The All Roads Photography Program will be exhibiting its 2010 photography awardees at?Chobi Mela VI, an international festival of photography. Chobi Mela VI opens January 21, 2011 in Bangladesh. This year?s theme is ?Dreams? and is considered the largest exhibition of photography in Asia. The festival is considered to have the most diverse participation of photography in the world. Now having gained an international reputation as one of the leading photography festivals in the world it features 63 exhibitions from 33 participating countries that span all seven continents of the globe. Chobi Mela is unique in having been developed and launched in South Asia. Shahidul Alam, Chobi Mela festival director and All Roads photography advisory board member, explains the festival?s theme, ?As dream merchants, we [photographers] create images that confront us with horrific facts, and allure us with magical metaphors. We seek a society where love songs are cherished and curiosity celebrated. We conjure up a mystical world, through light and shape and dancing pixels. We toy with perceptions and juggle facts. We trade in the currency of dreams, and flirt with an elusive reality. So to turn to dreams after [past themes] ?Differences?, ?Exclusion?, ?Resistance?, ?Boundaries? and ?Freedom? is perhaps to return to what holds us together in the face of all our obstacles, the foci of all our longings. To realize our dreams is perhaps the ultimate paradise. So we invite dreamers and wanderers and the soulful troubadour, to ignite our imagination. To provoke and goad us out . . . to dream.? The 2010 Photography Program Awardees Are: Rashid Talukder (Bangladesh)
Pioneer Photographer Award
Photo essay ?The 1971 Liberation War? Tom?s Munita (Chile)
Mid-career Photographer Award
Photo essay ?Lost Harvest?The Death of Loa River? Sumit Dayal (Kashmir)
Emerging Photographer Award
Photo essay ?On Going Home? View the 2010 All Roads Photography Gallery Here
The Photography Program recognizes and supports talented international storytellers whose still photography documents their changing cultures and communities. Each year four photographers are awarded a financial prize, and their photo essays are exhibited at the All Roads Film Festival and other venues. They also receive photographic accessories and, through workshops, get valuable training to assist in their fieldwork.
Candidates are nominated by an advisory board of leaders from the photography industry and representatives from National Geographic Society. Selection Criteria
Award recipients must be from an indigenous or minority culture within their countries of origin.
Award recipients? work must document their changing cultures and community and represent a recent body of work (within the last two years).
Potential recipients must be living in the countries that they are documenting.
Awards are based on artistic merit in combination with the photojournalistic focus of the project.
It appears that the extremely large number of incomplete submissions may have been caused by the server having problems coping with the very large number of entries. As such we have decided to extend the deadline for one more week.
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Festival Director Chobi Mela VI
A photograph?s story is not only the one told in the image. Who took a picture, and why, also matters. Now who takes pictures of the developing world, and why?
?The vast majority of the published images that we see of the developing world are taken by predominantly white, predominantly male photographers from the ?north? or the ?west? (whichever language you use) and we think a) that this is unfair and b) that it leads to a distorted view lacking balance. The distorted view is intrinsically dangerous as it perpetuates stereotypes,? said Dr Colin Hastings, responsible for strategy and financing at?Majority World, in an interview with?igenius.
How about giving Majority World photographers a chance to represent the world they live in themselves? Majority World, a global initiative set up to provide a platform for indigenous photographers from the Majority World to gain fair access to global image markets, is in its third year. Their?online library contains loads of photographs, both individual and featured, ranging from Adolphus Opara?s?Slum Aspirations to Aaron Sosa?s?Daily Havana to Saikat Ranjan Bhadra?s?Grey Reality. The idea is to shift the current practice of the global North photographing the global South and allowing the South to do it itself.
Photographers in the developing countries face numerous challenges. At first it was said that they don?t exist, then that they ?don?t have the eye?. But apart from these prejudices, there are serious problems photographers have to deal with: lack of access to the internet, costly cameras, scanners, and computers, lack of awareness of Northern markets, no money to travel and build up a portfolio, poor business and marketing skills and, probably worst of all, untrusting potential clients, who are nervous to assign an unknown photographer in a distant land.
