Dhaka based photographer Mohammad Rakibul Hasan whose ‘Park Life‘ photo essay was recently published on Aksgar talks about his work and motivations.
The ‘In Conversation’ feature is an attempt to know more about the motivations and thought processes of photographers featured on Aksgar as well as other photographers undertaking narrative photography projects.
Aksgar: How did you get into photography?
Mohammad Rakibul Hasan: Still photographs may be mute but they have their own language which is mainly visual interpretation. My initial interest in visual media grew when I was a student of film school in Australia. I had to prepare some visual narratives with film still cameras for my class assignments. Then I finally shot a powerful photograph in 2003 of two activists, Dr Will Saunders and David Burgess who were convicted for painting the words “No War” in five meter high red letters on the highest sail of Sydney Opera House. They were sentenced to nine months jail by the court. That photograph had made me realize the level of power a visual can reach. Since then, my journey with a camera is still capturing the life around me.
A: What was the inspiration behind your ‘Park Life’ photo essay?
MRH: A city like Dhaka, is not only dense with population, it also is hazardous for various reasons. I usually go to Sohrowardi Park to hang out with friends, colleagues and other photographers. One day I realized that this park is serving as a much needed open space, and I started taking photographs here and gradually thinking of the different functions of a park in Dhaka. The photo essay portrays the consequences of a massive urbanization. I considered the Park as a metaphorical element which helps to analyze economic conditions of a country, inequity of a society, and moreover environmental impact due to urbanization.
A: There is a certain intimate quality to the photographs in the essay, how did you achieve that?
MRH: Park itself is a dynamic place, every day a range of people come and go but there are those who live in the park and run small businesses. I considered this specific genre because of its content in the style of street photography. Thus, each photograph can stand out but still join with other photographs to tell a photo story. My frames are black and white to generalize everything and to show everyone as equal from a neutral point of view. Park, being a public place was not hard to access. Keen observation, reflex and motivation were the key factors to achieve such documentation.
A: How easy or difficult was it to approach and photograph these strangers? What approaches did you use to get these photographs?
MRH: Taking photographs of a stranger can be hard sometimes. It is always better to use common sense while you are shooting in a public place like streets. My strategy is to take the photograph first when it seems safe, and then talk to the person to know if they have any objection or not. A precious moment goes away in a fraction of a second.
A: Who are the photographers you admire and why?
MRH: The list is ongoing and very long. However, Sebastiao Salgado, Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raghu Rai, Martin Parr, Daido Moriyama, Sally Mann and so on. Though I practice documentary and advertising the most, I indeed have great interest in all most all genres of photography.
A: What are the current projects you are pursuing?
MRH: The name of my new project is “Wave” (featured below), which is about river erosion and simultaneously the impact of climate change on rivers in Bangladesh. My past project about climate change was “Salt” (featured above) which I shot for last three years and still ongoing as one of my long term projects.
A: You are studying art history simultaneously while pursuing photography. How does it help in your photography work?
MRH: Photography is now widely accepted as a form of art, though it had to struggle for that acceptance. To accumulate more knowledge across art media is very important to understand the craft of photography. History transfers the experience of others which is very essential to develop and to think more individually and creatively. These are the reasons I took online art history courses at Oxford.
A: What is it about photography that appeals to you? How has it changed you?
MRH: Photography is an addiction. It started as a hobby, some people take it as a profession but both the hobbyist and professionals can never give it up. In fact, photography made me socially and politically more responsible and conscious. The documentary projects I have done so far have expanded my interests to work for people and to talk for them.
A: Any advice for other photographers looking to take up narrative photography projects?
MRH: Documentary photography requires huge passion, motivation, hard labor, proper planning and research, and eye for detail – these are the basic qualities you must have if you are good with its crafting and always be honest with your work.