Looking through the lens starkly: Naib Uddin’s 'Amar Bangla'
Doyen Mustafa Monwar, on a slightly emotional register, proclaims, “Photographer Naib Uddin Ahmad’s documentation of our liberation war is the greatest achievement of his life.” In 1971, Naib, inspired by Bangabandhu’s speech of March 7th, joined the struggle armed with his camera. The result was a poignant survey of the brutality unleashed by the Pakistan army on an unsuspecting people.
That these historically significant images of a mass genocide, and many other aspects of an unjust war, resurfaced in a recent solo dedicated to Naib has only served as a reminder of both the ravages of the war and the sincerity with which the photographer captured the real events or their aftermaths.
As they were smuggled out of the country with the help of colonel Taher, the Commander in Chief of sector-7 during the war, the images caused a huge commotion in the Western media and helped generate support in favour of the Bangladeshis.
Born in Manikganj in 1939, Naib Uddin Ahmad was first inspired to take up photography following his encounter with the films and photographs of Hiralal Sen, the first Bangalee filmmaker. He was then only a 7th grade student.
Later, while studying in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Naib came into contact with Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hassan, Shafiuddin Ahmad and Amanul Haque et al. Naib is probably the only Bangalee photographer who scoured the streets of Calcutta with Zainul to document the devastations of the famine of 1943.
As a photographer Naib prefers to dwell in a “reality” that earnestly engages with the people. His oeuvre has facets that are the results of his attempts at various, at times disparate, photographic techniques ranging from truthful documentation to simple but stage-managed images. His subject matter varies from pastoral to lucid portrayal of indigenous life to hard-hitting, gritty confrontation with and absorption of Modernism by an otherwise laidback people. His images mark an epochal journey where the subterranean memories of the birth of a nation are told with a typically nationalistic accent and without even a hint of cynicism or irony.
A retrospective exhibition titled Amar Bangla was organized at the National Museum from 7 to 13 November 2009.