Let?s come back to those white males who dominate the global photography market with their orthodox reflections of the Majority World. And aid. ?Development isn?t simply about money. What about developing mutual respect; enabling equitable partnerships; providing enabling environments for intellectual exchange? What about creating awareness of the underlying causes of poverty? These are all integral parts of the development process. When all things are added up, cheap images providing clich?d messages do more harm than good. They do not address the crucial issue: poverty is almost always a product of exploitation, at local, regional and international levels. If poverty is simply addressed in terms of what people lack in monetary terms, then the more important issues of exploitation are sidelined,? wrote Shahidul Alam, an international photojournalist and Chairman of?Majority World in?The New Internationalist in 2007.
Back then, the situation started to change, if only very slowly. In that same article, Mr Alam agreed that due to the media?s deteriorating financial situation, some adjustments had taken place: with media?s budgets squeezed, it?s getting harder to fly Western photographers to make some shots in a far away land.
This is where local photographers come in handy, but the fact is yet to be recognized by news outlets. And it ain?t so sunny out there, either. ?Certain rules still apply of course, such as the vast differentials in pay between local and Western photographers,? wrote Mr Alam.
I asked Dr Colin Hastings who works tirelessly to promote Majority World photography, how to encourage global media organizations to use images made by local photographers. He said we need to make a distinction between purchasing images pre-taken and uploaded into an existing photo library (known as ?stock photography?) and ?assignments?, where a photographer is commissioned to take specified types of image for a particular purpose.
?As for stock images, all we ask is that Majority World photographers have equal opportunities to get their images into photo libraries and showcased across the world and available for sale. At present they are marginalized and face many disadvantages. It is providing an equal playing field that is at the heart of what Majority World is about, enabling them to have the resources that Western photographers just take for granted.
?When it comes to assignments, Western media, editors and photographers tend to go out with a predetermined agenda often to find images to confirm their existing preconceptions and stereotypes often based on information that is way out of date. This is an issue of editorial bias, i.e. do you really want to find out the truth (whatever that is).
?Well, you are more likely to find out from someone who is of the culture, speaks the language, understand the nuances and the history, than from someone who jets in for a few days, is essentially a voyeur from the outside of the culture, and may be viewed with a mixture of incredulity and suspicion by those being photographed… To say nothing of the ethical issues about whether anyone ?should? be or has the right to take photos in any situation.
?It is right to acknowledge that it is not a simple matter to employ and brief an unknown photographer at a distance, especially where there are language and other cultural barriers to communication. But that can also be too easily used as an excuse. There are suitable and reliable photographers out there who do fine work. Part of our role is to take the risk out of this process by finding the most suitable photographer and acting as a communications facilitator.
?We have to help the client to change their behavior and ways of doing things and also help the photographer to understand and to respond to the clients? needs.? It?s complex!?
Three years ago, Dr Hastings expressed his wish for every postcard sold in a tourist destination in the global South to be taken by a local photographer. ?My vision is to see a whole range of beautiful high quality photographic products – cards, calendars, diaries or digital products images – taken entirely by Majority World photographers,? he said.
We?re not there yet, but hopefully on the way.
Photos: fish by?Partha Sarathi Sahana, water by?prakhar
The first Friday of every month, we would clear out the furniture of Bijon Da?s ?Boithok Khana? (drawing room), move some of the chairs out to the verandah, and set up a table for the speakers. People would invariably arrive in dribs and drabs, but pretty soon, the rickety chairs would get filled up and the crowd would spill over into the verandah. This was where Manzoor Alam Beg held court.
Young photographers with their first black and white prints, would mingle with the likes of Rashid Talukder and Anwar Hossain. The ever young Dr. Ansaruddin Ahmed would hand out his pristine prints. The crowd would wait in expectant silence for the results of the monthly photo contest. The monthly photographic newsletter, then without pictures, would be distributed. Invariably, there would be a speech or two. It was a camera club, trade union and a hangout joint, all rolled into one. Despite the mix, the salon smell hung in the air. Much was made of acceptances in salons. A gold medal, a bronze, or even an honourable mention, was celebrated. Winners were generously applauded. Outside of the salon circuit we knew little of what was going on elsewhere, but if it was a well we were living in, it was a nice well. That monthly meeting meant a lot to all of us.
