Rumana Fouzia Choudhury’s tete-a-tete with Munem Wasif leaves her enlightened

Photograph By Sarkar Protik

With exhibitions held in Japan, Cambodia, Nepal, England, France, Switzerland, Greece, Germany, Poland, Netherlands and the US, eminent photographer Munem Wasif needs no introduction.

Photographs from Munem Wasif’s exhibition in Paris, France.
Photographs from Munem Wasif’s exhibition in Paris, France.

“But the word ‘photography’ does not exist”
Photography is not considered an art form in Bangladesh. Munem mentioned about various art colleges, none of which has a separate department dedicated solely to photography, filmmaking, or the experimental and new media arts. “You can submit your work as mixed media, but it isn’t really mentioned. You will see sculptures, you will see oil paintings. You will see videos, a lot of different videos. But the word ‘photography’ does not exist.”

“Photography gives you an excuse to travel”
“Photography gives you an excuse to travel,” recalls Wasif, “ it encourages one to be adventurous and explore various avenues.” Just after finishing school, Wasif, enrolled for a month-long course at the Begart Institute of Photography, under the tutelage of Imtiaz Alam Beg. There, Wasif found “an example of living life differently.”

“My family wasn’t on board with my career choice ”
Two years later, after he enrolled at the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Bangladesh, Wasif had decided to become a photographer. “My family wasn’t on board with my career choice. To them, a man behind the camera is someone who goes to weddings or press conferences to take pictures. I did different kinds of commercial works to fund my projects; then started working with the Daily Star and did that for almost two years.”

“There are a lot of places that women can access and men can’t”
When talking about female photographers, Wasif applauds, “There are a lot of places that women can access and men can’t. Of course there are obstacles, but I think if you are sensible and strong enough, you can manage. Women should always find a way to do things differently, without having to do things the way men do.”

Munem Wasif
Munem Wasif

“I think that the colours are too seductive. I think it distracts us by redirecting our view elsewhere”
The recipient of the Bengal Foundation Practice Grant 2015-16, Wasif’s photo-stories include Tainted Tea, an unapologetically candid study of the lives of tea estate workers chained by poverty; Saltwater Tears, which researches the catastrophic effects of shrimp farming on people’s lives in Satkhira; Blood Splinter of Jute, depicting stark portraits of jute mill workers and the blood-stained history of our golden fibre industry, and Belonging, a nostalgic portraiture of the lives in Old Dhaka, which has been published as a book by Clémentine de la Féronnière of the same title. Most recently, in November 2015, the 247 Gallery in Paris exhibited his photo-story In God We Trust, which explores the intersection between Bengali culture and Islam. You will notice that his work is mostly black and white. “I love black and white. During my early years, all the photographers I looked up at and really admired, were proponents of black and white photography. I also like colour photography but especially in Bangladesh, I think that the colours are too seductive, which distracts us by redirecting our view elsewhere.”

“We should simply explore the city as much as we can”
When asked about how one can appreciate the art, Wasif says, “We should simply explore the city as much as we can.” On a different note, he mentions that his sources of inspiration lies in Akhteruzzaman Elias’s Chilekothar Shepai, Andre Tarkovsky’s films, French artist Pierre Huyghe’s work, songs by singer Kabir Sumon as well as Satyajit Ray’s films.