a project in mind?

I live with photography. I do not have any fixed timetable of when I have to shoot or when I have to think about photography. I work with several organizations, such as World Bank, Asian Development Bank, USAID, WaterAid, FAO of the United Nations, UN Women, ZUMA Press, Redux Pictures, Reuters UK, the Daily Star and advertising agencies. I conduct documentary photography workshop regularly under Open School of Photography, Bangladesh. I am still doing an MA in Photography at Falmouth University, UK as a part time student. I am an alumnus of Konrad Adenaure Asian Center for Journalism at Ateneo de Manila University; I help future students who want to study Postgraduate Diploma in Visual Journalism there, and sometimes, I act as a reviewer of their final projects. Prior to shooting, I always preplan the personal projects I do as a documentary photographer. Random ideas sometimes, help me create fine art photography, and develop other projects.

 

  1. What do you think are the benefits of social media in promotion of today’s artist? There is a frequent complaint that most of the celebrities are not personally present on media. Their publicity managers keep them alive on social media. How can you manage so much time on social media?

In Facebook, “350 Million photos are uploaded every day, with 14.58 million photo uploads per hour, 243,000 photo uploads per minute, and 4,000 photo uploads per second”. This statistics only reflects the upload of the images on Facebook. In real life, we also encounter with a lot of images everywhere, everyday, and the number keeps on increasing as images are one of the potential media of visual communication. Then what is the role of a photographer in a society? What does a photographer do? Are there various types of works for photographers in the industry? The answer is “Yes”; there are many photographers, and their genres of practice differ from each other while they have many things in common. What about the camera phone photographers and amateurs? In this era, people widely use mobile phones, and the statistics says, “The number of smartphone users is speculated to grow from 2.1 billion in 2016 to around 2.5 billion in 2019, with smartphone penetration rates increasing as well. Just over 36 percent of the world’s population is projected to use a smartphone by 2018, up from about 10 percent in 2011” . These smartphones are camera enabled, and the user can take photos and videos and can even upload them on social networks. The growing number of camera phone users is high. Then who will recruit a professional photographer to do a professional job? There are many companies, news agencies, organizations and people looking for a professional service of photography, and they hire photographers to do the job with perfection as photographers have experience, education and expertise in this field. Thus, from a book cover to bathroom tiles, we now live in a world of images; everything may have a printed image or photograph on it.

 

Image has a great market around the world. The price of hiring a photographer depends on the project budget of the client and also on the standard of the photographer in terms of his/her quality, experience, education, portfolio, and communication skill. The 21st Century’s photography and its market are both physical and virtual. There are many online stock photo agencies and online galleries and the photographer himself/herself selling prints through his/her own website. Many artists nowadays practice photography as the main medium of producing art, and some of them also practice photography as a part of their other art mediums. Both British renowned artist, David Hockney, and German artist, Gerhard Richter, have practiced and developed different types of fine art, such as “joiner” and “over painted photograph”. There are many other photographers who are now considered as artists rather than photographers, such as Thomas Demand, Andres Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman and so on. Appropriation art on the other hand, is a new way of communication by making found images and photographs of others.

Ahmed has travelled more than thirty miles carrying his mother Fatema at back that has taken couple of days to reached Bangladesh.

 

Celebrities are busy with huge amount of works and social engagements. Their secretaries and media managers act as their voice on behalf. Thus, there is no issue in these personalities not being able to involve in conversation with public on regular basis. I do not consider myself as a celebrity photographer, and I do not have any media manager to handle my social platforms. I do manage time, and sometimes, I just do it from my smart phone.

Shaherjaan Begum  was saying prayer during the fire at her house set by the Myanmar Army. She has been undergoing treatment at Cox’s Bazar District Shadar Hospital.

 

  1. Subcontinent is a land of rich cultural traditions. Have we been able to create serious work at international level? What are your suggestions for improvement and collaboration among artists of this area?

I believe in one world and of course a visa free world. In Europe, they have one currency and are heading to a one nation ideology. In South Asia, we can do this too. Once we used to be together, now we are into many pieces. We all are human, and there should be no classification, no categories. Thus, a sociopolitical equality is important for all of us. We had Indus Valley civilization which is five-thousand years old. South Asia was extended to Iran and other countries as they had many things in common, especially culture and trade were reciprocal. The more we eliminate border and visa system within South Asian countries, the more we will be benefited from the cultural exchange and knowledge. We definitely can create more work by reflecting on our tradition and culture and showing that to the world. For that, we need more federal funding on cultural development.

Hares is a one year old boy, his family suddenly found their house is burring that was set by the Myanmar Army.

 

  1. What are your future plans in photography?

I want to study more academically, and want to pursue a PhD in Art. Then in future, I might be a full time teacher in a university, and simultaneously, I want to experiment with photography and its possibilities.

Nur Fatema was injured by bomb blasting by Myanmar Army, while she was in upstairs and she jumped and broken her left leg. She is now undergoing treatment at Cox’s Bazar Sadar hospital in Bangladesh where she had to come after having helping aid from her father and they walked couple of days to reach at Bangladesh border from Myanmar.

 

  1. Any other lesson/advice you would like to give to an aspiring photographer?

Do study, work hard, and keep a good personality that can help you reach your goal.

About four hundred thousand Rohingya refugees entered in Bangladesh by land and water border. Many refugees are trying to source food, water, and money to support themselves and standing beside the roads.

 

  1. Lastly, describe yourself as a person. Your likes, dislikes, ambitions and failures in your life.

I live a simple life. I hope that the world will be equal for everyone as per the context. I do not believe in failure; I am an optimistic person with great patience.

Rohingya Refugee bringing woodstock to use them as for fuel to his camp.

