Fahad Al Alam: a pioneer of vintage photography in Bangladesh

Akramul Momen | Published: 00:00, Sep 01,2019

Akramul Momen, Fahad Al Alam, vintage photography, vintage photography in Bangladesh, young photographer, Bangladesh photography scene, Shunno Art Space

Fahad Alam. - Akramul Momen

Fahad Al Alam is a self-taught photographer, who has been working with vintage photography since 2013. His third solo photography exhibition titled ‘Debris of the Night’ was held at Shunno Arts Space recently. During an interview with Akramul Momen, Fahad shares his experiences with New Age Youth

IN A contemporary dance class when my instructor asked me to close my eyes and to try feeling my flow of blood, I just felt stuck. In a while, I forgot all the complications I had, and soon I started to feel that — I am no more feeling stress. I discovered my breathing, flowing like a river, and it was such an intimate moment that any sort of realities in my urban life couldn’t reach here anymore.

Dear friends, please read a beautiful line — let’s tie down our hands to trees | we will grow with the branches as they spread across the universe.

The lyric has been taken from a poetry book titled a piece of whisper, dedicated to ‘a star’. Photographer Fahad Al Alam has written the book using only small letters as a part of his vintage photography series. With plenty of photographs, and a bunch of lyrical words, the series will simply fill your heart with a touch of mystery. It will generate both joy and sorrow, beyond description. Such a poetic articulation, choice of words and thematic preferences are generally I found in the poetry of Jibanananda Das.

The photo-narrative contains the contrasts of Fahad from his journey from home to abroad in Dhaka. Like many of us, he left his village in Nowgaon, where he used to plant trees and garden, to continue his study in 2006. From his tiny rooftop, he used to look at the city and felt nostalgic for lost queues of trees, open sky, birds and large courtyard in home. The choice of words in his book — rain, fire, tree trunk, dust, dead-pond — represent his struggle with a concrete atmosphere in Dhaka while music, silence, flowing water, star and sky show a strong desire for nature. His photographs also contain same realities. 

‘To me, a dead tree is similar to a dead person,’ Fahad said while talking about his works, including the poetry book. This hour-long conversation took place at Shunno Arts Space during his third solo photography exhibition titled ‘Debris of the Night’. This three-week long exhibition ended on Aug 10, which included events such as artist talk, open studio and portrait sessions and a musical performance by Pishach.

Fahad is a self-taught photographer, with a passion for vintage, out-of-date, analogue cameras and films. His third exhibition shed lights on his works with expired, fungus-infested, hand-rolled and treated films, using old, second-hand, collected cameras. The hand-developed and manipulated images which he then produces often appear 'damaged' or 'washed out', to reflect on the passage of time and the decay of the machineries that are designed to preserve our memories. Ultimately, what his images represent is not what he simply observes, but the impressions that they leave in time.

Fahad with his signature shy smile said that he is firmly inspired by the timelessness of black-and-white family photographs from the beginning of his journey as a photographer. He decided to shift his medium and left his first digital single lens reflect camera to capture the reflection of old photographic tradition in his images. But it was not easy for him. He had to shift into an analogue world in this digital era. In 2013, he bought a plastic camera and 15 rolls of instant films that is out of market since then and started to experiment towards a new journey.

Vintage photography is close to a process of meditation to Fahad. Sometimes, it is just about a moment between a camera, himself and his beloved nature. He spent day after day with analogue cameras. It never makes him tired and helps to be free from orthophobia (fear of correct behavious). Fahad said some of his images took a month or more time to be captured. Sometimes it is a matter of five minutes, sometimes hours.

‘We generally think that photography is a split of a second capture. But in my images the process started from split second and takes longer time. Longest duration of my images is two months. And I have to be there to make sure that, everything is okay. There was only the camera and me, nothing else,’ Fahad added.  

One of the main focuses of Fahad’s works is relation between himself and his own world. Here he is mostly inspired by romanticism, which portrays an immense reaction to the industrial revolution. He discovered an unconditional bonding with nature and its absence hurts him deeply. He tried to find out the realities through photography and that’s why it is a major tool which helped him most to reshape the life.

Fahad uses cameras from different eras and he had to learn the techniques of how to use them himself as there were no available information about those in the internet. He also collected several ambiences of nature, such as sound of river, air, birds, to create art. He aims to exhibit only sounds in a separate show.

Video is also an important medium to Fahad. He took videos from different layers and tried to discover an object in various forms. He writes poetry through watching the videos titled where is your mind, where he argues psychological stances differ between body and mind. One of his musician friends Sohan, who leads Pishach, had composed the music as part of their collaboration. 

One of Fahad’s research works is based on the origin of photography, contribution of different photographers, invention and transformation of different processes. He aimed to research on the project — theoretically, historically and practically — throughout his life.

He also took images and portraits though various analogue cameras as a part of his research. He also brought a Super-8 camera from Malaysia while studying in the country in 2017 to explore himself in film. The specialty of this device, which was broadly used in home films and videos during the period of sixties, seventies and eighties, is that people actually don’t need any knowledge to operate the camera. It is just a matter of point and shoot. 

It is not always necessary that artists should focus on every issues of their time through art. They can choose their own individual style to create a self-narrative. Fahad’s works strongly deal with nature and his words, just give a surreal read. Human figures are often insignificant in his works and rarely do they take the lead. He portrays diapering sign of human which in a symbolic way to represent the distance between nature and human.

He intentionally avoids computer, to keep the organic sign of vintage photography. The images are produced through the process of cameras and he didn’t apply any edit or correction. Even, no captions were used to introduce the images.

Currently Fahad is conducting several workshops with people who are interested in working with vintage photography. He instructed them how to catch and develop the images through film cameras. He recently started a project with school-going students who are interested in vintage photography too. If they want to continue the process, they will be provided with necessary help as there is no lab or faculties available in Bangladesh. Anyone interested to take a portrait through analogue camera, can also book a session with Fahad. He is also interested to collaborate with musicians and author to design album and book covers.      

The self-taught artist is also interested to conceptualise his works with other contemporary issues, covering environmental, political and gender-based issues though analogue photography. He is committed to continue the practice but not determined to be fixed with that. As he is the lone photographer in this sector, he aims to explore all other opportunities he might have. He would like to introduce the practice as his individual prospective, not a political stand. And so far, the responses are great.       

Akramul Momen is a young writer, theatre and dance activist.

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