Intrepidity of the traveller is what defines him. For Dr Hafiz G. Tarafdar, seeing the world and keeping a record of it has over the years turned into an intellectual pursuit for him. The record does not come in the form of a diary or through the pages of memoirs or even in the form of a travelogue.
It manifests itself in the plenitude of photographs he has taken on his numerous journeys around the globe – in Asia, Africa and Europe, in islands which many contemplate in the imagination but places he has been to – taking in the beauty of natural life.
Passion is part of his beautiful obsession with nature. You flip through his albums, cheered by the knowledge that not even the minutest details escape him. The charm of life, in essence, is what comes through in the images he captures of the multidimensional aspects of existence.
How did this preoccupation, as it were, with photography begin for him? Tarafdar informs you, ever so unassumingly, that in school it was a hobby for him to draw pictures. He then graduated to photography in college, in Bangladesh during 1960, when in his first year he began taking snapshots with his Kodak box camera.
As he moved toward establishing a niche in the orofacial profession, during 1968 in Mymensingh, his hold on the camera achieved a firmness that would be pivotal in his subsequent pursuit of photography as an art form.
Tarafdar has aged, as we all do, over the years and decades. Yet, unlike so many of us, there is a spring in his step, a deep commitment to nature. He left Bangladesh in 1969, to land in the United Kingdom where he has lived and worked since, with minor breaks. He recalls fondly the Zenith camera he wielded in those early years in Britain. In the years 1971-72, a Canon camera around his shoulder, he went visiting places in the country, taking in almost everything nature had on offer for him.
Birds, landscapes, trees, flowers have always had a devotional quality, if one could put it that way, in the images he has drawn, and continues to draw, from nature. Indeed, he makes nature come home to him.
Of course, he has had his responsibilities to carry out professionally in Bangladesh, Britain and even Libya. But life for Tarafdar has in a coruscating way been one of well-defined compartments for him. On one hand he had the medical instruments at his disposal in his workplaces; and on the other it has been the camera, slung on his arm or around his shoulder, which has carried him to lands of pristine beauty on the planet.
The themes Tarafdar covers on his travels are surgically precise in form, encompassing as they do landscapes and cultural heritage almost everywhere. Since he retired from service, indeed from the practice of orofacial surgery under Britain's National Health Service, in 2012, his travels in nature's realm have been injected with renewed vigour. You notice a variety of cultural expressions, of multicultural life, in his photographs. Observe the tribal portraits his albums are studded with, from Africa. The beauty of dark skin, which he calls Black Beauty, links present to generations that have come before.
The effects of Tarafdar's photography – capturing the pores of the skin on an individual face, the gleaming grains of sand in a desert, the colours on the wings of a sparrow – are a mark of the superior quality underpinning his work. His focus on the eyes speaks volumes about the emotions defining the sparkle in those eyes. And then the camera focuses on sitting birds, birds about to take to the sky, birds busy in their varied forms of natural activity. In an age of development in the guise of modernisation, Tarafdar's camera is a reminder for people that beyond the urban lies an undefiled, nearly uncharted world of beauty.
Tarfadar's most recent journey has been to Ghana. As we speak, he is on an excursion through Iceland exploring the redolent charm of its landscape. For him, the world has consistently been one of ceaseless discovery, an oyster which he keeps opening layer by layer. His camera has caught the image of a Bengali peasant woman, in company with her precious goat, making her way back home across clearly an open field where the soil has hardened in a season devoid of rain. And then there are the contrasts, notably his images of high-rise buildings in London's Canary Wharf.
And Tarafdar speaks to you, in a voice betraying fondness born of love, of the interplay of light and shade he has invested the images of his spouse with. Wish to see the riotous charms of the mighty Jamuna? Tarafdar will open up his album for you. There, as you turn the pages, are vibrant pictures of fishermen casting their nets in the river. In Borneo, it is the gipsies he makes friends with as he accords them permanence through his portraits of them.
Tarafdar has journeyed to no fewer than fifty countries around the world. His travels through the Namib desert, through Ethiopia are but a civilisational odyssey through heritage. The Kalahari comes alive in his camera, with no details missing. His treks through Angola reveal a land blessed by the munificence of creation. His conversations with the Masai are a sign of the commitment he brings to his understanding of and respect for cultures everywhere.
Hafiz G. Tarafdar's photography possesses that certain world-class quality about it, which is certainly the reason behind the recognition, in the form of awards, that have come his way from various organisations.
A conversation with this indefatigable traveller – who went to school in Bogra, studied at Murari Chand College, and then pursued studies at Dhaka Medical College Hospital – is a delightful trek across geography and aeons of global cultural history.
As the sun sets and the first stars begin to twinkle in the sky, you settle back to hear Hafiz G. Tarafdar reflect, softly and deeply, on the glorious richness which permeates our world.