Razzaq Ahmed Jigsaw Stories

How did ‘The Great Quotator’ start? 

I started in February 2016, when I bought a camera and started going around and learning how to use it. It was very basic at first, with the photography and images taking place separately to the sourcing of the words, quotes and proverbs, which I would then merge in a completely unintegrated way afterwards. More recently, the aim has been to put the images together with the quotes. 

What’s behind the name? 

I was looking for general inspiration and I began reading about Mahatma Ghandi, Mohammed Ali and Charlie Chaplin. I listened to Paolo Nutini’s song, Iron Sky, which features an entire passage of Charlie Chaplin’s speech in The Great Dictator, a 1940 political satire comedy film. In it, he speaks about brotherhood, about putting aside war and one’s own self-interest in order to work with your fellow human beings with the aim of progressing humankind. There is a quote that says: 

“the Kingdom of God is within man – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

And I thought, that is kind of very cool. I think during that time things had happened in my personal life that hit home and I wanted to pay homage to this. So I thought, The Great Quotator. The idea was to find these sorts of messages, explore them and convey them in an artistic way.

Can you tell me more about the individual pieces and the process of creating them? 

The pieces and process started off completely differently to what you see now. When I first started, it was just about reflecting the words in an image. It would be a very basic overlay of a quote on the face of whoever said it. Process-wise, I remember going through a stage where I was confused as to whether the quote should lead the photograph or whether the photograph should lead the quote. I would be on my phone trying to find something to reflect some emotion or circumstance; innocence, family, love, despair, misfortune. Once I found a quote, I went through a stage of formulating images in my head and trying to find them in real life. I soon realised that this strategy wasn’t going to work – it wasn’t practical or natural, it felt artificial searching for something. I couldn’t just walk the streets taking photos as I pleased. When I originally bought that camera, it was something to do by myself to take respite from other aspects of my life. 

One thing that strikes me about your pieces is actually how organic they are.  

That’s it. The most important thing for my images now is that the people in the images are organic. They should be in the state that they would be in if the camera wasn’t there. Nothing should be staged, nothing should be interrupted. Which is why from time to time it’s difficult to take the photos that I want, because I’m hoping people will be doing something interesting, but at the same time people aren’t always going around doing interesting things! You can only shoot the camera and hope that it comes out in a particularly good way. So that became the central methodology of creating the photos: starting out with a good mindset, taking a photograph with a good surrounding with a good place to insert a quote. 

Can you describe your new methodology more? 

I would often walk around the streets of London looking for flat surfaces where quotes could be superimposed, where you wouldn’t be surprised, like a street sign or some graffiti. Other times I would just wait for someone to come along, just seeing what the street was going to throw up. That is the aspect I like about street photography – the city streets which do not rely on people sitting to be captured. But my style is a mix of candid street photography and portraiture, except the person does not know they are having their portrait taken, so it operates in shadows a little bit. 

And the quotes?

With the quotes, I will sit down and think of a theme. What does the image of this man at a bus stop reflect? What is his pose, what could he be thinking? I appreciate most of the time I could be off, but it is about what I see. It is about the emotions that I can draw out, that other people can draw out. Then I will find a quote based on that. There is no automatic marriage between a photo and a quote.