Random Harvests: GMME Karim’s photographic magnificence
Photography is, most certainly, one of the most fascinating art forms, being able to capture time and memories in a visual medium that we can look back on even years down the line.
Ghulam Murshed Mohd. Ehsanul Karim (GMME Karim), one of the finest photographers in Bangladesh, provides spectators and photography enthusiasts the opportunity to transcend the barriers of time, and revisit the past through his solo photography exhibition, "Random Harvests", which is currently being exhibited at the Bengal Shilpalay.
"Random Harvests", named by GMME Karim himself, is a memoir of his photographic artistry. The walls of Bengal Gallery are arrayed with his versatile body of work. Karim's original photo albums are on display, along with his badges and IDs as a photographer. His precious Rolleiflex camera and the negatives of his photographs are also preserved and showcased at the exhibition.
GMME Karim was born in 1919 in Old Dhaka. Driven by his passion for the art, he wandered around the Indian subcontinent with his Rolleiflex camera and photographed landscapes, nature, life, people, and their livelihoods from the mid-forties to the late sixties. Between 1946 and 1964, he recorded his travels throughout the forests and rivers of Sylhet, Chattogram, the Sundarbans, and undivided regions of Indian.
In 1955, a few scenes for the movie "Around the World in Eighty Days", based on Jules Verne's novel of the same name, were shot in Sylhet and Chattogram's remote hilly areas. Along with Michael Todd, the director, and Kelly, the cinematographer; Karim was responsible for arranging the shooting.
In 1958, he was the first photographer to bring colour photos to Bangladesh. Thanks to him, the first tourism organisation of the then East Pakistan was established in 1961. He was also a member of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Society and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The aftermath of colonial rule in 1947—the Partition of India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan (subsequently Bangladesh)— with the birth of Bangladesh, along with the generational trauma that invaded the minds of its survivors, had a great influence on the photographs of Karim—who consider himself a colonial subject.
Through the lens of his precious Rolleiflex, he shot snippets of beauty within the uncertainty of a fractured society and a struggling nation, which was still finding its identity in the world.
The photographer was fully aware and receptive of his time, place and position in society and concentrated on keeping a visual record of landscapes, people, and places around him.
Through the photographs in the exhibition, one can cast a certain gaze on the postures of native jute and tea workers, agriculturists, boatsmen, and tribal communities. The industrial growth of the 1950's in Bangladesh (then the newly independent eastern wing of Pakistan) also found a place in his body of work.
Karim's photographs and videos are a testament to the collectivist socio-cultural milieu of the fifties. His photographs do not give a narrative of the complexities of his time, rather, he explains it through slices of an extended family's travels, social orientations, outings, and personal interactions—that reveal new meanings of identities, both new and old, at the cusp of the Partition.
Valuable images of famous structures like Shahbagh Hotel (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Medical University), old Airport, Adamjee Court, Asad Gate etc. can be seen through Karim's frames.
The photos of the Kaptai Dam construction, along with the tunnels for turbines and water flow, are also present in the gallery. However, the most intriguing photograph of the exhibition is that of a musician playing a local musical instrument, while children engaged in roof casting work in sync with the rhythm of his music.
Karim has also captured several portraits of people, without any considerations for caste and creed. The life struggles and the varied emotions of simple people in rural areas of Bangladesh come alive through his photographs. Two walls of the gallery contain pictures of indigenous communities and their livelihoods from the remote regions of Bangladesh. The graceful demeanour and the facial expressions of the tea garden workers are ever so vivid in his photos.
GMME Karim's photography allows us to peep into this subcontinent's pre and post-partition eras. His work is like a kaleidoscope of information and helps ensure that we can remember daring past events that assert the identity of our nation.
This grand exhibition is open to all and will run at Bengal Shilpalay till September 15.