Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Book of Photographs

Recently I got a copy of the second edition of The People at Kamalapur Railway Station by Bangladeshi photographer Hasan Saifuddin Chandan. It is a book of black and white photographs, about seventy in all, taken at Kamalapur during the late 80s-early 90s.

In my eyes, this is one of the best - if not the best - book of photographs to have emerged from Bangladesh. Not only are the individual photographs excellent, but the sequencing and layout of the book are meticulous. The whole is thus bigger than the sum of the parts. The author understands not just how to take great pictures but how to put them together as a great book.

The book tells stories at many different levels. On the surface there is the great commotion of life that takes every day at Kamalapur. Then there are tender, sometimes witty stories about families (see the photo below), about motherhood, about social hieararchies (the single-file procession of Master, Mistress, child and servant walking along the tracks, p.12) about desire (boy staring intently on a handful peanuts being measured on a Palla, p.29) and spiritualism (man in prayer Sejda, p.13) - many with backdrops of the dramatic architectural elements of Kamalapur - they all come together in this book.

The book undergoes a shift in mood after an essay by the author on page 52. The photos become more melancholy and personal, whereas in the first part they were life-affirming and joyous, even in the poverty and deprivation. Old age and death play a big role in the second part, as do people whose life stories will most likely have no happy ending.

Chandan's work has been seen in many galleries and museums worldwide. He is one of the founders of MAP photo agency and has won numerous awards and honors over the years as a photographer.

The second edition has a few more photographs than the first. Compared side-by-side with the first edition, the printing is much better. Some photo details that were unclear on the first edition become clearer due to high-res scanning of the negatives. The size is a tad smaller at 26cmx34cm (it is still a large book.) The book is available from Words N Pages in Gulshan, Jatra in Banani, and Boi Bichitra in Dhanmandi Rd 27. It is worth every Taka of the Tk1300 price tag.

Here is one of my favorite photos of the book, reproduced with permission from Chandan.