While Bangladesh based Hadi Uddin creates ultra commercial works as a fashion photographer for Canvas magazine, his personal works reflect his sharp candor and emotional sensitivity.
His personal project ‘Here for Now’ is a portrait series based in Boirakhali in Rayer Bazar, which is located close to Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. The project focuses on the heartrending aspects of migration, and the complex ideas of home and freedom. The black & white project ‘Longing’, on the other hand, is sheer poetry in motion. The scope of the series is extensive and highly intriguing. Hadi’s works have so far been exhibited at Chobi Mela VIII International Photography Festival, Photo Kathmandu, Dali International Photography Festival, etc.
Having spent a majority of his time in his photographer father’s studio, Hadi’s relationship with the artform started quite early in life. He eventually joined Pathshala South Asian Media Institute for a formal education in photography. We had a conversation with Hadi about photography and other things. Read on:
Tell us something about your childhood.
I was not too much into studies while growing up. I was often just wandering around. It would usually take over a month for my parents to figure out that I was bunking classes, mostly when the teachers would start coming to the house looking for me. My mother was always very concerned about this, but my father did not say much. Though I was allowed to have friends over, but my time with them was limited to playing cricket with a paper ball on our rooftop.
I remember I used to eagerly wait for the regular visits to my grandmother’s village. It was probably the most exciting period for me – playing with my cousins, stealing fruits from neighbors, catching fish, bathing in the river, playing in the mud – the list goes on. I was also an expert in stealing money from my father to play ‘Mustafa’ in small video-game stores quite regularly.
You grew up amidst a lot of photography. Tell us a bit about that. What were some of the specific creative influences when you were growing up?
My father, Jahir Uddin Tara, is a studio photographer. He had a commercial studio space with two darkrooms – one for black and white and the other for color. He used to rag me a lot when I was growing up. He would call me to the studio to just watch him work for hours and hours. Over the years, I saw him changing his apparatus from Mamiya to Yashika 120 to Minolta to Vivitar to Canon to Nikon.
I was always mesmerized to see the process of turning a negative into a positive image, and then using hand colors to sharpen the eyes, nose, etc. – proper analogue retouching. I used to take a lot of photos too. Sometimes, my photographs were used for the client work. I started going to the studio everyday from 2003 (when I was 19 years old) to 2010, before I moved to Dhaka. Those eight years in the studio made me what I am today. I lied to my parents after I came to Dhaka about joining a corporate firm with my Master’s degree. But I actually joined Canvas magazine in August 2010 as a fashion photographer.
When did you actually realize that photography was your calling?
It started growing within me mainly after I started working at Canvas. Then one of my colleagues at the magazine advised me to join Pathshala (South Asian Media Institute), and I followed his advice. Pathshala, a school with a lot of good and dedicated teachers, is what really made me passionate about photography and invoked my love for the medium.
How do you balance between your commercial work and personal projects?
I don’t need to balance anything. What I do for living is what I do for existing. I simply take photographs. I am not saying my commercial projects are my personal projects, but there is just no balancing act. The purpose of different projects could be diverse but the act always remains the same.
I lied to my parents after I came to Dhaka about joining a corporate firm with my master’s degree. But I actually joined Canvas magazine in August, 2010 as a fashion photographer.
A lot of people believe in ‘art for art’s sake’ and then there are artists who believe that art must reflect and bring about a change in society. Where does your work fall in this spectrum?
I pursue art to have a conversation with the unknown. I have limited capability to connect with a large number of people with the language I use for verbal communication. Then there is art, which we can use as a tool of communication to mostly have a one sided discourse with strangers (viewers). It’s just like sending a text message to someone who would probably never reply to it. As our spoken language is limited, we need so many other mediums to actually communicate properly.
I simply create art for art’s sake. When we are part of a system we don’t agree with, it’s better to make imaginary friends. We cannot change something for greater good when we are not even sure what is “greater”.
Your project ‘Longing’ is quite intriguing. What was the inspiration behind it?
Thank you for saying that. I don’t really remember what triggered it. I started doing it as a project in my third year of college. I actually continue my personal practice quite randomly, always trying to create work guided by my subconsciousness. I do discuss my work with other people and teachers, and may be they influence me in some way, but who knows.
What I do for living is what I do for existing. I simply take photographs. I am not saying my commercial projects are my personal projects, but there is just no balancing act. The purpose of different projects could be diverse but the act always remains the same.
How was the experience of exhibiting ‘Here for Now’ at Chobi Mela last year?
I am actually not so interactive when it comes to exhibitions and stuff. I am more of a shoot-to-print kind of a photographer. I rely on my teachers and friends about the other stuff. Working with the commercial sector has perhaps taught me to only deal with things where I am an expert.
‘Here For now’ is my most favorite work, probably my best till now. I really loved that I could do an exhibition on it so quickly. To be honest though, I was actually not very pleased with the exhibition itself. But it was alright. I was really excited while printing and hanging my work on the walls and to see people coming in, watching and talking about the work. That was the most important thing for me.
How does Bangladesh inspire you and your work?
I never think about it. All I can say is that I only belong to my neighborhood. Would you count my neighborhood as my country? I feel like my neighborhood, in broad sense, could be anywhere. It is not limited to just a country. So I can’t talk about Bangladesh, but I do think about the Bengali spirit as that’s unique and has a character. The way I eat, my comfort zones, lifestyle and philosophy are all very “Bengali” in nature. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, I will always have a Bengali inside me. I am not sure how that inspires me, but it is a part of me, or I am a part of it.
How do you see the contemporary art and photography scene in Bangladesh evolving?
If you keep an open eye, you can really see the changes happening here. There is now a dialogue happening between contemporary art and photography in Dhaka. A bridge has already been built and many artists are traveling in between. It’s still a very new development though and I hope there will be more to add in the years to come.
Bangladesh is very Dhaka-centric though, so what I am saying is not about Bangladesh but more about Dhaka.
Who are the photographers/artists around the world that you really admire?
I actually don’t like anyone constantly, so the list keeps changes. Is that really bad though? I can tell you who I like right now: artist and photographer Roger Ballen.
What are some of the things in music/arts/books that really inspire you?
I am sorry I can’t really recollect what inspires me. But I like some paintings and the stories behind them. I am talking about the “aura” that some painters have. It’s really interesting. If I ask a kid to draw a line on a big white paper and then show it to people saying that it’s one of the works by say Picasso, many will say ‘this is so great’ or ‘it has such depth’! I think I want that (laughs). This is crazy and funny at the same time.
What are you currently working on?
I am not working on any new project right now, just browsing through some of my old works and planning to extend those further.
What’s on your mind currently?
Well, I am actually looking forward to a vacation, to leaving everything behind for a period of time and be completely alone (laughs). I must add though that it’s a very ambitious plan. Right now, I am most affected by the fact that I don’t feel secure mentally. There is a very claustrophobic atmosphere here.
Could you elaborate on that?
Let me give you a context from India. Look at what’s going on in India right now: cow activists, minority killings, pellets and bullets in Kashmir and the list goes on. And pretty much the same things are happening here in Bangladesh. They are actually happening everywhere. The whole world is facing a big problem right now, and that’s what I am talking about it.
There is now a dialogue happening between contemporary art and photography in Dhaka. A bridge has already been built and many artists are traveling in between.
FEATURED IMAGE CAPTION:
All the photographs are by Hadi Uddin.©
Hadi’s photograph is by Atish Saha.©