Tag Archives: Photography

Meditations of another kind on Nirvair’s image “Twinkle twinkle…”

Meditations of another kind

on Nirvair’s image

Twinkle twinkle little stars..

(Image of the month for january 2012 at creativenaturephotography.net )

Twinkle twinkle..

                                                                                        Twinkle twinkle little stars.. image by Nirvair Singh

I have often wondered if the moment of clicking a photograph could be called a compendium of our mental state. The choice of visual elements, their placement, the way various elements relate with each other can be said to express  deeply felt thoughts or emotions. Our mental state is stamped with  visual codes comprising many in-expressibles. In a sense every photograph may be told as a story;  (I just stopped short of saying epic) visibly of the outside world but essentially photographers’ own. A progression of events leading to the final outcome; the picture.

Paraphrasing Rolland Barthes “In short, all these “imitative” arts comprise two messages: a denoted message, which is the analogon itself, and a connoted message, which is the manner in which the society to a certain extent communicates what it thinks of it. ……”                                                                                             Image Music Text; The photographic message                    

In this background an attempt has been made to locate the message in one of the shots taken by Nirvair’s “Twinkle Twinkle little stars…” The shot appeared as Image of the month at CNP(creativenaturephotography.net) for the month of January’2012. I’ll try to be as objective as possible but the fact that he is my son may bring in subjective play in the analysis. In doing so we might have to step outside the picture.

October 2011.

Nirvair has been in Dhaka for barely a month. It’s an alien place; food, language, customs, landscape everything is different. Till now nature photography has been his passion. He has grown up in places which abound in nature and open spaces. Here in a crowded city  nature and open space exist only in imagination. He is putting up in a rented room which is to be his home for next three years. He has Hasan, his senior at Pathshala and the landlord, Salaudin his classmate and Sazzad his teacher as his neighbours, friends and family.

Nirvair appears to be settled and reassures his parents through his missives. Experimenting with a new genre he is clicking a lot of self-portraits. These are dark, delible and quiet, hauntingly quiet. It seems he is trying to populate his world with the most likely familiarity; his own face.

Here’s one picture.

soul mate

                                                                                                Soulmate; image by Nirvair Singh

Come Diwali and Nirvair is surprised by Hasan who comes over with a pack of candles. Nirvair puts them up in his room and corridor. This heart-warming gesture helps him bond with the place. He shares the images of candle lit room and corridor with his family. These are also the first images of light from Dhaka. Images of hope one may say. Here are the images.

diwali lights-I

                                                                                       Diwali lights-I; image by Nirvair Singh


Diwali lights-II

                                                                Diwali lights-II; image by Nirvair Singh

Time goes by. Nirvair is invited to Hasan’s house to celebrate Independence Day of Bangladesh. Fire-works remind him of Diwali. He misses home. After some straight shots in the courtyard he scales a wall, as if looking over, for a glimpse of home. Standing there, he spots these faintly visible leaf-twins. Holding on to that moment he lets it seep within. He sees nature, or more appropriately, its imprint. The shot he frames may be read as a pictorial map of his longing. There are two leaves in the foreground. The background is a receding sprinkle of faintly visible, out of focus lights.

The image titled “Twinkle Twinkle little stars…” sounding like the nursery rhyme, resounds with happy wonderment. Could it be  something more than just lights strung in bokeh’ed shimmer? Is there another way of looking at the picture? Arati Rao, another CNP member and a accomplished photographer & travel writer   commented that the leaves in the image looked like a “venetian mask”. So what lies hidden behind the mask.

Out of focus lights stake their claim to the title obviously. What about the faintly visible leaves ? Their claim to space may be a modest one but we can be sure that that they have a major part to play in making the picture. It is possible that the title is an inverted reference, albeit unconsciously, to leaves which represent suppressed longing of the photographer.

Did he have a choice to go closer to the leaves? If he did then why did he take the picture the way he did? Is the picture a portrayal of nature on the fringe? Or it is  photographers own state where he sees himself surfacing slowly amidst a whole lot of unknowns.

Two leaves drowned in the darkness are lit up by distant lights. They symbolise hope in the form of nature; Nirvair’s alter ego. Resuscitating himself in an act of self-preservation

he’s got a glimpse of his ownself, nature, home.

All is well.

