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     Volume 9 Issue 13| March 26, 2010|

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Capturing the Heart of Bengal

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Chanchal Mahmood

Chanchal Mahmood is regarded as the pioneer of model photography in Bangladesh. Yet his recent solo photography exhibition, Hridaye Bangladesh currently being held at the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts from March 19 - March 30 is hardly about model photography.

"Everybody tends to think of me as just a model photographer. But as you can see this exhibition is different. I want to break the impression," said a smiling Chanchal Mahmood. For an artist who has pioneered model photography in Bangladesh 36 years ago, the exhibition displayed only a negligible number of model photographs.

As Chanchal Mahmood says, unlike conventional exhibitions, there are no photos of street protests, violence, social injustice or other social issues that reflect the harsh realities of everyday life in Bangladesh. Rather "soft" photos dominate the exhibition as he calls it. " People are getting tired of such issues and want something different."

That does not mean that Chanchal Mahmood wants to belittle the everyday struggle of ordinary citizens. The photographer is a socialist at heart, and an ardent supporter of Che Guevara and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Talking about Che Guevara, he becomes almost emotional. Concerning socialism he says, " While it is true that socialism has not been implemented in the country, the values of socialism are not lost. As for me, socialism is alive in my heart and in my home. Everybody in my home and work is treated equally regardless of their social and financial status. Nowadays democracy has been replaced by ' democrazy'. Socialism could have helped."

Concern for the masses is an integral part of his life and his work. He tries within his capacity to help out unfortunate people, especially children. A large portion of the proceedings from his photography school 'Splash' is intended to alleviate the sufferings of the underprivileged.

Another personality who has left a permanent mark on Chanchal Mahmood is Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Considering the fact that the photographer's political loyalties were with JSD (Jatyo Samajtantric Dal) following the immediate post liberation era, this in itself was quite a revelation. When asked about this anomaly, Chanchal Mahmood comments- "Bangabondhu is not the property of any particular political party. He is for all Bangladeshis."

Chanchal Mahmood always refers to black as his favourite colour. He only wears black. The reason- " Before 1975, I used to be attracted to a variety of colours. Following the assassination of Bangabondhu and his family, I always wear black. I intend to wear black until all of the killers are brought to justice. Some people have commented that the killers have been brought to justice and I should stop wearing black. But there are others responsible who ought to be punished. I think I have to wear black for the rest of my life."

The colour black also dominates many of his photographs albeit for artistic reasons.

The exhibition is dominated by the natural landscape of Bangladesh, the local flora and fauna and so on. There are also many photos of rural children. Altogether, the exhibition lives up to its name ‘Hridoye Bangladesh'. The photographs reflect the familiar and striking sights of rural Bangladesh imprinted in the souls of people and that appeal to their sentiments.

Photos: Chanchal Mahmood

The photographer also gives glimpses of his earlier life when he was yet to be a familiar figure in the corridors of fame."My father was an honest government officer. When I first requested a camera from him, he informed me that the costs of a camera would require our family to starve for two months. Nowadays, younger photographers have an easier time. For us it was an uphill struggle."

"Nowadays many young people are doing very well indeed. But expensive and sophisticated cameras are not necessarily the way to success. What matters most is the person behind the camera. Sometimes there are views invisible to most people. Only a few can capture these little details with their cameras but these details are very important."

About the new trend in digital photography and reliance of graphic effects Chanchal Mahmood admits that he was not easy with this practice. "I only use special effects when my clients demand so, I don't like to rely on special effects for my photos." He explains he wants to portray things as they appear in reality. In his view, there is nothing more beautiful than what God has created and that is what he desires to appear in his photos.

Chanchal Mahmood remembers his teachers Professor Beg and the eminent nature photographer Dr. Nawazish Ahmed. They taught him to be humble, to love fellow human beings and contribute to social welfare. He quotes Christ- " the truly humble shall be elevated."


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