There were few who remained from the old school. The recent split from Pakistan meant that the established studios like Zaidi?s had gone. But the war of liberation changed the Bangladeshi psyche. 1947, while of immense significance to South Asia, meant little to Bangladeshis. History books barely touched upon it. There were few references to it in literature. 1971 on the other hand was a lived experience. Unsurprisingly therefore, apart from the early photographs of Golam Kasem Daddy, dating back to 1918, there are few early photographs from Bangladesh.? There followed a romantic period where photographers like Amanul Haque and Naibuddin Ahmed produced stylized landscapes and carefully set up idyllic images of people. Nawazesh Ahmed and later Anwar Hossain, began to adopt a more contemporary feel to their images. Bijon Sarker and Manzoor Alam Beg, combined elements of classical pictorialism with the curiosity of an experimentalist. Sayeda Khanam was the lone woman of that era. Doggedly pursuing an almost entirely male profession.
1971 was a turning point. Rashid Talukder?s nose for a picture and his journalistic instinct, ensured that he was at the right place at the right time throughout Bangladesh?s turbulent history. Having had no formal education in photography, Talukder was freed of the compositional binds that many contemporary image makers were trapped within. The 2 ? square had its own aesthetic, but Talukder and other photojournalists used the balanced frame to capture some of the most disturbing images of the 20th century.
Talukder?s dismembered head of a slain intellectual, framed by bricks and their sharp shadows, being perhaps one of the most powerful images of the 20th century. Talukder, Mohammad Shafi, Jalaluddin Haider, Aftab Ahmed were amongst the press photographers who documented some of the everyday events of 1971. But Talukder?s picture of the bayoneting of Biharis, had been hidden from public sight until Drik published it in 1993. Kader Siddiqui, the man responsible for the killings, was too powerful a man to antagonize, and until then, no publication had been prepared to take the risk. A similar frame by Michel Laurent, had meanwhile won a Pulitzer. Talukder?s dismembered head too, had been passed by the the authors of the Century Book. Others, had recorded 1971 in their own way. Taking great risks as amateurs, preserving a history of our birth pangs, knowing it could signal death.
? Shehab Uddin
Photographers then started specializing. S S Barua, and Nawab became the bird specialists, to be later followed by Enamul Huque and Shehab Uddin. Consumerism had approached, and photographers in the new nation were turning to fashion. Shamsul Islam Al Maji brought a modern touch to glamour, but Amanul Haque in his classical style also painted a rural Bangladesh, complete with the beautiful farmer?s wife, her red sari provided by the photographer, her gourd plant, planted by him a year ago, so it would be the right height at the right time of the year.
Then came the salon era. Mohammad Ali Selim, Kazi Mizanur Rahman, Kashi Nath Nandy, Abdul Malek Babul, Debabrata Chowdhury were all fine photographers, but their arena was the camera club contest. The rule of thirds, the well placed diagonal, the balanced image, was what everyone was making. They entered contests, won prizes, vied for medals and certificates. This was a world in itself. The Bangladesh Photographic Society became the launchpad for the contest winning photographers. The stickers at the back of the prints were often more important than the images themselves. The society newsletter proudly boasted of salon acceptances. Strategies for winning contests were hotly debated at the monthly meetings. Stardom was based on number of medals and not on quality of content. Pretty pictures ruled.
Woman voting at a ballot both. Election 1991 ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
While photojournalists had recorded street life and political strife, and a few photographers had addressed poverty, there was no culture of documentary practice. No personal projects. Photography was still seen as an illustration, meant to fit in with a predetermined caption. The movement against General Ershad changed all that. Resistance had been building, and the iconic image of Noor Hossain, with ?Let Democracy be Freed? painted on his back, was a turning point. In 1971, the photographs were taken surreptitiously, under fear of death. In the new movement, the photographers were in the fore. They were the witnesses of the people and empowered by people?s will. Ershad clamped down on the media, enforcing censorship. The media responded en-masse, stopping publication in protest, but the photographers continued to work, and when the general fell, and an impromptu exhibition was organized of pictures of the movement, the queue outside Zainul Gallery was nearly a mile long. There were near riots as people stormed the gallery to get a glimpse of their hard earned victory.
