PEOPLE AND THEIR ENVIRONMENT
Photography by Anwar Ehtesham
Interview by Melanie Meggs
IN CONVERSATION WITH ANWAR EHTESHAM
Before it was too late in his life to give up on his dream to become a photographer, Anwar Ehtesham bought himself a camera and quickly discovered a passion for photographing people in their environment.
In his photography, Anwar believes that humans are the most important element. Different environments provoke different emotions, different emotions provoke different moods and different moods provoke different behavior. In short, the environment determines the mood in Anwar's photography and most of the time, it is the humans in a photo that catches his eye.
In this interview with The Pictorial List, Anwar talks to us about what it was like growing up in Bangladesh and moving to the capital city for his higher education and work, and his lifelong pursuit of photography.
“If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough.”
Hello Anwar, tell us about yourself.
I was born in 1983 in a small town of Kisharganj in Bangladesh. However, my parents moved to the port city, Chittagong, when I was at the age of two. After completing my higher secondary education, I moved to the capital city of the country, Dhaka, in 2004. Dhaka is the eighth largest and sixth most densely populated city in the world. Since I moved from Chittagong, one of the most naturally beautiful cities of Bangladesh, I was having a hard time adjusting with the environment and busy life of Dhaka. Leaving most of my friends behind at my hometown made it worse. And unfortunately, I could not make friends in this new environment. So, living in Dhaka became a nightmare.
In 2006, I completed my Bachelor in Business Administration with a Marketing major. After graduation, I joined one of the largest advertising agencies in Bangladesh. Whilst working there, I came across many creative people. Being able to work with and learn from creative minds, my passion for photography got the boost it needed. However, my job was very hectic and it occupied me for month after month. To put icing on top, I also decided to enrol in Masters in Business Administration at East West University in 2008. And that made life even busier. Over the period of time, I worked for multiple organizations and enrolled in many different executive programs and online courses. As I was getting busier day by day, I could never start photography.
How did your journey into photography begin?
It was in mid-2019, it hit me - I am getting older! If I don’t do anything now, I never will! So, I bought my first camera in November 2019. It was Canon EOS 80D. Initially, I did not know what to shoot and how to shoot. I used to take pictures of my kids, people around me, flowers and trees in P mode. But I realised that I was not doing it right. So, I started learning photography from YouTube and online journals. Initially I was very interested about landscape photography. But soon, I had realized that it is not my cup of tea as it involved lots of travelling. I soon discovered that street photography is the best fit for me. I was extremely shy and nervous when I held the camera on streets. So, I used to take photos using long telephoto lenses so I could take photos from a distance. But then in early 2020, the world was plagued with COVID-19. Everybody started wearing masks. And that was the game changer for me. Since, the people I shot wore masks and so did I, our identities were not disclosed. That gave me the comfort of getting close to people. During this time, I formed a small group of like-minded and enthusiastic street photographers. We have gone out for photo walks most weekends. That has helped me to shoot confidently on the streets, explore new places of the city and exchange different thoughts about photography.
Talk to us about your method of working before the final image. D0 you know exactly what you want from the beginning?
My methods are pretty simple. I go through my pictures several times right after the photowalk. Then after returning home, I organise my photos in three different folders. These are: Priority, Potential and Stock. First, I start picking photos from the 'priority' folder and try to critically analyse my photos. When I am done analysing the 'priority' folder, I move to the 'potential' folder and do the same. I hardly search photos from the 'stock' folder. I do a very little post-processing which basically includes minor cropping and colour corrections, and adjusting shadows and highlights, etc. However, I have a philosophy about post-processing. I don’t post-process unless it is necessary (that’s probably because I am lazy). And when it is necessary, I don’t want to heavily change the scene or colours. It is because I want to keep my frames true to the scene.
It depends from scene to scene. However, I can tell what exactly I am going to get in most cases.
What was the first camera you ever held in your hand, brought to eye, and released a shutter on? What is the camera you use now? Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What is on your Wishlist?
