Naimul Islam Prince and his sites of social concern
It is too simplistic an attempt to define photography as an act of play between light and shade. This very form of the 'play' is derived from our perception of an aesthetics premised on some fixed models of representation. In this respect, photography lends itself more to relations between objects than to any particular state of mind. 'Light and Shade' is not self-generative, it is a corollary of an actual object. It is through the spillage of light or rather when light is dappled with shade that beauty is apprehended, and this is a convention that still sets the prism through which to capture and evaluate photographic realities in this clime.
However, if photography is to be considered a form of art, it needs to short-circuit the conventional way of staging its aesthetics and politics, which is possible by deviation from photography as an uncritical visual medium, which is a means to achieving some fixed aesthetic ends. Thus, when considered an art form, it is by and large determined by the discursive ground it shares with other forms of knowledge and also how it appears as a form of deviation to the eye that beholds. And this does not mean unqualified viewing. It is viewing that is nuanced and uniform as well as informed by the politics of representation – how pictures prefigures the position of the viewer.
What the photographer delivers within the confines of his frame is also a result of how he/she relates to what lies outside the frame – the psychogeographies, the knowledge/information dissemination apparatus that accord with the social climate prevailing outside, which, in turn, influences the subject matter within. Seeing, or capturing, thus, becomes not only a rare experience as the dominant discourse or ideology comes into play in the formulation of these remarkable phenomena. We shall filter this hypothesis through the works by Naimuzzaman Prince, a young photographer.
Naimuzzaman has successfully launched three of his photographic exhibitions within the span of eight months – two in Alliance Française and one in Bengal Gallery. These exhibitions were testament to prince's unique photographic adventures which allow him to achieve a signature of his own by exploiting some of the urgent social-environmental issues through which the interfacing of photographic representation and its social function is being currently ensured.
Let us take time to delve into his work to find out what is in it. The play of light and shade is there. Not in the purist elemental form, neither as purely aesthetic element, but revealed through a soul of its own. The natural, social, political elements juxtapose with each other to find expression and their transmission is made to generate empathy linked to an eye for detail. Objects and events are deftly transformed into striking visual images in his hands.
The transference has its origin in observation. How are we to determine the nature of this observation?
An assortment of subjects claimed their own visual space in the exhibits: 'Our Children Our Future', 'Child Labour', 'Life in a Cage', 'Circus', 'Climate Change', 'Ship-breaking Yard', 'Tiger Window', At the Heart of Simplicity etc. Let us analyze the politics of representation that is mediated through the third eye that lies somewhere between the tool of capture and the individual or the capturer's temperament. What is his aesthetico-political agenda?
Naimuzzaman's vision is unmistakably tinged with the driving logic of the non-profits' profiteering, of which the so-called NGOs are the prime examples. His subjects reflect the factors or issues that seem to stir the community whose members' main fodder is the narratives brought to light through the modernist 'development' concept that cast a blind eye to all kinds of holistic outlook. If viewed with unaffected naivety the images may elicit an emotive value. Still on a deeper level the follies of 'development' tugs at our apprehension; the resounding paradox that despite the efforts of an enormous army of developmental marketeers, their declared goal still remains out of sight. This very recognition is absent in Prince's images. The exhibits vouch for no apparent insight into this blind-spot of progress. This oversight is a result of not being able to see first hand, but to see through the filters of the 'development' prism in the third world context. Therefore, the images interpret the ground realities of the common people of Bangladesh from the position of a 'development partner'. Let us draw examples.
Prince drew on the living conditions of the tribal folks. Even here, his observation is circumscribed by the modernist view of life which tends to undermine natural way of living as something eternally tied to the past. Thus the suffering of the ethnic minority surfaces as the photographer emphasizes the inability of these peoples to cope with the changing world. There is an entire spectrum of works that tackle climate change. What emerge through these images are the woes of the victims of natural calamities. The visual backdrop to these portrayals is quite enchanting.