Hasan Saifuddin Chandan controllling the crowd at the entrance to Zainul Gallery. 13th December 1991. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The struggle for democracy had an obvious impact on the photographic movement. 1989 was a significant year. 150 years after the birth of photography, the region?s first photo library, Drik, was set up. The Bangladesh Photographic Instititute was set up. After sustained lobbying by photographers a bill was passed in parliament for a department of photography to be set up in Shilpakala Academy, the academy of fine and performing arts. That too was in 1989 though it was never implemented. The workshops at the Bangladesh Photographic Institute and at Drik showed there was another way of working and that photography had more to offer than simply producing pretty images or winning awards. Photography was also trying to move away from the shadows of painters who still ruled supreme. The success of a photograph had always depended on how well it resembled a painting. The medium began to find its own identity, and while photography was still not considered art, photographers were now not so concerned about the label. So photographers found their own solutions. They did what other artists and media professionals had failed to do. They aggregated, and made up for lack of external support by supporting each other. A revolution was in the making.
But there were other pressures too. Most photographers still found it difficult to make a living and the lure of ?bidesh? (foreign lands) was too much for many to withstand. Several of the young photographers who were making the transition away from Salon photography, decided to try their luck overseas. Years later, not one of them has been successful in establishing a career in photography. Nasir Ali Mamoon was an exception in some ways. Portraiture had always been his forte. While others drove taxis, worked in petrol stations, or temped in low paid jobs, Nasir took this opportunity to produce portraits of people he admired. Ginsberg, Gunter Grass and many others filled his album. While unsuccessful commercially, he was able to expand his photographic repertoire and eventually, when he decided to leave the others behind and return to his native land, he was able to establish himself as THE portrait photographer of the era. Fine portraits adorned the newspaper he worked for, and while the post was largely ornamental, he was made the first picture editor of a newspaper.
There followed a resurgence in the media. With the return of democracy, new newspapers filled the newsstands. There was also another movement taking place. The nation?s first picture library had been set up. While international media had no interest in the democratic struggle in Bangladesh, the cyclone in 1991 that followed was familiar fodder to world media and their appetite was insatiable. There was a difference though. This time the work of local photographers also filled the pages of the New York Times and the Newsweeks of the world. Mostly they were similar images different only in having been taken by locals, but soon the content and the focus also changed. The New York Times published a full page on their Sunday Week in Review on the 1991 cyclone which did not show a single corpse. There were pictures of fishermen rebuilding their boats, farmers replanting seeds, villagers rebuilding their homes. The world began to engage with a new story teller. One with local roots. The first fund raising photo exhibition took place in 1991 and raised over 4000 dollars for cyclone victims.
The newly formed agency Drik, began to bring in photographers from all over the globe to conduct workshops. Its regular calendar became a showpiece for Bangladeshi photography. Well printed postcards and posters, complete with credit lines for photography. Photographers learnt to protest when their pictures got stolen. A movement was taking shape. It crystallised with the formation of? Pathshala. The South Asian Institute of Photography. The setting up of the school represented a clear move away from Salon photography. Documentary photographic practice complete with the engagement it involved became an emerging trend. Soon a few women joined the ranks, and the photo stories ranged from the usual ?subjects? of international photographers like prostitution and floods to the more personal representation of family life, and the search for identity. The students were hungry, and the explosive mix of inspiring teachers and driven students soon created the photographic explosion that was inevitable. Bangladesh emerged in the world of documentary photography as no other nation had. Before 1998, no Bangladeshi photographer had ever won an award at World Press Photo. Shafiqul Alam Kiron?s winning entry on women victims of acid attacks was soon followed by Chobi Mela, the first festival of photography in the region. The heady mix of great photographers walking down the streets of Dhaka. Showcasing work on the same gallery walls with the best of the best, would have to be inspirational. Meanwhile the school continued shaping their craft, pushing them to their limits. Some made it to Masterclass, others were star students of the seminar programmes. Time Magazine, Newsweek, The Guardian, Le Monde, and other leading publications across the globe suddenly woke up to this great wealth of photography in Bangaldesh.