 

Nurjahan Begum  travels five days to enter Bangladesh from Buthidaung, Myanmar due to the attempt of ethnic cleansing.

 

A Rohingya refugee girl has lost her family in the crowd. She was out for searching food aid on the street.

 

 

 

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Umair ghani

It was Sunday, 12th July 2015, when I received a call from Umair Ghani. He wanted to send the book as a complimentary copy to me. It was a pleasant surprise and an honor for me.
At that time I was strolling in Lok Virsa Islamabad with my wife. She was busy looking at different stalls and I was trying to capture regional cultures uprooted from their soil and kept in frozen, artificial form in Lok Virsa. The irony of situation became clear to me when I read the last article of the book ‘Tourist photography : – )
Well! I have browsed through the book and want to share my first impressions.
It is a small book of 26 pages, consists of different articles. Probably Umair Ghani believes in brevity being the soul of the wit. However when one reads it, one realizes that it is one of those books which needs to be chewed and digested rather than simply tasted and swallowed. It succinctly summarizes the current intellectual discussions among serious photographers with hints for future course of action as well.
As the name indicates, it is not about the photography itself, rather it is more about its philosophy. The intellectual aspects of photography. It is about the man behind the gun rather than the gun.
A pleasant surprise was the chaste Urdu language used in the book. Even if someone is not interested in photography, the book can be read as a masterpiece of Urdu literature. It reminded me of one of our text book, Boyd’s textbook of Pathology’ which won various literary awards for its language.
Umair Ghani is one of those few photographers who have a wide exposure to art circles of the world and he is aware of art movements in other countries. At the same time, he has a feeling that (like many other fields) we are far behind the world. This has forced him to share his thoughts for improvement of those interested to pursue photography as a serious art. However he does not believe in blindly following western trends and strongly emphasized that, ‘It is important to be aware of western technology and style but in art, preference should be given to present our own local culture, its art & craft, architecture and documentation of our own day to day life’. This sounds like the voice of someone confident on the strength of one’s own culture.
His choice of title picture of ‘Migrant mother’ by Dorothea Lange is meaningful and summarizes his message. . To highlight our own issues and problems. ‘To give voice to those who have lost their voices, there is a destruction and deterioration all around in which individuals are losing their identity’. It shows for him photography is a serious and sacred mission rather than merely a pleasure and past time.
He realizes that in the absence of a proper art academy of photography, learning is haphazard and dependent upon disconnected online resources. This has resulted in a new crop of ‘young legends’ who have talent and passion but in the absence of a solid training have failed to grasp the essence of this art. There is an urgent need to groom this emerging talent but up till now organizations and group, emerging like ‘bubbles on art scene’ have not been able to provide a proper platform.
The author himself believes in art for the sake of life rather than art for the sake of art itself. In his own words, ‘work done without a mission is like a blurred image on the slate of time’. At another point he claims that ‘out of all genres of photography, documentary/ photo journalism would remain the supreme’. Well! At this point some photographers who want to enjoy art just for the sake of art without trying to search for anything serious in it, may disagree.
Those interested in other genres may feel that the book is not for them especially when reading that ‘after 100 years from now, people would be more interested to look at today’s cultural photography rather than landscapes’. His story of Alberto Korda is about the intellectual maturity of an artist when he/she redefines aesthetics and moves on from beauty of a woman to more pressing social issues. Would fashion photographers agree to it?
There are certain points at which people may differ in opinion
1. The role of photo editing has always been a contentious issue among art circles. Umair Ghani sounds like a purist but it may be due to the fact that like any documentary photographer, he is interested in truth and nothing but the truth. But what about genres like abstract art and surrealistic photography?
2. The book discusses in detail the current intellectual poverty among some groups with lack of clarity and vision about promotion of art. It also mentions some examples where the judgment in art competitions was less than ideal .This may raise criticism by some while others may take it as a confessions of an insider, claiming, ‘Look this is what we have been telling you’. However I feel that whole discussion has been carried out with precision of a surgeon. Apparently using knife to dissect the dead tissues but with a sensitive heart and an empathetic approach.
3. The first article starts with emphasizing the inner vision of a photographer, quoting Ansel Adam that; ‘you don’t take a photograph, you make a photograph’. A word of caution is needed here. This inner vision develops by years of experience, reading and looking at the work of masters of the craft. Someone may misunderstand that inner vision means a total disregard of knowledge, experience or guidance of seniors.
4. ‘Survival of photography lies in opposing painting’. This statement needs a bit of clarification, as the rules of composition and principles of design have been borrowed from painting. Does it means that the author is against the intrusion of art movements like impressionism, modernism and post-modernism in photography?
5. Quoting Alberto Korda, ‘A good picture can be made with a camera worth four dollars’ author mentions the futility of current trend of endless discussion among photographers on camera models and lens. However here again an exception should be made for those with interest in macro, wildlife and sport photography. Their trade depends upon special gadgets which don’t come cheap.
In the end, I must say that the book is a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to know the present and future of art of photography in Pakistan. I hope that like stories of Ishfaq Ahmad, this book would also generate serious intellectual discussions among photographers. If that happens, I would say the book has been successful in creating a stir.
I started the book with the hope to find answers to some of the questions in my mind. In the end I realized that the book has raised many more questions than it has tried to answer. In a sense it is thought provoking and brain storming (or should I say a brain teaser).
Would it bring any change in our perspective? Would it be a harbinger for some ‘Tarakki pasand tehreek’(Progressive movement) in Pakistan’s photography circles? Only time will tell. Whether there are people who like Ansel Adam’s colleagues, have the courage to form a revolutionary group like ‘group f/64’ of 1930s?
Let us wait and see