The great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that the difference between a good photograph and a mediocre one is a question of millimetres. Precision is key to making an everyday scene become an extraordinary photograph. Photographs by Chandan being exhibited until the end of this month at Mango Cafe exemplify this principle.
The photographer Hasan Saifuddin Chandan needs no introduction because, among other things, he is the author of the book of photographs People of Kamalapur Railway Station, a timeless classic. A founder of the MAP photo agency, he has photographed Bangladesh since 1982 and won numerous international and national awards. He is regarded as a ground-breaking photographer for his precise and compelling images where geometrical elements and human moments come together with effortless grace.
The exhibition has twenty-one photographs: eleven are black and white and the rest are in colour. Those who follow Bangladeshi photography will find some well-known images here, including that of a brick-breaking couple enjoying a moment of happiness with their child.
There is a kind of poetry of light that Chandan squeezes out of life in Bangladesh. It is a combination of the way he selects the subject, the way he frames the photo, his technical mastery and his understanding of light. What matters is the end result which touches us in a profound manner.
But what about the photos themselves – what do they say? They can be interpreted at two levels that mix and match in varying degrees: a narrative level and a symbolic level. The first tells us the story by capturing a decisive moment, while the second evokes feelings and thoughts based on our reading of symbols presented the photograph.
Narration carries more weight in some images. Chandan captures the right moment for telling a story in these photos and we can fill in the dots in our mind. For example, a boy who has arranged two chairs to prop himself up and do his homework, right on the sidewalk, takes us back to our own school days.
In another photograph, a truck driver is taking a nap on a bench next to his truck, a table and empty chairs next to him. The truck, door open, is on the far side. The formally precise image is an unexpected one and yet, because we instantly grasp the situation, it is emotionally touching.
Other photos have more symbolic power. One photo shows a boatman in his sailboat. Holes in the sail, black against white, mimic the old boatman’s white beard and hair, leading us to ponder their relationship: friends or adversaries? In another photo, an old woman’s wrinkled hand placed against the terracotta wall says much about time and human frailty.
Some photographs are about architecture in our environment. In one, a vibrant purple wildflower grows into the arch of a historic building; in another, the Parliament building looms behind the flowers on the head of a flower-girl like a giant late-afternoon shadow.
The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to see and acquire world-class photographic art from a native talent. Open 10am-10pm until April 30, House 6, Road 5, Dhanmondi.