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Under the red sky: interview with Nayeem Siddiquee / #URBANinsights

#URBANinsights are a series of exclusive interviews and insights dedicated to the winners of URBAN Photo Awards. Let’s start this new season of #URBANinsights with Nayeem Siddiquee, overall winner of the 2021 edition of the contest, chosen by Bruce Gilden.


Hello Nayeem, thank you for taking the time to give us. How would you introduce yourself to those who still don’t know you as a photographer?
My full name is A B M Nayeem Siddiquee, but most people know me as Nayeem Jabaz. I was born and live in Chittagong, Bangladesh. I completed my graduation in Textile Engineering but after graduating, I realized I love creative things more. So I started practicing photography and took up a professional career as a graphic designer.
When I was ten years old my father had a Yashica camera, but I was never allowed to touch the camera.. All the time I imagined what sort of photo I would take if I had a camera and that’s how my love of photography started. After graduating, I started photographing using my phone camera and later people started to buy my images. That’s how I managed to buy my first camera. Right now I am using a Canon 1300D. It’s the only camera I use and I use the camera’s flash for taking flash images. I still have a long way to go.

I want to congratulate you for “Somewhere under the red sky”, the winning picture of URBAN Photo Awards 2021, selected by Bruce Gilden. Can you tell us the “behind the scenes” of the shot?
Yes, of course. I am very lazy and most of the images I take are around my home – no more than two or three kilometers away.
The photo is part of a project I am doing for my first photo book “Under the Red Sky”. During the monsoon the sky sometimes turns red, especially in coastal areas. During sunset in my city, the sky turns into beautiful colors, but it doesn’t last very long – perhaps no more than fifteen to twenty minutes. I am trying to take photos of life around my city that convey the feelings I experience when the sky turns red. The emotions of tears, deep happiness, depression, mixed with every single being on earth – under the red sky. Every feeling can be seen.
I am a very introverted person so I take photos to express my voice. I still remember that I was suffering from major depression during that time. It has taken more than six years to overcome depression. That’s why I started photography to express my feelings through my photos. I used to take photos of every single thing that gives me the feeling of my existence.
The place where I took the photo is a cattle market near my home. On that day as it was becoming dark, the sky suddenly turned a bloody red color. The cows were on their way to be slaughtered. This was the last journey of their life. The feelings of fear in their eyes on their last journey under the bloody-red sky, touched me to take the image. In contrast, the driver was quite calm, and cold. Isn’t that what life is about?

In recent years with URBAN we have “discovered” several talented photographers from Bangladesh. Martin Parr in 2019 awarded Enamul Kabir, another Bengali photographer, who with his photos placed himself at the top of URBAN also in 2020 and 2021. Can we talk about a Bengali “school” from a stylistic and cultural point of view? Does there exist a “scene” or some collectives in which several photographers share, in addition to their birthplace, also a common style?
It’s a very difficult question to answer. We have grown up in the same country, with the same culture and within the same photographic community. The revolution of Street Photography in the country started with two Bengali photographers – Hasan and Sayed Latif Hossain, who developed distinctive styles and a lot of photographers followed them. Using flash in photography has been popular since 2016, when Md Imam Hasan, Enamul Kabir, Sakib Pratyay, Bin Mohammad and some others, started using flash in street photography. I am in the next generation – still learning and trying to study a lot to improve my work.
As we have grown up in the same Bengali culture our photography bloodline has developed in a similar direction and style.

How would you describe your style? Which photographers have influenced you?
My style is a combination of my deep emotions, surrealism and the nature around me. I believe it’s a medley which you can also feel. It is not only photographers that inspire me, but also a lot of artists have inspired me to make the person who I am now. My photography has developed and influenced through my exposure to music, painting, books, design, and movies. I am a big fan of Vincent Willem van Gogh, Pablo Ruiz Picasso and Salvador Dali. Whenever I look at their work I try to feel the deeper emotions emanating from their work. I am a big fan of Garry Winogrand, Charalampos Kydonakis, Harry Gruyaert, Bruce Gilden, Muhammed Muheisen, Nikos Economopoulos, Jacob Aue Sobol, Roger Ballen, Alex Webb and Stavros Stamatiou. There are too many names! I am grateful to all those who have inspired me.
Also I am thankful to my friends Gavin Bragdon, Julia Coddington and Isa Gelb for helping me to improve my work.

How long have you been photographing? How did you get interested in it? 
I think I am still an immature photographer. I’ve been practicing photography for not more than six years so I still have a long way to go.

What equipment do you use? Do you spend a lot of time editing your images?
I use a Canon 1300D and that camera’s flash for photography. Yup, these days I spend a long time in photo editing! After taking photos I leave them untouched for a month. Then I start looking at the image as a viewer, not as a photographer and try to understand how I love looking at the image as a viewer. Then I start post processing. Most of the time I use basic editing for my images.

What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer who wants to approach photography professionally?
Be patient, study, try to understand yourself as a person, and don’t forget to take photos of whatever you like. It does not matter if everyone dislikes it. Keep working on your own ideas 🙂

What are your projects for the future? What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on two long term projects. Both projects are based in my home city of Chittagong. One is for my book “Under The Red Sky” where I am trying to document life in my city under the red sky. The other project is called “Somewhere in My City”. Urbanization is changing the city a lot, and people’s lifestyles are also changing as a result. So I am trying to document those changes over a ten to twenty year period. Both projects are long term and I am in no hurry. I want to make the work so people can remember me for a long time.

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