I received the prestigious French Govt Scholarship for Higher studies in Photography in the year 1994-95. I was working in PTI (Press Trust of India) during those times. This opportunity to go to France came during a period when I was actually re-considering photo-journalism as my preferred practice. The philosophical dichotomy of the ethics in photo-journalism practices, the dawn of the digital era with its multitude possibilities that was sidelining the traditional analogue medium and the stagnant life in the crowded capital was becoming uncomfortable for me. I was reaching a point of professional stillness. That’s why, I was happy to go to Europe. France in particular was more exciting for me. I had so many ambitious dreams and projects… to visit museums all over Europe, to see other practicing photographers, etc. However, reality was a lot different. I didn’t get to travel that much and spent most of my time in South France.
I had connected with several photographers who were also studying in my batch. Most of them had come from nearby European countries and Africa. Julie, a French young photographer became a friend of mine. Julie was a lesbian and she was living with her girlfriend. For our projects, we model for each other, as it used to be the practice for student photographers to model for one another. When I wanted to take nude pictures of male and female for my project, my professor suggested I ask Julie to be one of the models. The idea for this project had come to me when I was in India. However, there was very limited possibility for getting such models in India during those times. Julie agreed to be a partner in this project and be the model as well. I started working with her. We had few sessions and made some shots in public and in private. Most of these shots were made in the studio of my artist friend. We also had made many self nudes of both of us.
I was young, newly married, and had come from a remote traditional town in South India…. Culturally, nudity in public is rare and a taboo. Even then, the Southern Indian temple art features nudes. So there is a familiarity to nudity as well…. All these had influenced the conflict of desire that I felt whilst taking this nude. There were many other men, helping with the light, etc. who witnessed this shoot. There have been several others, who had seen and commented on the light, shade and composition. There must have been many others who had seen the photograph whilst printing or during the exhibitions or from the social media and thought about the body of this person, her beauty, her gaze and so on…. the one who witnesses this image is free to have their thoughts and preoccupation.
As a photographer, I am not a mere witness… I am present with all my realities, fantasies and unnamed desires. Julie and myself had done few more projects together. After my education, we had lost touch with one another… however, this piece of art has become a witness of a shared moment and memory. Thank you Julie Thomas!!!
Abul Kalam Azad
1st October 2014