Vol. 4 Num 336 Tue. May 11, 2004  

Book launch
Photographs home in on circuses
Dr Pierre Claquin's book Surviving Dreams: The Struggling Circuses of Bangladesh launched at the Alliance Francaise
Dr Pierre Claquin, who has held a number of exhibitions of his photographs of the people of Bangladesh, brought out his book, Surviving Dreams: The Struggling Circuses of Bangladesh at the Alliance Francaise. Michel Lummaux, the French Ambassador, launching the book, praised Dr Claquin for making the Bangladeshis aware of the existence of life in the countryside. He said the subjects of some of the photos were such that Bangladeshi viewers thought that the photos were decades old. He also praised Dr Claquin for his relentless work as a physician for the people of Bangladesh since the Liberation War. Dr Claquin is presently based in Jakarta and works for the European Union.

Given below is Pierre Claquin's (PC) interview with Fayza Haq of The Daily Star (TDS).

TDS: Is the book a compilation of photographs, that you've taken over the years, some of which have featured in the pages of TDS earlier?

PC: It is not a compilation of photographs that I've taken before. This is a separate, individual project. There was an exhibition during The Chhobi Mela in November 2002 and I presented 30 pictures at Alliance Francaise based on the theme of the circus. In the course of my work, I began to contact circuses which I felt were an interesting subject. I hoped that they would work with us in disseminating messages on polio eradication . Many people go to the circus every day and I thought that my companions and I could interrupt the show on several occasions and then spread the messages. I felt that I should make a photo essay of the lives of the circus performers. The more I got know them, the more fascinated I was.

TDS: Will you say something more about yourself, your medical background. How did you get into photography and the pictures in the book?

PC: I'm a public health medical doctor. In the past five years that I prepared the book, I was in a project funded by USAID. The circuses were held all over Bangladesh.

There are 120 photographs, all black and white, accompanied by comments but these do not immediately face the photos. I decided to put them at the end of the book with a vignette of the pictures.

TDS: Why did you choose the circus rather than anything else in Bangladesh as your theme?

PC: There are many themes which I could have captured and I have many more in mind, for example, the deep sea fishermen, who leave their homes to fish in the Bay of Bengal. I've always wanted to focus on the people who are marginal, on the edge of society. This is because I think one learns a lot about the core of Bangladeshi society. One gets to know how the society is treating the marginal people. This is true in every country, when one looks into the situations such as that of the senior citizens and the migrant workers in USA and Europe. One learns a lot about the evolution of a society from such studies.

TDS: Are your pictures in black and white or colour? Do you mainly go in for the dramatic and subtle effect of the black and white which to some appear more aesthetically inclined ? What equipment did you use?

PC: I made a choice and preferred to go in for black and white. Normally I take colour pictures. There are two reasons why I went in for black and white this time For one, I felt that the circus environment is very colourful and I felt that going black and white will help to focus on both the faces and the activities. The second reason is technical: with high-speed films the best result can be achieved in black and white.

I have been using a Nikon for 30 years. I began and am still quite content with it. You ask me about the number of rolls of films: they were innumerable. For capturing the action, my equipment was quite suitable: this avoided the grains that come in colour when speed is involved. There is no romantic reason for the choice.

TDS: What memories do you have of the time you spent on taking the films for the book?

PC: The only problem was a technical one, in trying to capture the movements as well as trying to bring in the ambience of the circus. People were open. I admit a foreigner in the east is often a source of attraction. I was with Bangladeshi co-workers and they too were welcomed. I didn't mind the heat or rain but I lost a lot of weight. We stayed in nearby local hotels and watched the three different shows a day. I got to see jatra performances, which have an association with the traditional role of the circus. Decades back they were two separate genres, but now they tend to be more and more combined.

TDS: Does your work give you a strong sense of satisfaction?

PC: Obviously, I wouldn't continue with my photography if I didn't enjoy it. What I'm after is to capture a part of reality and try to present it a way that will make it more accessible to the people. I enjoy my moments with my cameras and try to do useful work whenever I can. My wife and son are very understanding about my days away with my photography and they take pride in my work.

It may sound cruel, but dwarfs have been an essential source of amusement in the circuses