@my other blog;  tranquildarts.wordpress.com



“Belonging” by Munem Wasif

Meditations of another kind


 “belonging”-Image by Munem Wasif

Munem Wasif is an eminent documentary photographer in Bangladesh. He has been represented by Agence Vu since 2008,  and is now teaching documentary photography at Pathshala South Asian Media Academy.

belonging by Munem Wasif

The picture is from Munem Wasif’s eagerly awaited book “Belonging”

By the waterside a barber leans over his customer. The barber looks focused. His way of handling the ustra and the way he positions the face of his customer testifies to his expertise. Customer’s head is leaning on a side. His eyes are closed, restfully. An insubstantial sign of strain on his forehead at the junction of eyes and nose punctuates an otherwise blissful expression. He could be a passenger or another boatman. But his face doesn’t show passenger’s anxiety. The coarseness of barber’s shirt, his tangled bristly hair, the crop of their beards helps in situating the photograph. Moving up from there we are lead into the cluster of boats. Each boat looks like a flower petal, their assemblage a flower, moored with thin rope lines to a ragged pole. Moored to their boats with equal lightness,  boat men contemplate on the next journey. Gently lapping water could be the first note of a bhatiali. Moving further up we are in deeper waters now. There are boats, large and small with passengers aboard. Gentle concave forms of small boats run into solid checkered lines of large vessels. Behind them, a city rises, immobilized with anchor in its gut; and strangely though, the vortex of all activity in the foreground. The gaze then reflects from the imperviousness of city’s unheeding white.  Breaking sideways into the chaotic middle with boats in their mid-journeys it folds into the “flower” of boats, finding order and anchor. Finally we return to land where the barber and his customer are still there. One wonders what are they doing here? What’s the connect?

The story begins; each boat must have its own. If I were writing fiction I would love following each one to its story but this being a photo document, subtle and real, I stop here and ponder “what does it mean to belong?” Does one belong to something? Does it have a direction or is it a deeply ingrained sense wherein we just co-habit; the space as much in our pores as our breath in it.  Belonging; does Munem Wasif present a problematic, or its resolution?  To my mind, belonging would be  a sense of homing; an emotional, psychological state which rejects alienation, anxiety or uncertainty.

What possible deduction of belonging can we arrive at by scanning the picture? One obvious thing is the absence of any sign of proclamation or anthem, the characteristic stereotypes of “belonging” so loudly exemplified by “born in the USA” sung by  Bruce Springsteen. Instead we move into a dignified silence of life lived daily, and a deep sense of familiarity & comfort with the surrounding. The boats belong to these waters; most definitely. They are all similar; small, indigenous, functional & unpretentious. Men with casual, nonchalant gaits seem to know their boats. The man on the right is busy conversing with another boatman while he prepares to anchor the boat. His posture as he leans on his rowing pole is one of trust. He seems to know the bamboo pole in an intimate, personal way. In adjacent boat a man walks towards two men sitting with their backs to us. Just look at the way he holds up his dhoti with left hand, again characteristic of the people being portrayed. One doesn’t wear something the way he/she does, just like that. To be able to wear, carry off, and hold it the way he does requires a lifetime of living with a certain sense of clothing.Written in reference to tailored clothes the words of John berger make a lot of sense “The clothes convey the same message as the faces as the history of the bodies they hide…” –The suit and the photograph, About looking.

All around the boat-flower boatmen are seen doing minor mending jobs, preparing for their turn to ferry passengers or simply standing with assured gaits give us a feeling that we are looking at a space which these people know in a “homing sense”.

Between the near and the far end boats set off in all directions ferrying passengers to and from the big vessels seems to be the business here. Big boats carry passengers from far away islands. Small boats ferry them to their personal destinations. Together they move the economy of a nascent nation. Except on the farther side where we see something of a mass everything else is in a flux of arriving and departing. The mood of the scene is definitely itinerant but not in a touristy sense. Geographic location of the place has ensured that the people of Bangladesh are always in sight of water. Well a lot of water. In spite of their water woes from flooding, hurricanes, to rising sea levels the people here have found way to deal with it. What we see in the picture is a water highway on which every kind of business is transacted. People move about in great numbers. There’s a boat for every stop. Every stop has a tale to tell.

Returning in the end to the foreground the barber and his customer so emblematic of the mood set off the viewer to  exploring a slice of life present before the photographer. The barber has no shop to do business just as we don’t find a “ticket window” for the passengers boarding the boats! He arrives on the scene with his implements/equipment and departs after he is done with his day’s work.  The effortlessness and focus  with which he does his job makes us believe that he has known this routine for a long long time. He is equally comfortable with the land he sits on as the shirt he wears. There’s no sign of weariness in his demeanor. In fact he looks rather poised; his  hands  working the customer’s beard with  certainty and deftness. The background which looked rather subdued when we first look at the photograph has now assumed broader proportion. Rather than looking at the barber and his customer as the foreground it would now be appropriate to locate them in reference to the background. The background of the scene is the reason for the two men to appear where they do. Though appearing  in the foreground they belong deeply in  the hinterland.

During my first iteration across the photograph I missed the point that there’s no onlooker. Not even the photographer. The lense man too must belong here. Otherwise what would explain the two men being so oblivious to his presence, even though the photograph is taken from up-close. It seems the photographer descended softly as a cloud and imbibed the scene. The entire picture appears engrossed in itself. There are no outsiders here. Everything and everyone belongs.

By not cropping out parts of half-boats on the left side the photographer has saved a document from becoming a picture. This non-intervention lets him capture the even flow of an average day in un-spectacular, un-obtrusive way.

Nirlep Singh Rai