Then things got stuck. Success is a hard act to live with, and the rapid recognition of the star photographers created a flock of clones who followed. Some found their own identity, but many were just following. Again it was Chobi Mela to the rescue. The identity of the festival itself was changing. Drik?s success had given it the overall stamp of documentary practice, but slowly other photographic genre was creeping in. Fine art, conceptual work, the odd installation, began to work its way into the gallery spaces. The level of intellectual engagement drew many others besides photographers. Practitioners from Africa, Latin America and Australia joined the Europeans and North Americans, and of course Asians who regularly joined the festival. Speakers like Noam Chomsky had conversations with regional legends like Mahashweta Devi. This was all the spark that was needed. A resurgent Pathshala, started producing more provocative work, and broached new territory. It was a movement in the making and the rules were being made as one went along.
Chobi Mela V tours to Kathmandu
The Bangladesh segment of the exhibition “When Three Dreams Cross” tries to map this journey, through the images that formed the milestones of this movement. There are significant departures from the mapping we had attempted to follow. The irrelevance of 1947, and the huge presence of 1971, has played a role that is to be expected. Other less expected characteristics have been the absence of the physical representation of habitats, artefacts, and mementos that are often a part of vernacular photography. Until recently, even family photographs, weddings and the many other everyday things that always been the visual basis for understanding cultures has largely not been preserved. Waqar Khan, has made an important contribution by collecting old photographs, mostly from aristocratic homes, which documents some aspects of this history. But the warm humid climes of this delta, has led to the erosion of much of our physical heritage. The shifting of the rivers has led to an uprootment of many who no can no longer relate to a homestead they can call their own. This transience and the nomadic existence that follows has perhaps led to the loss of a need to preserve. Very few archives exist. Not only in visual terms, but in music and film and many other art forms. This absence, in a way, documents a mode of thought and a way of life, that perhaps tells more about Bangladesh than the missing photographs might have done.
Not every artist is featured, but every influence is present through what they, or others who were inspired by them, produced. The early work of Golam Kasem and the establishment of the Camera Recreation Club had a distinct influence. Manzoor Alam Beg?s steadfast role as a mentor and an organizer, held the community together for many years. The Ahmed brothers brought out the first book on photography, and Nawazesh Ahmed, an agronomist with a PhD, brought respectability to the medium and at least for him, an acceptance within academia. Anwar Hossain was the enfante terrible who brought immediate attention through his arresting images, his controversial statements, and his maverick lifestyle. Sadly he too lost the edge that was his hallmark and has largely retired into oblivion. Hasan Saifuddin Chandan and the string of fine photographers who produced evocative images in the early nineties, also lost their way, though the Map Agency, set up by Chandan and a few other talented photographers continues and has made a valuable contribution. Sayeda Farhana, Sanjida Shaheed and a few other photographers, mostly women, began to explore the edges of contemporary photography, using their training as social scientists, fine artists, and in other areas of learning to inject into photography, a tertiary value which the more straight laced, mainstream photographers had failed to achieve. But the moment still belongs to the young crop of photojournalists who have recently emerged from Pathshala. Abir Abdullah, GMB Akash, Saiful Huq Omi, Munem Wasif, Khaled Hasan and other emerging photographers, all photojournalists of exceptional talent, made the world sit up. The wealth of exceptional photography emerging from this small nation has taken the photojournalism world by storm. There are those who feel there is a sameness in their approach that they would like to question and Shumon Ahmed and Momena Jalil are amongst the photographers who have ventured outside the tried and tested path to find other modes of expression. But this incomparable strength in photojournalism cannot be denied. Many of these former students are now the new mentors. The traditional forms of apprenticeship might have been lost over the years, but a more classic form of pedagogy has led to a learning environment that will surely take the world by storm.
Written for the catalogue of “Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh” 21 January 2010 – 11 April 2010 Galleries 1, 8 & 9 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Photographers Naibuddin Ahmed and his younger brother Nawazesh Ahmed, passed away between the time this article was written and when it was published.
?Into Exile ? Tibet 1949 ? 2009,? an exhibition organised by the Bangladeshi chapter of Students for a Free Tibet, in partnership with Drik, was symbolically opened by Professor Muzaffer Ahmed, former chairman of Transparency International?Bangladesh, on 1 November 2009. Despite pressure on Drik to cancel the exhibition, first by officials of the Chinese embassy in Dhaka, and later by Bangladesh government officials, special branch, police, and members of parliament, the opening took place outside, on the street, as Drik’s premises had been locked up by the police. The police had insisted that we needed official permission to hold the exhibition but were unable to produce any written document to that effect.
