Coming from a simple background, Abu Naser became one of the most influential fashion photographers in the country. The journey was not very smooth. He, however, managed to be the groundbreaking image maker in the industry. Naser , in an exclusive interview with The Design Magazine, told his story. The excerpt of his interview is as follows.
How did the journey begin?
My father was abroad at the time. We had a canon auto-focus toy camera. I got the possession of the camera when I was a child. I used to take a lot of photos with that camera and used to send those family photographs to my father. I had an attachment to camera and photography since my childhood. I wasn’t even aware of the fondness.
My cousin David lived in Chittagong. He used to practice photography with my uncle who was a photographer. He had a dark room to print photos in black and white. It seemed like magic to me. For instance, picture showed up after putting papers in water. My uncle used to say “look, this is magic!”It always fascinated me. I got a catalogue of cameras when I was in class VI or VII.
I asked my father to buy me a camera from the catalog. My father could not buy me one as they were very expensive. After that I went to Chittagong and started learning photography from my cousin. I wanted a SLR camera when I came back Dhaka. I got one after completing my SSC exam finally. My father asked me what I would prefer as a present. I asked for a camera again. My father said, “Is photography still in your head?” .My father finally gave me an SLR camera and my journey with photography began like this.
When did you decide to take photography as a profession?
We used to have rich collections of magazines such as Begum, Bichitra, Anondo Bichitra and including various foreign magazines. We used to read foreign magazines when we stayed abroad. I used to look at the stunning photos in those magazines and wondered if I could ever take such photos.
I was not sure about photography to be my profession. I, however, decided to take it as a profession later.
My father fell ill and became bedridden during my HSC exam. At that time I thought I could make some money through photography. I started taking wedding photographs. Meanwhile, I started working for a buying house and also continued photography besides job. Suddenly I realised I should take photography as a profession.
I decided to resign from the job in 2003. At that time, my boss asked me to make a catalogue for him before I left. I made a catalogue with my own photographs. That was my first professional photographic publication. It gave me the reason to believe that I could do it. I took loan and bought a professional camera. I had to take wedding photographs for my livelihood. However, I always had fondness for fashion photography. At that time I started to work for David Barikder for free. He is my mentor. I am lucky that I found him as my mentor. I believe, had I not been his student, I could never become the photographer I am today. Looking at my photographs, he said, “I believe, you can be a photographer as you have a good sense of photography and you also understand fashion well.” Meanwhile, in 2007, I started working as the administration officer in the country’s one of the biggest fashion brands, Esctasy. The owner of Esctasy, Tanjim bhai asked me to arrange a serious photo shoot all of a sudden. We had a photo shoot with Emi along with a Kashmiri model, Tareq. That photo shoot literally boomed and I got my big break. The magazine ‘Ice Today’ contacted with me later and hereafter I need not to look back.
What was your first childhood camera and your first professional camera?
The interesting fact is when my father bought me the first camera, he didn’t have a job. I asked him to buy the cheapest one. I bought Zenith 122 that came for 2700 tk only. It is a Russian camera which is still in use. My father then told me “we could buy little expensive one.” I told him I would buy an expensive one when I would earn.
With the Zenith 122, I took photos for the catalogue of the buying house. I needed a 135mm lens for the photo shoot. The lens of Zenith camera is 55mm. So I bought a 2.8 second hand lens for about 2000 tk. I took the money from the fees of my coaching center for university admission preparation.
Later, I bought a Nikon f80 for 60,000 tk taking loans.
Which genre of photography you like the most?
At first I wanted to do kids photography. But it is not that popular in our country. As I was also interested in fashion, I started to do fashion photography. I like photography that does well commercially. For instances, fashion photography, advertising photography and food photography. Beside these, I like glamour photography as it combines art.
Which part of photography you think is important the most- light, composition or anything else?
For me photography is a combination of everything. One needs to know the technical use, have a good knowledge about photography in the past, present and future and has to have a sense of aesthetics. It’s a sense of language. You need to have clear idea of who you are and what you want to be? Moreover, you need to be a good human being.
How do you define photography?
To me, photography is philosophy. A photo has a significant impact on society, the world and on an individual, whether it is positive or negative. I have to grow a sense of philosophy of what I believe within me before portraying them. Photography is not only taking an image, it is a philosophy. It is about expressing something to the people to know.
Why do you do photography?
First of all, I don’t have the ability to express myself through writing. I am not good at writing. I like photography. My photography is about art, fashion, technical issues and so on. Why do I do photography? Who can be luckier than person who can choose his passion as his profession? If someone is good at something and knows that work really well, then its good if he chooses that as a profession. If I count from 1994, then I have spent almost 25 years and never got bored with my work. Every time I felt this is not enough what I did, I can come up with new ideas. If I had not enjoyed doing this, then surely I would have left it already.
As digital camera came, film production has now almost stopped. What’s your take on it?
Both are of different technology. I am certainly happy for having digital camera. Because, film production was not environment friendly and chemicals were used for printing. Chemicals were harmful for the environment. Digital camera is environment friendly and the camera lenses last for a longer period.
The main drawback is, since it is very user friendly, anybody can regard himself a photographer. Photography requires a lot of practice.
The positive side is, digital art has been developed in this process. One who has the ability and sense of photography can explore more. Through digital manipulation, he or she can take images to a new level of art. Color shifting is now possible with digital camera which could not be done manually. So I would say it has opened the door to a big platform. Many can join the club now. I would say digital photography is a blessing for us. Digital is better than film as it brings more options, provides freedom of work. I don’t need to go to the lab and depend on others for printing now.
Who is your favourite photographer?
I personally like Helmut Newton as the master in fashion photography. I am very fond of Nick Knight as well. I have been following his work since 1996. Nick Night is a digital photographer and by digital manipulation, he creates amazing artistic photography. He was schooled in a renowned art college and became a great photographer. Vogue once called him as the most fashionable photographer in the world. He is very fashionable, smart and one of my favorites. I wanted to study in that institution where he studied, but I couldn’t as it is not very easy to get admission in there.
Do you like to share your knowledge among the new and young photographers of our country?
I continuously take part in workshops personally and through institutes. In Counter Photo I take classes on fashion photography or commercial photography. I am appointed there as a lecturer. This course runs under National University. Beside this, I hold workshops in other institutes like Pro Talk. Sometimes I arrange workshops in my studio and sometimes collaborating with Sony. If anyone invites me for workshops, I try to do it. Because, I suffered a lot as there were no opportunities to learn photography at our times. Such as in 1993, when I approached to Beg sir, he told me that I was in school and need to complete my intermediate exams and then to start learning photography.
I never get the opportunity to learn from him later as he passed away by the time. But Beg sir wrote a photography book from which I learned a lot about the technical terms.
At that time, I used to go to many photographers, but no one was eager to teach me anything about photography. I was fortunate enough that only David Barikder asked me to work with him. He told me that if I am smart enough then I can learn through working and it is not possible to teach without working. This is how I have learned. I am always eager to teach anyone who is interested in person or through institution. I try to reply to anyone about any technical issues even if someone knocks me on Facebook.
Last but not the least, I am very grateful to photographer David Barikder. I could never be the person who I am today if he wasn’t there.