I stopped at this mobile fruit shop at Hesaraghatta, a large village/small town on the north western part of Bangalore. It was on the back of his autorickshaw. He had apples from Chile, Washington, China and India – globalisation? Just about 23 years ago, one had to book a trunk call to Bangalore and wait for a while to be connected..
No story, no nostalgia, no cause..just a picture.
Photographers chase the light. Here are some images from my chase
A couple of months ago, I was wandering in the cross roads of Brigade Road. I came across an old house on Castle Street – The plaque on the gate said ‘ Rama Vilas’ . It was a grand house, waiting to be demolished. Original owners had long gone, a caretakers family was living there. I thought of the times when it was full of people. They would have been happy, sad, bored, angry. They would have fought and they would have loved….
I went around the city on Saturday and photographed what I saw. My first stop was the Bangalore book festival and I saw more people at the food court than around the stall. I went towards the Fort, where Centre for Public History was conducting The Tiger Comes to Town . Afternoon light was lovely at the city market bus stand. The beautiful Jamia Masjid was shining! Here are few images from my trip around town.
It was September, 2004. I was at the VISA pour l’Image in Perpignan, South of France. Visa is the foremost festival of photojournalism in the world. It was my first visit to the festival and it was exhilarating. On the last day, I glimpsed a man at the stall of SIPA photo agency, who was wearing what seemed like a Fab India shirt. He seemed like an Indian. We got talking. He was Asim Rafiqui who lived in Stockholm. He was born and brought up in Karachi, but traces his family heritage to Srinagar where he still has relatives. The meeting was brief, but we kept in touch over email. We discussed photography, Faiz, life and our photographic projects…
Asim used to work as a technology consultant in the USA. After 10 years,egged on by Faiz’s“Mujhse pehelisi mohabbat,mehe mehaboob na maang” ( My love, don’t ask for the old passion from me) he decided to resign from his job and become a photographer. His work in Haiti, Gaza strip and south Waziristan began to get attention of many. Assignments for prestigious publications followed. From 2010 for two years, Asim worked on a seminal project called the ‘Idea of India’ with the support of Pulitzer Foundation for Crisis Reporting, Aftermath Foundation and Fulbright-Nehru fellowship. He is currently working in Pakistan on a project called Justice In Pakistan, which according to him is an exploration, and an individual’s attempt to discuss and understand ideas of justice and rights as understood and demanded by some of the most marginalized and dispossessed members of Pakistani society. I posed few questions to understand his mind and answers to two of them make today’s column.
MB: Why do you photograph?
Asim: I have to answer that question in two different ways.
First, I simply love the act of searching for an image. When I say ‘search’ I don’t mean that I am out there looking for something that is already there. What I mean is the slow process of looking by which a situation in understood, examined for possibilities, approached and composed into a frame. I have always loved this process, the challenges it poses, the waiting, the study of the light, the directions of the shadow, the movement of people, the layers within the scene and then that moment of ecstasy when you are certain (as much as one can be about such a thing) that you have captured a moment into the film that is close to how you had imagined it. It is this method that so intrigues me, and it has been what allowed me to spend two yeas scouring the streets and alleyways of India looking for photos. I love this method and the images that I can bring back at the end of it. I will often go out onto the streets, into situations, to just feel myself searching and examining and arriving at the ecstatic moment when I am compelled to fire the shutter. Its exhilarating, truly!
Second, photography gives me a way to voice my protest, make my argument, present my case, and show my sensibilities to others. I had not found another way of doing this. I photograph so that I can share, articulate, debate, argument, and make a case. Photography is an extension of my self, and it allows me to create artifacts which become, as I argued in my introduction to the The Idea of India project, vehicles for the imagination, both human, political and civic. I am a very political individual and as a result a very political photographer. What I mean is that my personal works are always about something more than aesthetics – they are personal, and something very personal is being communicated in them. It may not be obvious what that is, but its there and I often struggle myself to articulate it, but assume that the images along with my writings will reveal it. My works have a point of view, I make specific arguments through them, and I want to communicate specific points of view.
Lastly, photography is an excuse to push myself past my comfort zones – both intellectually and physically. It takes me out into the world of ideas, and into the physical world that I may otherwise find excuses to avoid. It is a shield behind which I find a courage I ordinarily lack. My shyness can be quite a burden, but with a camera in hand, I have managed to find myself in places, situations and alongside people I would otherwise just have been too afraid to approach. I love this strange courage the camera allows me to possess – like a special suit that gives you special powers!
MB: Since Idea of India Project – I see that you are not doing assignments but deeply involved only in your long term projects? – any particular reason?
Asim: I have been working on my personal projects since late 2008 But I have also been shooting assignments when it has made sense. In fact, at the moment I am balancing my Pakistan justice project with smaller, more focused projects just to keep myself from becoming too tired on the Pakistan work. But I am always working on some long, complicated personal projects, while also shooting assignments to help fund the personal work. But, as I said, since 2008 my main interest and focus have been my personal projects. I think that the reasons should be quite obvious – there is greater freedom of approach and method, there is greater room for a deeper exploration of issues, there is a strong connection to motivations from the self, and there is a greater personal commitment and engagement with personal ideas. For all these reasons I value such projects above magazine assignments and such. For me personally, it is the high point of an individual photographer’s career i.e to find the personal ideas and the financial means to pursue personal works. I am grateful that I am able to do this full time at the moment, but always aware that it is a luxury that will not last.
MB:Are your projects going to be only on the web? or any book projects in the offing?
Asim:They are principally on the web because I have been experimenting with ways of sharing my projects as they evolve. Typically photographers protect that process, and the images until the very end of the work, releasing it as books, exhibitions of some magazine publication. A grand launch so to speak. But I have never quite found that approach interesting. What fascinates me – in life as in photography, is the journey, complete with its wrong turns, its doubts, its experiments, its ecstacies, its disappointments and its revelations. A personal project is basically all about this process of exploration, and experimentation and i have experimented with the web to share my process, to offer transparency into my thinking and uncertainties, to reveal my attempts to find images or make an argument.
We hear a lot about the new age of photography, but frankly, most photographers – other than paying lip service to social media, or writing a blog, are still very reluctant to change how all this networked world changes the way the work. I am just trying something different, looking for ways to engage an audience throughout the project and not just at its conclusion. My project websites contain photographers, personal essays, field notes, maps, scans of various documents and items I find along the way, interviews, personal musings, and so on. The process is the project, the journey to discovery what the work is all about.
This does not of course exclude the fact that I would love to conclude the projects as books. You can’t hold a website. In the end, I firmly believe that photographs have to be seen in print, held close, and examined. There has to be a human connection and relationship to the image and that only a book can achieve. My experience of a photo books differs sharpely from that on the net, and even the images make a completely – and in my opinion, more powerful impact when seen in print. The form my projects take in print will be quite different from what they look like online. One of the process, the journey, the other a sort of destination. So inevitably the two complement each other, but remain quite distinct in their content and justification. Both the India work and the Pakistan justice work will eventually be shown to publishers and I hope we can get both into book form some time in 2014. We will see.
First published in Bangalore Mirror on 21 Dec 2012. Images © Asim Rafiqui