Police insisted on entering the private premises of Drik even after they were unable to produce any documentation to show they were authorised to do so. A day after blocking the entrance to the gallery to prevent an exhibition on Tibet from taking place, police said they had orders from the Home Ministry to guard the place for seven days. Dhaka, Bangladesh. November 2, 2009. ? Shehab Uddin/DrikNews/Majority World
We went ahead with the opening as it is part of Drik’s struggle for the freedom of cultural expression. We are particularly affronted at being asked by officials of a foreign state, to cancel the exhibition. We strongly believe that governments should have the courage to present their views at cultural platforms and to try and convince people by arguing their case, in other words, acting democratically, rather than using intimidation and heavy-handed tactics.
Shahidul Alam insisting that police leave the premises of Drik and not intimidate visitors to the gallery. Police positioned themselves outside the gate leaving some of their riot gear prominently displayed inside. Upon further resistance the riot gear was removed. 2nd November 2009. Dhaka. Bangladesh. ? Saikat Mojumder/DrikNews/Majority World
The forced closure of Drik affects many people, which includes members of the public, clients and those working at Drik. Public interest is our concern. We also want to continue working as an internationally acclaimed media organisation with both national and international commitments. Hence, having registered our indignance, at the actions of the Bangladesh government, and those of Chinese embassy officials we will be closing the exhibition 2 November 2009.
We express our thanks to members of the public and the media, for being present at the street opening, for demonstrating their deep disgust at governmental interference, and at their show of solidarity.
Stop Press: Police have been evicted from Drik and have positioned themselves outside the gate.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 19, Dated May 16, 2009
CULTURE & SOCIETY
Charge Of The Light Brigade Bangladesh?s award-winning photographers are subverting the first world lens, says?SHAHIDUL ALAM LATE IN 1990 we knew we had a photographic movement on our hands in Bangladesh. General Ershad had imposed strict censorship laws and in protest all the newspapers had stopped publishing for a few weeks. But everyone was still working. We planned to paste the photographs that we took of the unfolding events, surreptitiously at night on the Press Club walls, knowing the police would take them down as soon as they were spotted. We hoped at least some people would see them. Then, suddenly General Ershad stepped down. So we showed the photos at the small gallery of the Art College, Dhaka. We printed on cheap paper and had a crude, impromptu show. Over the next three days four lakh people saw the show. We nearly had riots. The photographic movement in my country began with the Bangladesh Photo-graphic Society in the mid- 1970s, largely as a camera club where professionals and amateurs got together. I?ve been judging camera club contests around the world. Except that in Iran they do not have pictures of naked women by waterfalls, camera clubs do not vary much from country to country. In 1984, when I joined I was very interested in introducing documentary work and photojournalism. At the time there was considerable friction between Bangladeshi photojournalists and the camera club.The camera club thought their work contributed to the art form and the photojournalists thought the camera club was only into pretty pictures. (Which was the truth, as you would guess from photographs titled Composition 1, Study 2). BUT SEVERAL events contributed to the growth of the Bangladeshi photography movement. In the mid 1980s we started some basic courses in photography. We set up a very bare, basic gallery. In 1989, I set up Drik, a photo agency. For each of these initiatives we built infrastructure from scratch and got nothing from the government. In 1993, Drik even created Bangladesh?s first email network ? how could we run a photo agency without communicating with the world?
