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CAPTURING MOMENTS: Monirul Bhuyan

WHETHER he is out shopping with his family, hanging out with friends or relaxing, the camera is always hanging on his shoulder.
So in love and addicted to the camera and photography is Monirul ‘Monny’ Bhuyan that he cannot imagine life without his equipment and his work.
From local to regional and international events including FIFA World Cup, Cricket World Cup and Olympics, Monirul has covered them all, making a name for himself in the process of capturing special moments. And although he concedes that photographers don’t earn much despite paying through their nose to buy cameras and equipment, Monirul tells SINQOE TESA in this interview how it is not money that puts a smile on his face but a good picture, which says more than a thousand words.

Q. You are originally from Bangladesh, when did you come to Botswana and why did you choose this country as your second home?
I came to Botswana in 2002. When I left Bangladesh my destination was Namibia because I had been offered a job by the Namibian government to photograph tourism destinations and wildlife of that country. When I got to Pretoria where I was supposed to get my permit there was a delay and by the time I got the papers I was down with fever and had to cancel the deal. From there I went to Mozambique and Swaziland on working holidays until I was invited by my father in law who was working here as a civil servant. I fell in love with the country instantly and decided to make it my second home.

Q. What did you do when you came here?
I joined the Botswana Gazette as a photographer. I left the media house in 2009 to start my own company, The Press Photo Agency.

Q. Your love for photography, where did it all come from?
It’s difficult to say where it came from but what I know is that I have always loved the camera and photography as far back as I can remember.
Even before I studied mass communication and journalism I did short courses in photography.
After acquiring my degree at the University of Dhaka I decided to do a Master’s degree in photography.

Q. Interesting to note that you went that far in terms of education for photography.
Yes I am a highly qualified photojournalist, not that I am bragging about it but just to show that it’s important to take photography seriously and as a profession because people tend to think that anyone who owns a camera can be a photographer. Taking a picture does not make one a photographer, one needs to understand the subject to take good meaningful pictures.

Q. Does photography pay, especially here in Botswana or in Africa as a whole?
It does not pay even in the whole wide world, one can have a masters degree in photography but that won’t translate into a fat cheque at the end of the month. As for me, yes I need money like everyone else, after all money makes the world go round but it is not a motivation factor.
I am a photographer because of the fulfillment that I get when I look at my work.
It’s love for the job that keeps me going more than anything else. I believe that if I worry myself about money I will always be frustrated because it is never enough but with photography, every new day brings new ideas, new pictures and immeasurable happiness.

Q. Now, let’s talk about your company, what was the idea behind its formation?
I wanted to take photo journalism to a new level and to prove that there is more to photo journalism than just taking pictures for a newspaper or magazine. Besides providing pictures to our subscribers, our company aims to create an archive for Botswana so that twenty years from now people can know where to go to look at Botswana in pictures.
I felt very little or nothing at all was being done to archive Botswana in pictures hence we moved in to fi ll the gap.

Q. How many employees do you have?
No permanent staff yet but I work with freelancers when there are too many jobs.

Q. And how has been the support from the local newspapers seeing that all of them have their own photographers?
The Gazette has been very supportive and I guess it’s because I am somehow still part of their family, please allow me to thank Mma Olsen (managing editor of The Gazette) for the support. With the other papers once in a while yes, I do get the support but we are growing and eventually we will get there. And besides, we also get photography contracts from the corporate sector and individuals.

Q. But can you blame them, seeing that with newspapers it’s all about exclusivity. If all the papers support you then it means all the pictures will be uniform?
Like a news agency which feeds the mainstream media with stories and features, the Press Photo works the same. Photographers from newspapers tend to take pictures as according to assignments and story, which is being written by the reporters at that particular time, but we are different in the sense that we take pictures that can be used even after 50 years.

We think outside the box when taking pictures and if you look closely at our pictures you will realize that they are different from the rest. We also cover regional and international events that the local media does not cover.

Q. What events are we talking of here?
The 2010 FIFA World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Rugby and Cricket World Cup. I was the only photographer from Botswana when Amantle Montsho made the country proud in India last year.
Actually I am always the only local photographer in these major tournaments because travel and accommodation costs are never a deterring factor for me. I plan well in advance and nothing ever stops me from going where I would have set my sight to.

Q. Are there any regional and international organizations that you work with?
I work with Agance France Presse (AFP), Associated Press (AP) and Mail & Guardian but not on a permanent basis.

Q. So how many pictures do you have in your system?
13 000 plus pictures, all with captions they could be more had our server not crashed early this year.

THE LENS MAN: ‘Monny'

Q. What has been the highlight of your career?
When I was contracted by the government of Bangladesh to photograph butterflies of the country.
After that I did an exhibition which turned out to be one of the best ever.
Taking a picture of President Ian Khama and the two former presidents Masire and Mogae is one of the assignments that also make me proud. They were attending an event and I asked them to stand together so I could take a picture of them because it was one of those rare occasions where they were all under one roof. This is what I meant by thinking outside the box.

Q. And the lowest?
I don’t keep sad things in my memory because it’s not worth it, I have had setbacks here and there like when I lost all my equipment in South Africa during the World Cup but it was quickly replaced by AFP as I was doing work for them during that time.

Q. Tell me, if you were not a photographer, what would you be?
I would be dead because I can’t imagine life without my camera.

FULL NAMES: Monirul Bhuyan
PLACE OF BIRTH: Bangladesh
AGE: 35
MARITAL STATUS: Married with two kids
FAVOURITE FOOD: Nothing specific, eats anything that doesn’t kill and is clean
FAVOURITE BEVERAGE: Water
PASTIME: Doing anything that is related to photography
LAST THING THAT HE DOES BEFORE SLEEPING: Checking his diary for
next’s day assignments
WEBSITE: www.thepressphoto.com