Thursday, April 5, 2012

“Eclats de Bangladesh”: Beauty within Imitation of Reality

When I came to know that I have to do my Mid Term assignment on a photo exhibition of Alliance Française de Dhaka, I could not resist visiting the place as it is considered as the French Cultural Center in Bangladesh. But there was another reason which excites me more was I am going to visit photo exhibition of Pierre Claquin and write a paper on it. As a student of literature and a painter it is more like a treat than an assignment. Therefore, I arrived at Alliance Française earlier than everyone and joined the chat with the parents sitting in “café the véranda”, waiting for their children to finish their classes. When I ask them what they do on that short span of leisure in a place like Alliance Française one aunty smiled and said “well, you do not need ‘anything’ to pass your free time here. This place is enough for yourself. You will find everything here - literature, art and entertainment.” But, what about visiting photo exhibitions on that leisure? She replied, “Sometimes I went to gallery and see the photographs. My daughter regularly comes to see these exhibitions.” “You see, there is a disadvantage of being fascinated with art. Now my daughter wants a SLR camera!” she added with a smile. There were some parents too who are aware of the fact that exhibitions are organized here regularly but they do not feel to visit those. But one thing was pretty common in parents’ chat----most of their children demand to buy SLR camera to capture the beautiful moments of their life in the most beautiful manner. Photography is not anymore a necessity; it got an aesthetic value and reached to a level of art.

After finishing chat I rushed into the gallery to see the photographs of “Eclats de Bangladesh” (Fragments of Bangladesh). I found a man named Bhanu Gomez who works here as a technician. Chatting with Bhanu Gomez was like discovering a trunk of treasure in a deserted island. He knows Pierre Claquin for years; according to him Mr. Pierre trusts on Bhanu’s skill as his setting of lights in gallery makes Pierre’s photos more bright and attractive. Bhanu Gomez says pointing at a photograph titled “Ecstasy” in Baul section, “I put this photograph under the brightest light in this gallery because Mr. Pierre taught me which type of photo need which light to make it look more beautiful.” I was amazed to know the depth of his knowledge about aesthetic value of photography.

Bhanu Gomez further goes on describing all the sections of the exhibition and showing me his favorite photographs. “Here photos are placed in five separate sections: Shitakunda, Bauls, Postcards, Sunderbans, and People. Among them I love the photos of Shitakunda and Sunderbans most... See the photos titled “Monitor 1 and 2” and “King Cobra”, you will find a wonderful blend of fear and beauty here. Snakes never look so beautiful before.” Immediately my mind went back to Coleridge’s famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” where a mariner was cursed because he killed an Albatross and later doomed in sea surface without any living company. While sailing on the lifeless sea suddenly he saw a water snake and enchanted with the beauty of that living creature. The mariner praised the beauty of living thing through blessing the snake: “O happy living things! no tongue/ Their beauty might declare:/…And I blessed them unaware.” The curse was removed from him after the appreciating of the beauty of that water snake. At this point I must appreciate Bhanu Gomez’s choice!!! When I asked him what is the most striking thing about Mr. Pierre’s photos? “More or less we all visited Sunderbans; but the way Mr. Pierre saw things we are unable to do so. Everything about Bangladesh is beautiful if we see through Mr. Pierre’s eyes” Bhanu Gomez replied.

I was waiting for the man of the hour, Mr. Pierre Claquin, an amateur photographer and medical epidemiologist who has been practicing public health since 1972. For the past 30 years he has been practicing international public health and epidemiology in the USA, Africa, South and South-East Asia as well as in Central Asia. Though he is not a professional, he has become a photographer because of his “curiosity and deep interest in other people’s cultures.” Just after arriving at the gallery, Pierre was making sure that every photo of his exhibition is in its right place. My conversation with Mr. Pierre started with discussing the matter of considering himself a self-taught amateur. He has no institutional learning on photography; the only thing he had is the interest and eyes in search of beauty. He believes in “Going into yourself”, and that philosophy makes him a perfect self-taught amateur. I was wondering that there are hundreds of benefits of being an amateur; there must be disadvantages too. In this regard Mr. Pierre says, “Definitely, being an amateur is an advantage, because you are not under any assignment and there is no pressure on you. Best thing is, you can do what you want. And yes, there is a disadvantage - you will see you always spend own money for the passion of photography but not making any money out of it!” Pierre said several times “What inspires me most is the more hidden, non-obvious beauty”; then he pointed to a photo of a village girl titled “Luminous girl” and says that if we look at the girl we will find her simple and mainstream. Pierre mentions, “I was even asked, “apni sundor chobi tulechen, kintu era to gorib manush!” (You capture good photos, but they are poor people!) But beauty exists everywhere, even in the form most common faces, and he just captures them. Surely his photography is revolving in the circle of mainstream but giving us an outstanding essence of beauty. After seeing these photos one must agree with the greatest Chinese philosopher Confucius that everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

“Luminous girl”

It is visible that being an adventure lover helped him a lot to achieve a special place as a photographer. Is there any influence of his profession of public health in photography? Pierre says, “Working in public health made me visit many places. I met people of different culture and spontaneously mingled with them. Even I lived in Chittagong hill tracks for five years. These experiences helped me to gain a deeper understanding of people.” Clearly, people are the inspiration behind Pierre’s all work. Once Pierre said that he “borrow” pictures more than he steal them. In other words he captures a snap from the endless motion of beauty.

With the passage of time I found that Bhanu Gomez was right- most of the visitors of the exhibition are university students. Nazmul Alam Bappi, an undergraduate student of University of Jagannath comes here to learn French but he never forgets to visit the gallery. He says that it is interesting because despite being a foreigner Pierre trying to open up our eyes to see the beauty of our own country. These places are not out of world, they are real - just needed to be seen. Visitors indicated a photo titled “Reflection” as “most striking one”. I curiously asked Pierre what he saw on that half circular shaped “golpata” while clicking that photo. His answer was the most mainstream one: “It seemed beautiful.” And this is the very last impression that Pierre wants to leave in his audiences’ mind.

Saturday, February 25, 2012