Shumon Ahmed likes to identify himself as a visual artist, rather than a photographer.
In his own words, he takes his snapshots in such a way that redefines the actuality of the subject by placing it in the centre, experimenting and exploring by encircling its periphery.
That periphery encompasses nostalgia, unwanted reminiscence, repentance, angst and isolation. Almost all of his photographs have shown those subliminal human elements.
“I don’t know why my photographs are like this. I really don’t,” he told me when we recently met at a café to talk about his work.
“It probably has something to do with my traumatic childhood,” Ahmed confessed, looking towards me darkly, his permanent stubble more visible than ever.
“My mother has a mild intellectual disability as a result of an iodine deficiency. I didn’t know that as a child but I grew up seeing both sides of my family ridiculing her,”he continued.
“Your mother is mad,”Ahmed’s aunts used to constantly tell him. “I was traumatised by the humiliation my mother had to face. I was ashamed of being the son of a ‘mad’ woman. Somehow I felt guilty.”
He said that most of the time, during his childhood, he hated his mother and made her cry. “I simply didn’t want to be the son of a mad woman. But as time went by and I grew up, I started to feel the sadness behind my mother’s eyes and realised how helpless, beautiful and caring she is,” he said.
Ahmed added that when he realised how unjust his thoughts and behaviour towards his mother were, he understood those thoughts were just the reflection of people around him, “I became angry…. and then guilty…. and then sad.”
This anger, guilt and sadness pushed Ahmed into uncovering the deeper feelings he always hid away. “Taking snapshots then became my refuge, my way of expressing the deeper feelings,” he said.
The reticent artist told me that his images are also a way to confess his guilt and to come to terms with the true feelings he always had for his mother.
Interestingly, in this era of digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera, Ahmed uses an old school Polaroid camera to take his snapshots. “I always love to see the instant print out of my photos. Then I create my own photo montage with the printed copies,” he said.
He usually takes a series of snapshots. The subject of his photographs are usually ordinary and trivial household objects, such as a light bulb, or a tree in the tub. He also takes a lot of self portraits and later, he blurs the facial details metaphorically to indicate the meditative state of his thoughts.
“I like to experiment with self portraits by characterising those differently - sometimes I take the shots and make those images emerge from the waves of an ocean or a foggy forest in the dead of winter. Other times, I simply use a dull background to give the snapshots a haunting feel," he said.
Besides self portraits, Ahmed also has close-up shots of tears falling from sad eyes and shots of an aeroplane's wings pictured from a plane's window.
He also created several collages with letters from his mother and some snapshots set on top of a backdrop of different types of envelopes. “These collages on the envelopes are my favourite. I expressed my remorse through my work,” he explained. Ahmed added that he also published a book, the cover and contents of which has the same collages as the ones with the envelopes as a backdrop.
Most hauntingly beautiful of all his snapshots was naturally, a dark one - a very young Shumon Ahmed and his mother. He carefully created a photo montage set on the backdrop of a mystic, foggy image of trees during winter. It symbolises the fragility of memories which he tried heart and soul, to keep alive.
“I know the snapshots that I take are not for everyone. My photographs were being exhibited at Whitechapel gallery in the UK and a visitor there told me that my photos are dark and dour. I am aware of how people look at my photos,” he said.
But Ahmed said that for people who can stand the darker side of human emotions can relate to his photos. “Photography is not just about taking the perfect shots. Artists have colour to lay out their emotions on canvas. What we have - the photographers, is just the visual sense. A traumatic past will surely reflect on that artistic sense,” he opined.