A Look Behind the Lens: The Front Row View of Football

Mir Farid has been working through his camera to capture the moments of Bangladesh football over the last three decades. He has become one of the most important chroniclers of the rise and fall of Bangladesh football.

What is the story behind your becoming a football photographer?
Well, you see, nowadays newspapers have different sections on different sports; this was not the situation 15 to 20 years ago. Back then, there were no distinctions between different sports. Even the same photographer had to cover all sorts of news, including political news besides sports and others. However, there were still some photographers like me who regularly covered sports news along with the mainstream news. As soon as I started my career, I used to take sports photos. Moreover, when I got into this job, football was at its most popular in the country. Cricket was not as popular as football. Besides, cricket was only played only in winters. We used to remain on the football field whether we took photos or not; that is how I came into football photography.
I started my career at the Daily Desh Bangla in 1991. I joined the New Nation the following year. During December of the same year, I moved on to The Dainik Bangla. At the age of 18, I was the most junior staff photographer since the inauguration of the daily paper; I worked there until 1997. Afterward, I joined The Daily Janakantha and continued there until 2008. At present, I’m working for the daily Kalerkantha.

Why did you choose photography?
Our family has been practicing this culture; I have my fathers’ pictures when he was 4 or 5 years old. We used to take photos of ourselves, but I would eventually become a photographer was not a future prospect. All of a sudden, I came into this profession and soon it became my passion. Moreover, one of my mentors, the famous photojournalist Noor Mohammad Alam, inspired me a lot. His noteworthy career was a testament to the career’s potential. He gave me the strength to go on. Moreover, Zahirul Haque, who was the mentor of Mohammad Alam, also gave me inspirations. Apart from these two, the chief reporter of the Dainik Bangla whose name was also Zahirul Haque gave me the support. These three people have had a tremendous influence on my professional aspiration.

You’ve been working for more than two decades. How has the equipment changed and what equipment did you use?
You can say that there has been a revolutionary change in this sector. We used analog cameras which needed films, now we use digital ones. Back in the day, I mostly used an Asahi Pentax. And those who could afford a costly one usually used the Nikon FM2. We had to do all sorts of work using a 50mm lens including portraits and sports photography. Numerous large newspapers provided us with 200mm zoom lenses and nothing more. Taking, developing and printing photos were all done by one person. Additionally, we had to keep in mind that one or two matches should have to be covered within a film. What was more troublesome was to send photos rather than take them. Sending photos when we were out of the city were extremely difficult and costly. We used to fax to send photos which took minimum 15 minutes for each one. The Internet has saved us from that trouble. Digital cameras have made it possible to take photos anywhere at any time. I’m currently using Nikon D5, which is one of the best professional cameras. My office has provided it for me. Photojournalists are using lenses and other equipment used by international photographers; our equipment is world class now. My favorite camera is the Yashica fx-7 and also, there was one Russian camera which was from my school days. I own both of them, although I cannot remember the name of the latter.

As a photographer, you’ve covered a lot of matches inside and outside the country if you could share your experiences with us?
I did not miss any important matches for 25 years inside the country; I think I have probably missed only one football match in all. I’ve covered 1st to 100th test matches in Bangladesh. I’ve also covered SAAF football games in Nepal, India, two Asian Games in Doha, Qatar and Guangzhou, China, and other international matches held in Bangladesh. In fact, we don’t have a team for international football, excluding SAAF football and Asian games. It is our long cherished dream to cover a football World Cup, but we can’t because we don’t have the team in these areas. Moreover, newspaper authorities seem unwilling to send photographers to such big events. They should send at least one photographer in one or every two years to experience the international photography world.

You are fortunate enough to go outside the country with photography assignments. What differences did you see among native and foreign photographers? Is there a difference in the local and international equipment market?
First and foremost, they have better instruments than us. It should be noted that our skill is not lagging in this regard. We merely use one camera while they use three to four cameras at a time. The technology allows them to take photos from multiple angles simultaneously. In our domestic market, Nikon is very popular. Recently, Canon is gaining popularity among people as they are user-friendly. But Canon is more sensitive. In sports photography, a zoom lens or tele-lens is very important as we have to maintain a specific distance from the field. However, our domestic photographers are always in a scarcity of this type of equipment.

How will you evaluate the current situation to work in the photography market, how much opportunity or scope one has to work in this field?
The working sphere has enlarged more than ever before; our problem is we prefer quantity over quality. Suppose an event costs Tk. 20 million. The organizer will not factor in the cost of a proficient photographer. A newspaper spends a huge sum of money to maintain its quality, but they are not ready to buy their photographer a costly camera which would ensure a better quality of images. Their mentality is that as long as we are getting free photos we don’t bother about that. Most sports photos are collected and procured by freelancers. Moreover, most of the cases they print photos by giving courtesies. I think the environment in the photography market should have been absent in the current situation.

What is your suggestion if one wants to take sports photography as their profession?
First of all, they should have better equipment and knowledge of different sports. There are different rules to take photos in cricket matches, hockey matches or a football match. Different tournaments are held under different lights. You have to be knowledgeable about the sport. You can obtain knowledge and noteworthy works through the internet. Never undermine the value of research.

Do you think we are lagging behind in case of working for agencies who cover big tournaments?
Actually, I think it is our national problem. Every year, 15-20 reporters are sent to cover World Cup from our country but not a single photographer. In the last World Cup, one photographer went to cover it. From other countries, many photographers go to cover the tournament. For example, the national football team of India does not go to the World Cup, but many of my Indian photographer friends have already covered 4-5 world cups.
If the demand for the World Cup was absent then, it would be different. We extensively publish articles and pieces on the World Cup and most of our photos come from agencies. If a Bangladeshi photographer goes to a big event, he has the scope to gather experiences and we take ownership of our work. We can see an event from the point of view of a Bangladeshi photographer and explore his potentials. Local photographers are winning international competitions and their abilities should be further explored.

What are your professional ambitions and how have certain memories shaped your life as a photographer?
You won’t find anyone who does not cherish a dream to cover a World Cup or the Olympics. Football is the most popular sport in the world; billions of people around the world watch the World Cup. And it is my dream to display my work from covering the World Cup to these masses.
It was my fortune to cover the Argentina match held in Dhaka, and I had the opportunity to see Messi in person. Another moment was when Zidan came to Dhaka, I covered the news of that occasion too. I cannot recall many bad memories in the 30 or so years I have worked. However, I would have liked more of a say in which pictures were published. A newcomer who may join today at the desk might take the decision and this is somewhat disheartening. There are instances when the composer gets to dictate the photo matter without any consideration from the photographer.

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Samsul Arefin Khan

Samsul Arefin Khan is working as a reporter in NEWAGE