Vulnerability in the spotlight

Vulnerability in the spotlight



The 4th Angkor Photo Festival's inaugural exhibition showcases

black-and-white perspectives on self and the dispossessed from India,

Myanmar and Bangladesh

Photo by:
© Munem Wasif

Manum Wasif's piece from the collection "Rohingya Refugees - Illegal Immigrants from Myanmar, Bangladesh".

THE fourth annual Angkor Photography Festival showcased its first exhibit Monday night at the McDermott Gallery with images from three photographers who work in black-and-white and who each have remarkably unique perspectives on India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.  

"Even working only in black-and-white, there is such a difference in palette and styles between the three of us," said Munem Wasif, who presented 18 photographs titled "Rohingya Refugees - Illegal Immigrants from Myanmar, Bangladesh".  

Wasif was trained at the Pathshala Institute of Photography in Bangladesh and describes his photographs as social documentary.  

"I work on stories that are rooted to my country, which is really important to my social context," he said.  

Wasif, the winner of numerous awards, including the 2008 French Prix de Jeune Reporter, spent one-and-a-half years living and working with refugee Rohingya, a Muslim minority whose homeland straddles Myanmar and Bangladesh. They are persecuted in Myanmar, and many now live illegally in Bangladesh.

"These refugees have been living in Bangladesh for 15 years, and the second generation is now growing up. But they are still not Burmese and they are still not Bangladeshi," he said. "When they die, they don't have any land where they can bury their sons or daughters, and when they are born they don't have any identity. I found the whole conceptual background and their practical condition very fragile, so that's how I started my story."

Human relationships

Wasif attempts to "discover the human relationship within the photograph and within the moment" in his photographic work.

He doesn't like to use the term "subject" because, according to Wasif, "a hierarchy exists between the photographer and those in his pictures.  We tend to take pictures of those more vulnerable, and by calling them subjects, we make them even more vulnerable."

Wasif's friend and fellow photographer Sohrab Hura also displayed 16 of his photographs Monday in an exhibit called "Life is Elsewhere", named after a book by Milan Kundera.

Wasif and Hura were students at the Angkor Photography festival last year, after becoming friends and colleagues at the Chobi Mela Photography Festival in Bangladesh two years ago.

Unlike Wasif, Hura never studied photography, but rather attended university and received his master's degree in economics in his native India. Although he began as a social documentarian like Wasif, he describes the work he is doing now as more like a journal, where he tries to connect his immediate world of family and friends to the external world.  

Myriad influences

Hura told the Post that his current influences are the magical realism of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the paintings of James Whistler.

As in Kundera's Life is Elsewhere, which is about a young poet's relationship to his mother, Hura's exhibit focuses on his own mother, who is a paranoid schizophrenic.  

Although Hura's photographs were taken mostly in India, he explains that "it's not about the geography of where I am, but more about what I am seeing and what is connecting to me".

"I've started questioning why I am seeing things a particular way, and I try to reach out to my world," he said.

Alongside Hura and Wasif, critically acclaimed photographer James Whitlow Delano also presented his exhibit, "Burma, A Flameless Inferno".

A slideshow at the FCC and a party at Laundry Bar followed the exhibit opening.