But one should take issue with the fact that the climactic changes occur in two different ways: on one hand, nature reprimands itself, on the other, nature retaliates against mindless human follies. In today's developmental efforts 'climate change' appears as a roaring leitmotif, where the follies of so-called progress do not figure. The neglect of the natural world is somewhat consequent upon the way the commodity and capital-driven, mechanized human society functions today. Yet, photographs of Naimuzzaman provide a fragmentary framework, alienating the problems from the social order which, apparently, is the root cause of the problems. And duly his works resonate with the much touted account of 'climate change' delivered through the myth making apparatus of the capitalist world order.
Human beings can exert only a limited control over the laws of nature, but they can always change their own ways that leave a detrimental effect on the environment; and the fact that this is not to be taken as a 'capacity building' project for communities, which is, of course, an NGO frame of representation that successfully obscure the link between capital-driven world order and the issues of climate change. Therefore, the exhibits can best be described as products conjured up by a 'development' driven outlook of the world. The same is witnessed in Bengal Gallery under the title 'In Search 2' It presents 'Climate Victim', 'Evolution in the Revolutionary Cuba', 'Leprosy Ghetto of India', 'Nightmare of Rwanda'. If we look past the catalogue of development, the culture of two countries manifest themselves quite brilliantly. The genocide in Rwanda is terribly heart-rending. One image shows a piece of wood engraved with a crucifix lying on a heap of corpses. This almost mimics the sacrifice of Jesus. The wooden block bearing the cross is resplendent in its symbolic valency -- thereby symbolizing humanity itself. As if the cross might yet redeem the people massacred thus. On the other hand, the political culture of communist Cuba represents an idealist clime which, at the same time, encapsulates the life style of contemporary Cuba.
Works by the photographer under 'Bangladesh in a World of 7 Billion' were displayed in La Gallery.
This exhibition sets its premise on the economic culture of Bangladesh in theses times of globalization. Yet the question remains, which economic structure comes to light through this venture? To say the least, capitalism has not undergone any sea change. Instead, its functional methodology has been passed off under a new coinage; at present, what we perceive as global economy is the euphemism for global capitalism. Through the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, today's world has become more and more polarized; the nations across the world variously bear the stamp of an economic stratification – the world order sets forth: developed, developing or non- or under-developed. Consequently, Bangladesh has been labelled as a developing nation. Therefore, the perspective of the exhibition is built on the so-called developmental problems. The problems thus identified include, population boom, urbanization, industrialization, some crucial aspects of natural calamity. However, the organizers isolated population as the major problem. If development equals the enhancement of the living condition, does the increase of population impede the process of growth? To go by what the UNFP country representative of Bangladesh, Arthur Irkin has to say, Population is the nemesis of development in Bangladesh. There is little truth-value to his assumption. Instead, it is surrogated by an unmitigated deceit. According to him, the pressing need is to enhance the quality of life by reducing inequality. However, in reality, not only are we bogged down by insufficient resources, but its distribution also proves to be an uphill task. Development remains an elusive goal even in the discourse of capitalism if it retains exploitation as its driving impulse.
The photographs encapsulated in the third show borrow heavily on Malthus's theory of population which postulates – food increases mathematically, whereas, population rises geometrically. The weakness of this discourse lies in its blindness towards how nature works in its own mysterious ways and the issues related to the control of nature and the extent of human intervention. In a nutshell, the third take portrays the people of Bangladesh as the proverbial lamb to sacrifice.
In the final analysis, it is quite apparent that Prince has the capacity to effect an aesthetic 'seeing', but that it is informed by an awareness of humanity and progress called for a distinct position of the photographer's own other the one that the UN agencies, NGOs promote. Many a worthy subjects can be addressed if this seemingly innocuous humanistic eye was rendered more critical. Promising signs, though, abound in the photographer's treatment of his elements.
'In Search - 1' was at La Galerie, Alliance Française de Dhaka, March 25 - April 6, 2011; 'In Search - 2' was at Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, June 3 - 14, 2011; 'Bangladesh in a World of 7 Billion' was at La Galerie, Alliance Française de Dhaka, October 2 - November 3, 2011.
Translated by SHARMILLIE RAHMAN