Retrospective on Lifetime Achievement Award
Anwar Hossain’s work arrived at a time when Bangladeshi photography was divided into two camps. The salon school produced formulaic images designed to win contests. Most press photographers, content to play second fiddle to the writers, provided images that filled the empty box above a pre-determined caption. Neither group saw themselves as authors. Photography itself had low esteem and was perceived as a basic craft. The photographers played to someone else’s tune. Their images rarely sang and never did they dance.
Hossain’s work, dynamic in their composition, provocative in their form, vocal in their expression, became the fault line in this comfortable space. Anwar’s characters were not passive players fitting into a set piece, but individuals with a voice of their own. They were angry and passionate and reflective. A muse to the enfant terrible determined to shake up this self-congratulatory world. More widely read than the others, Anwar borrowed from the west. Inspired as much by the classics as by the contemporary, this influence led to wide experimentation, ranging from the ‘glamour’ images common in advertising and the occasional ‘venus’, to more conceptual work that eluded easy definitions. His need to experiment also led him into film where he produced some of the most memorable imagery in our contemporary cinema. Anwar Hossain’s work became a turning point in Bangladeshi photography and an inspiration to an entire generation of younger photographers. His international success and his local fame also brought respectability to the profession, which it had previously lacked.