|   Photos With A Difference  |

Rakesh Sinha



Certainly, there is something noticeable about his photographs. Bold and ethnic, His photographs (or work with photographs?) are surely different from the common run. I come face to face with him at his residence in Noida. Sloping back in on the sofa, he says Hello to me and Good Bye to his ground floor neighbors he had been sipping his first cup of black coffee at the beginning of the day with.

“Let me tell you this” says Abul Kalam Azad, thirty five year old ex-PTI photographer whose solo exhibition at Max Mueller Bhavan photo gallery in New Delhi last year was a widely discussed topic among the photography lovers of the national capital region, “See, photography plays a double role in society as an image making entity. On the one hand it finds out a present reality and on the other it brings into being a reality of its own. Also, as a way of communication, it plays a governing role in our image-saturated planet. Our communication media is so soaked that majority of the images coming cut out remains excess and floating. They compel rather then guide. The overflow of images makes the intended meaning banal”.

Now, a question arises that in this atmosphere of complete banality, how does an image work efficiently? Besides its power of creating an illusory demand, how does it exactly make an actual understanding of the message, which it carries?  The variance between the banality of an image and its competence of communication is very discriminating. Consequently, the artist who works with an image, chiefly that of a photograph, should be very cautious to discern this subtlety.

States Azad, “actually we should be grateful to scientific advancements, the field of photography has attained an untoward advancements in recent years. Its application in cinema and computerized visuals has changed all the pre-existing theories of photography. The observation made by Sontag, Berger and Barthes find their individual limitations in the contemporary visual arena. Though these theories are still applicable, the day-to-day progress in photography demands a more fundamental approach in its uses as well as in its reading.

His photographs require such a different approach for their successive reading. Surely, there is something blasphemous in the transformation of a news cameraman into an artist who uses photographs for his creative expression. The blasphemy lies in his courageous effort to subvert the usual standards attributed a photojournalist. The experts in Indian photography must often follow a set standard. “Photography makes strange things familiar and familiar things strange” says Sontag, “and therefore has a depersonalizing effect.” This depersonalization of Indians, whether from rural and metros capes by the experts made India an object of consumption.

After visualizing Abul Kalam Azad’s pictures one notice that this lensman’s shots denies this sort of objectification. He has taken pictures of racial type, not only in India but also overseas the photographer has depicted the working boys in Mumbai streets as well as the historic sculpture in Mumbai city squares. However, his special choosing of right angles prohibits them from being museum objects or mysterious pieces.

When we go through the history of photography we find that by the third decade of the 19th century, photography began discovering the surrounding within painterly exposures. Since then, irrespective of the models objectified by photography, it has been obsessed by the shadow of the canvas. However, certain fundamental approach taken by some baring photographic craftsman liberated this skill from the bondage of painting. Subsequently, it could practice a kind of commanding force on other visual arts.

Susan Sontag, in her book ‘on photography’ says that the images set our demands upon truth and are themselves coveted alternative for first-hand knowledge. “in fact, the social role photography carries out as an image making individual has to be observed in especial critical perspectives. Image making is a political as well as economical movement. In present societies production and consumption perform a principal part.  The act of contemplating done by images assists the product to approach a good number of patrons”, comments the lensman.

Azad is definitely a person who is equally skilled, both, in taking and defining methods of photography. He scratches on photographs. The act of sketching and illustrating images, mostly images of transgression like torch, sword etc., on photographs brings forth a sort of magic. Violation is violated boldly, and the out come could be a renaissance.

“Photography itself is a defilement of the privacy of someone or something. The clicking of the shutter of a camera is similar to a death knell. In the act of photography, a violation and killing occur together. Once this chemical images are presented as they are, it would be a reassertion of violation”, clarifies Azad.

Moreover, Azad makes different violation on the photographs, which already is a outcome of the principal violation. In all fairness, deriving a homogeneous notion about his works is a complex matter. Due to the diversity in the procedure of work, composition and bestowal, his work falls in and out of an analytical slot. The trouble that he finds at times in contouring his works as well as himself in the present art discourses seems mostly because of his intemperance with Barthesian concepts.

To Barthes, photography is one more form of death. He approaches political power of photography in entirely phenomenological terms. According to him, the surface of a photograph is a coating, which distances it from living society. In turn, by enacting the role of a spectator society parts itself from the photographic representation with it’s own outer layer i.e. the skin.” This distancing method is continued in the act of photographing as well. The experience of photography lies in the observed object and the subject observing”, tells Azad.

Once again Barthes stresses this identical experience in terms of genuine objectification. The role changes occur in the observed subject and the subject observing. This ultimately makes the consequent experience (the photograph) an object of the museum. The miscellaneous forces working in the act of observing and the experience of being observed become clearer in profile photography as Roland Barthes says in ‘Camera Lucida’ that profile photography is a closed field of forces. Four images repertories appeal here object and cross each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of, to exhibit his art.”

Azad’s photographs have excellence of quality, which impress connoisseurs of art. The artist in him is ever present in his work and creative art is enjoyed and appreciated by experts and the general public. His two-dimension works find their way directly into the discourse of contemporary social life. He denies the negation, and violates the violation. In turn, the resultant works swings between the social dialectics like spiritualism and fundamentalism, creation and distraction, pacifism and fascism. “The history of human civilization could be seen as the shift of human beings from their nomadic uncertainty to a settled fixity. But that was not the end of all. For them, invading other territories and building up architectural structures, to live and rule, were as important as making settlements in one’s own territory. In this sense, architectures all over the world stand evidence to civilization growth, symbol of invasion, seat of power. What becomes minimal in comparison with the overpowering architecture is the mass of human beings, which always remains stripped off of power”, says Azad.

As his contemporary photographs say that he never misses the chance to help people see the reasonableness of the other people’s viewpoints. “It is a matter of disposition, I conjecture. I observe it is possible to contribute. The idea is simply trying to become a better human being and you cannot better in isolation. You have to improve living in society or in the household. If you like doing something, you will certainly do it well. So just do what you like. I believe in it,” states Azad.

It is superficiality that bothers him “One must realize, no matter whatever it is – photography, relationship or one’s own self-development, that one is barely scratching the surface when one could do so much more as a human being. Even the sky is no limit, there are possibilities beyond sky,” resonates the sensitive cameraman.

Lastly, what is the concept behind the new series of your photographic works, Divine Façades? I position a question. “In fact, it attempts a re-reading of history, which is a merciless fusion of incidents with monumental architectures. Except heroes, ordinary people are apparently absent from this history. Using the same tool that chisel history out of a block of ‘real’  human experiences, I bring out a parody of it, which makes an active intervention in the common illustrative discourse of history done mainly through the beautiful pictures by the archaeological department and by the tourist photographs”, says the photographer.