Ones to Watch 2021: Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 450 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be sharing profiles of the 20 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct with an 1854 Subscription

Fatiq captures the essence of his immediate surroundings and those further afield through his atmospheric images

In early 2020, during his final year of photography school, Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq found himself confined at home in Comilla, Bangladesh. The country was fully locked down in response to Covid-19, and he was without his kit; a smartphone was the only camera he had. Although the government initially declared the restrictions for seven days, they periodically extended them. The lockdown would eventually stretch over two months, finally easing on 30 May last year.

Throughout this period, Fatiq’s surroundings became his subjects. The mundane markers of everyday experiences encountered amid the two rooms, balcony and rooftop that compose his home. Anaemic chicken legs, glowing egg yolks, and a veiny fish skin all feature in the series of close-up photographs, collectively titled Home. Countless projects emerged from lockdown, and although Fatiq responds to his immediate surroundings, as so many others did, his aesthetic is distinct: a playful vibrancy undercut by the glutinous, bloody forms populating the images.

From the series Home © Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq.
From the series Home © Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq.

Sarker Protick, who nominated Fatiq for Ones to Watch, recognised his determination to create despite the circumstances. “In the wake of a global pandemic, Fatiq turned his lens on his home,” says Protick, a lecturer at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, where Fatiq studied photography from 2018 to 2020, following a BSc in multimedia and creative technology from Daffodil International University, Dhaka. “He photographs the kitchen table, inside the refrigerator, from the bathroom to the balcony, producing a series of vivid photographs, which study still lifes rich in form and colour.”

In February 2021, Fatiq embarked on a second project, Dark Garden, which took him to Sylhet, northeast Bangladesh. The city is renowned for its rolling tea gardens – an industry established, in part, by British colonists in the mid-19th century when Sylhet belonged to Assam, the first tea-growing region in British India. The British brought in labourers from across India, and the conditions were harsh. Little has improved today, and it is almost impossible for workers to find employment beyond the plantations. It is a reality exacerbated by a lack of access to education, poor working rights and meagre wages, with many earning barely more than $1 a day.

From the series Dark Garden © Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq.
From the series Dark Garden © Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq.
From the series Dark Garden © Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq.

“I wanted to tell a more personal story from their perspective,” says Fatiq, who lived with one of the workers for 25 days, and plans to return soon. “The pictures aren’t about showing the hardships of their lives. They should capture their experience… the atmosphere, the colour, the mood.” Indeed, Fatiq juxtaposes hardship and beauty throughout the work: an image of a field engulfed in fireflies, for instance, sits alongside one of an injured, weathered hand.

Both Home and Dark Garden are ongoing. And, alongside these, Fatiq has begun a new project focused on an island on the Meghna River near the area, Chandpur, in which he grew up. Flooding caused by the monsoons perpetually damages the homes of people living on the island of Rajrajeshwar, forcing them to relocate. As with all Fatiq’s projects, this is far from straightforward documentary work. He endeavours to tell the story through the details in his surroundings and the everyday lives of the subjects he gently observes.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.