The first camera I ever held in my hand, brough to eye and released shutter was a film camera; Yashica MG-2. I was probably 4-5 years old then and the camera was owned by my father. Interestingly, we still have that camera.
The first camera that I bought was a Canon 80D coupled with Canon 18-135mm zoom lens. Then later on, I tried many cameras namely, Canon 1300D, Sony a6000, and Sony A7iii.. Finally, I’ve settled on three cameras namely, Sony A7iii, Fujifilm X-T30 and Ricoh GR 3. Well, the Ricoh was bought 2-3 months ago. My most favourite setup by the way is Fujifilm X-T30 coupled with Fujinon XF 16mm F2.8 (24mm full frame equivalent). It’s a very cute and small setup. But the abilities of this setup are enormous. Most of my favorite shots came from this setup.
I’ve also started loving Ricoh these days. It is also a capable camera. But Ricoh has its limitations too, especially in low light situations.
Since I have tried many different cameras as well as focal lengths, I know which camera or setup can do what in certain situations. Frankly speaking, I have more gear than I need. Mostly because of whimsical buying. I think gear is secondary when it comes to achieving my vision. Every gear can produce decent pictures these days. But what really helps to achieve a certain result is the power of observation and patience.
Like I said, I think I have everything I need. However, there are two Wishlist cameras. These are Hasselblad 907X Anniversary Edition and Leica M10.
What have been some of your most memorable moments as a photographer?
I think every walk is memorable for me. I go to places, meet new people, exchange thoughts and more. This is a very satisfying feeling. As you have asked, I’ll share one of my most memorable moments here.
It was probably mid-January, 2022. I went to Old Dhaka as usual. While walking through the narrow streets of Old Dhaka, I suddenly noticed a family; a father playing with his 1-year-old son. That intimate moment caught my eye and I approached them. It was a very narrow space and challenging in terms of lighting conditions. Moreover, I entered into their personal space. So, I was a bit nervous. However, the father did not mind when I sat beside him. To start with, I praised his son and asked for his permission to take a few photos. He allowed me to take the photos. After taking the photos, I spent some time with them and told him that I’ll be back with the hard copies of these photos. In reply, he told me that it’s okay. After about 3 months later I went to his place along with the hard copies. The father wasn’t there at that time. So, I gave the pictures to his wife. Meanwhile, the father also arrived home. And they were so happy after getting the photos that I cannot explain in words. They called their neighbours and showed the photos to them. It was an emotional moment for all of us. And guess what, they were so happy that they gave me the permission to visit their place anytime I wanted. And this was priceless.
Do you have any favorite artists or photographers you would like to share with us?
Yes, I do. In fact, the list is pretty long. I am a big fan of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, Saul Leiter, Alan Schaller, Raghu Rai, Vineet Vohra, and many more. However, Fan Ho and Steve McCurry are my most favorites. Being said that, I try to gain my photography inspirations from all genres and styles. Sometimes, it’s not limited to photography only. I believe that creativity can come from anywhere and anything.
Do you have a favourite photography/art inspired quote or saying?
Yes, I do. “If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough,” by Robert Capa. In fact, this quote changed my entire photography style and approach.
What are some of your most favorite places you find inspiration to explore through your photography, and what draws you there?
It is the people and their positive energy that draws me to those places. I usually go to the most struggling people of the city. Most of them live from hand to mouth. Sometimes, they don’t even get enough food or rest. But still, they remain unstoppable. Despite hundreds of adversities, they are fighting every day with new vigor. Their mental strength and motivation to survive fascinates me again and again.
Are there any other photographic projects you are working on, or have planned in the near future? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I am currently working on a long-term project. It’s about the city I live in. Dhaka is known as one of the most dirty, unhealthy and ugly cities of the world. But I want to show the world that this city also has its own beauty and colours. In fact, my ultimate plan is to publish a coffee table book containing 101 photos that will portray the beauty and stories of this city.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to) …
Spend time with my family. And if I get more time, I want to look at other photographers' works and explore new perspectives.”