The Indian Express – Final Voyages

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19 October 2015 - Steeped in melancholy, Shumon Ahmed’s photographic prints of the ship-breaking industry in the Chittagong district’s Baro Aulia have an undeniable impact. The broken and rusted ruins of once-imposing freighters and tankers have a haunting quality which is beautifully captured in the deliberate imperfections of Ahmed’s works. “Mistakes are beautiful. The imperfections in the work have helped me communicate the sense of loss that I felt each time I visited this place,” says the Dhaka-based artist, as he oversees the setting up of his first solo exhibition, “When Dead Ships Travel”, in India. The show at Colaba’s Project 88 will be on till November 7. When Ahmed first visited Baro Aulia, he hadn’t expected to be so moved. “In 2009, I was accompanying a Swedish photographer, who wanted to photograph the place. I had only taken along two cameras,” he recalls, “I ended up borrowing my friend’s Hasselblad to take pictures of what I saw, because I felt like my own cameras were unable to capture what I was feeling.” He returned to the scene later, and went on to take pictures that would form the series Metal Graves. To Ahmed, a photography graduate from Dhaka’s South Asian Media Academy, the idea of using analog photography grew organically, as his engagement with the subject deepened.When he revisited Baro Aulia this year, to continue exploring the idea that had begun with Metal Graves, he was armed with six cameras, including analog cameras such as a panoramic pinhole, paper pinhole (made by Ahmed himself), two different Polaroid cameras, a Diana with three different lenses and a Rolliflex. Similarly, he also used a variety of film such as Kodak 100 VS, Kodak 400 VC colour film, and Agfa 100 to 400 ISO. He explains that the idea was to have an “adventure”, because using plastic-bodied cameras and old film increased the possibility of happy accidents like light leaks, blurring and sepia tones. “We can use digital photography and tools like Photoshop to make our photographs more ‘perfect’, but there’s no drama or surprise there. For me, the excitement in photography comes from not being able to predict what the final images will look like,” he says. These technical choices that Ahmed made thus end up accurately reflecting the decay and desolation of the ship-breaking yard. In When Dead Ships Travel 6, for instance, he used the Diana camera with a 120 Agfa black-and-white film to shoot the shoreline. The result is a blurred, ghostly effect that conveys the photographer’s view of the ship-breaking yard, as suggested by the title. Similarly, in When Dead Ships Travel 5, Ahmed uses a panoramic pinhole camera to present a wide view of the desolation of Baro Aulia. The vignetting around the edges and the shaky, blurred outlines evoke the haziness of memories and nightmares. This may not be the end of his photographic exploration of the shoreline along the Chittagong district. “I discovered a market near the ship-breaking yard that sells objects rescued from the ships. I found it fascinating how these objects are getting a second life, even as the ships wait to be broken down,” Ahmed says. Another place he wants to re-visit is the St Martin’s island, the only coral island in Bangladesh, that is a part of the Chittagong district. . “The island suggests what the shores must have been like before the ship-breaking industry grew there. I want to explore the vast difference between the two places.”