Interview with Md. Enamul Kabir (First prize 2023 BSPF Series)
Can you tell us something about yourself and how you got into street photography?
I live in Dhaka which is the capital city of Bangladesh. Before 2012 I had no plans to become a photographer but, in that year, I was out of a job, and I spent some time with an ex-colleague who had a DSLR. I was amazed to see how, if you take a picture with a DSLR, a dark-skinned person would look almost white!
The online photo community was booming in Bangladesh, and my friend asked me to join him for a photo walk in Dhaka, even though I didn’t have a camera. I enjoyed these walks a lot. One evening I was crossing the Hatirjheel Bridge, and I saw a beautiful sunset. I took a picture with my phone camera. When I shared it on Facebook, I got a lot of positive reactions which stimulated me to take more pictures.
Later, this must have been around the end of 2013, I learned about a thing called street photography. I started going on walks in the area where I lived, taking pictures in the street, still using my phone. When my friend with the DSLR asked me if I wanted to join him for some photography courses I agreed and so we joined the oldest photography school in Bangladesh called the Begart Institute of Photography.
But you still didn’t have a camera yet, apart from your phone?
Yes, that is correct. I approached our teacher Imtiaz Alam Beg, who is one of the pioneers of music photography in Bangladesh, and asked if I could join the school even though I couldn’t pay for the classes and had no camera. He said that I could pay him later, and I borrowed a camera from the other students in the school when they were not using it. The classes lasted a few months, and it was then and there that I learned how to make a photo look interesting, what to include and not to include in the picture.
Now that you have your own camera, what is your current setup for street photography?
My main camera is a Canon 550D which I use with a fixed 18 mm lens, which is equal to a 28 mm lens on a full frame camera. I use a wide lens because I love to come close to people as this creates a connection between the photographer and the photographed. At the same time the wide lens allows me to include more information in the frame.
How do people in Dhaka react when you get really close to take their picture?
In the subcontinent, Bangladesh and India, people are very friendly. Sometimes they will ask why you took their photo, but they never get angry with you. I always tell them that I am having a few days off and I’m just walking around taking photos. I also tell them that I like the way they look but that I will not take photos if they don’t want to. This always works.
Is there a big street photography scene in Bangladesh?
Not very big. Back in 2014 me and one of my best friends were among the first to do street photography in Dhaka. At that time, it was not very well accepted because nobody knew what we were doing. Now it is different and more and more young people are enjoying street photography. It is still not a big movement, but it is growing.
How did you get to know about the BSPF and what was it like to win the series competition?
I learned about the festival through Dani Oshi who used to organize the BSPF before BREEDBEELD. This year was the second time I entered, the first time I ended second in the series competition.
I like the Brussels festival because it shows great appreciation for series which is not the case in most other festivals. In my opinion it is much more difficult to make a good series of photos than to take a single good photo, and Brussels recognizes that. Winning the contest motivates me to continue photographing and to try and do even better next time.
What is the story behind the winning series?
The series is called ‘To be or not to be’. The idea behind the series stems from ‘The Decisive Moment’ of Henri Cartier-Bresson (the ‘right’ moment when all elements of a scene come together and create a tension, red.). All pictures are taken in the time between the start and the finish of an event. If you go through my six images, you will see that they always raise the question: What happened next? The pictures are more about what you don’t see than about what you do see. To add to the mystery, everybody, even the dog, is somehow hidden which again raises more questions.
The photos were taken in a period when me and a good friend formed a photo collective. We were always taking photos in the morning, but somehow the light in Dhaka was very bad at that time, so we decided to use flash. We had big discussions about this because we feared that people might get angry if we used flash. In the end we decided to take the risk and just do it. It worked out really well. Not only did the flash help with the bad lighting, it also enhanced the colors, and allows the viewer to see more details in the photographs.
As one of the pioneers of street photography in Bangladesh, what advice would you give people who want to get into street photography?
Pre-visualizing what you want to photograph is very important. In the streets you have little or no control over what will happen next, so before you enter a scene, you must try and pre-visualize the scene. The scene may not happen this time but maybe later, or even on another day.
Secondly: be very quick and flexible so you can react to unexpected events and take a good photo.
And finally: always think like a baby when you are taking photos on the street. A baby always tries to learn, he may fall down while trying to stand, but he will get up again and try again. The day you think you know everything, is a bad day in your life.