`Kolkata is like the Chinese cities of the 90s`

Updated: Oct 31, 2010, 13:46 PM IST

Kolkata: If seen from the eyes of an ace American photographer, the large Chinese cities of the 1990`s is what Kolkata, another Communists? bastion, looks like today.

"The city appears to be in a certain state of neglect and decay, such as with large Chinese cities say 15 or 20 years ago, yet it feels as though there is less social and political tension here than in those revamped cities in China today," Fritz Hoffmann, internationally recognised for his 13-year work documenting change in China as a photojournalist, told PTI here.

A frequent contributor to the National Geographic magazine, Hoffmann?s work has made an important contribution to world`s understanding of modern China.

When asked whether he has been able to draw a parallel between the two places, both under the Marxists rule, by means of his photos, he replied in the negative.

"I`ve been thinking of this while here and I`m not sure that I have a conclusion as yet," said the lensman, who was in the city recently to conduct a photography workshop by Studio Pomegranate.

Having photographically documented China?s evolution, its growing economy and emerging society, the Asian superpower country continues to be the primary focus of his work.

"The social structure of developing countries is different from what we are used to and so are the socio economic issues. And so I ensure that there are no misconceptions about the country in the developed nations in my photos," he said.

He was the first foreign photographer since 1949 to receive accreditation from China?s Foreign Ministry to reside outside Beijing.

"But it was very difficult to work in China. It was very restricted for the media, and that was the biggest challenge," Hoffmann, who was based out of Shanghai from 1995-2008, said.

The shutterbug, who had his first glimpse of the recently-concluded Durga Puja, the largest festival of Bengalis, said that the sight of the immersion of the idol into water bodies had caught his fancy.

"I was intrigued by the submersion of the icon into the river. I`m always looking for moments and compositions where contrasting elements meet in photographs and then become something else. In this case, I envision some beautiful studies could be made of the icon just beneath the water."

However, what also struck him during the festivities is its commercialisation.

"My first impression, since it is made very obvious through outdoor signage and newspaper ads, was how the festival is used as a business opportunity, perhaps similar to that of Christmas. And I was surprised by the air of competition that seemed to push those building their pandals," he said.

Contrary to taking photos for those special occasions, Hoffmann loves clicking people during normal times of everyday life.

"I feel it is more challenging and more important to help people see the ordinary in some extraordinary way," he said.

PTI