Claudio Cambon Statement

Artist Statement
Bangladesh: A Modern Pastoral

Bangladesh tends to leave a negative impression on the minds of most foreigners: many come to see it as merely small, destitute, subject to calamity and chaos. It is a view not only projected by international media, but also cynically conformed to by the Bangladesh government as a way to guarantee a steady stream of aid money. At the same time Bengalis have always celebrated the abundance of their environs, be it in the works of poets like Rabindranath Tagore and Jibananda Das, or in the paintings of rural scenes on the sides of trucks and the backs of rickshaws.

The main urban areas are in fact choked with all the problems facing most cities in the developing world: overcrowding, frail infrastructure, and intense pollution. Yet, the actual face of much of the country is quite different, especially in the rural areas, where the majority of the population resides. The land is intensely fertile, vast, and beautiful. Much as in a view painted by Ruisdael or Millet, still today one readily sees people in Bangladesh living and working in close contact with the land. For the economic poverty that is a part of such scenes, a spiritual and aesthetic wealth also becomes apparent.

These photographs were made to show how people can find richness where they expect poverty, idyll instead of squalor, expanse instead of confinement, power instead of weakness, serenity instead of despair. By referring to the European pastoral landscape tradition that begins in the Baroque era and winds its way through 19th century painting and photography into the contemporary era, the pictures celebrate the beauty of the land and the people who belong to it. Much as in the Rabindrasangit, the songs of Tagore one still hears today in the rice fields, they sing of what is there instead of what appears to be missing.

Shipbreak: A Biology of Steel

When the American-flag oil tanker SS Minole beached in the breaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh in January 1998, it signaled both an ending and a beginning. For the American sailors who ran the ship aground, this event meant the close of a long, productive life spent wandering the world's oceans. For the Bangladeshi shipbreakers who over the course of the next five months dismantled the vessel, more or less by hand, it signified instead a point of commencement, as the ship provided many materials necessary to their country's struggle to create a modern existence for itself. The death of one man's livelihood became the birth of another's.

However, more than a ship was exchanged in this process. To all of them she was not just a carrier of cargo, but an emblem of life itself; like all living things she decomposed, and her recycled elements formed the basis of new organisms. These photographs give record of this transformation, and they ultimately serve as a meditation on how life possesses us more than we do it, and how it mysteriously changes shape from one beautiful form to another, passing through us like light through the filament of a bulb.

A Year on the Ranch:
Seasons of Solitude

In the years 1999 and 2000, I traveled to the Arapahoe Ranch, high in the mountains of North Park, Colorado, to photograph the work of a commercial cattle ranch. I went there four times to record the cycle of seasons as seen through the outfit's activities: feeding and calving in the winter and spring, irrigating and branding in the early summer, haying, riding herd and round-up in the late summer and early fall. I had worked on neighboring ranches for an extended period of time ten years before, and so had always wanted to return in order to show some of the life I had come to know quite well.

What I took away with me, however, was not merely a set of pictures that document these events, aspects of a way of life that is regrettably disappearing, but ones that also meditate on the immense solitude which the place holds. These ranchers work and live in direct, unmediated contact with a landscape that is vast and spectacular, but also harsh and overpowering; it is a brutally honest existence. In considering this relationship of a people to their work and land, I have attempted to portray an experience of the place, and how I found myself caught between its beauty and its sublimity, suspended between inspiration and melancholy, joy and loneliness.

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