We had a crude, impromptu show. Over the next three days four lakh people came. We nearly had riots
In 1998, World Press Photo kicked off a training programme in Bosnia, Peru, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. We were already conducting workshops but felt our students would benefit with continuity. So we took the plunge and started Paathshala, a photography school in Dhaka. We had one room, some bricks for another room, an old slide projector and 12 students. But we had fine teachers from Bangla desh and abroad. Later, we made another leap and start ed a selfproclaimed BA course. Today we have nearly 140 students, and all the photographers in Bangladesh?s media houses are former Paathshala students. We teach the MA photography course at Dhaka University though the government has still not recognised our programme! When Chobi Mela happens, all of Bangladesh talks about nothing else. Chobi Mela is the annual photography festival which we have organised since 2000. This year, there were over 60 exhibitions, 35 participating nations, well over 1,000 images, over 50 visiting artists from Asia alone and two lakh visitors. Mahasweta Devi, Noam Chomsky and Stuart Hall spoke via live video broadcasts. Decades ago, I invited the security guards and caretakers from the company I worked in, to my first show. Later I found out that none of them had even attempted it because they were sure they would not be let in. So to me it is very special that this year I walked into a gallery during Chobi Mela and saw a bunch of street children capering about. Ensuring the general public?s access is an important and complicated task. We try to have photo exhibitions in open-air marquees. Our mobile exhibitions is now a trademark of the festival, where 10 rickshaw vans, plying the streets of Dhaka, move the festival away from galleries to the more public spaces of football fields and open-air markets. Another way in which we?ve made inroads: a monthly television programme. In each episode we introduce a major Bangladeshi and international photographer and something that the ordinary person would be interested in, such as wedding photography or how to get better prints. And this is as important to us as the high-profile guests at Chobi Mela. Leaning to the other extreme from our camera club days, today most of our best work is being done in documentary photography and photojournalism. Today our photographers have won awards in every international contest and there is a lot of pride in that. And in the fact that I, a Bangladeshi photographer, am the only non-white person to have been the chair of the World Press Photo international jury. Poverty is a commodity in the world of photography. We started Majority World, a photo agency, with the intention of fighting the making of the images which are the most popular among Western photographers shooting in Bangladesh. Even the name Majority World is a response to the phrase First World. At the same time, we do not deny poverty and we teach our students to photograph people with dignity and to understand that the issues of poverty and exploitation are intertwined. When we put together the exhibition?The War We Forgot?on Bangladesh’s liberation war of 1971, the government asked us to remove the images which showed revenge killings by Bengalis against Urdu speakers. We pulled the exhibition from the National Museum and held it in Drik?s gallery instead. The government was left with egg on its face because visitors kept asking why such a show was refused by the National Museum. The British Council asked us to not show an exhibition criticising the invasion of Iraq on their premises and we refused. This year one of the shows was by a Swedish artist examining terrorism. But her work was strongly sexual, using images involving much nudity. The Indian government was a partner in the Chobi Mela until we had a show of photographs taken by children of sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata. Years ago, one night after Drik had hosted a press conference criticising the government, I was stabbed on the street. But we know we are here to push the envelope constantly and we won?t stop.
(Alam is an award-winning photographer and activist)
Lucia Chiriboga portrays the deep spirituality in Ecuadorian life. Long before Photoshop became commonplace, Lucia began creating complex images by subtle multiple exposures, as a way of weaving multilayered stories of her ancestors. ? Lucia Chiriboga/Drik/Majority World
It was a grand opening. The ?Who?s Who? of development in Britain was there, championing the noble cause ? the Millennium Development Goals, making poverty history.
The Bob Geldof circus could perhaps be pardoned. Geldof is neither a development worker nor someone particularly knowledgeable about the subject. But for the organizers of the ?bash? at the OXO Tower on London?s South Bank to produce such a culturally insensitive event was revealing.
Apart from parading a few young black people from Africa, who extolled the virtues of ?development?, there was little contribution from the Majority World. The key speakers, typically white Western development workers, spoke of the role that they were playing in saving the poor of the Global South. The token dark-skinned people, having played their part, were soon forgotten.
The centrepiece of this celebration was an exhibition entitled Eight Ways to Change the World. All the photographs were taken by white Western photographers. No-one questioned the implication of such an exercise. When I confronted one of the organizers he explained that the curator ? a director of a Western photographic agency ? had decided not to use Majority World photographers because they ?didn?t have the eye?. The sophisticated visual language possessed by the Western audience was presumably beyond the capacity of a photographer from the South to comprehend, let alone engage with at a creative level. New rules
This represents a shift from the position of 20 years ago when we started asking why Majority World photographers were not being used by mainstream media and development agencies. The answer then had been: ?They don?t exist.? Today our existence is difficult to deny. The internet; the fact that several Majority World agencies operate successfully; and that photographers belonging to such agencies regularly win international awards: all these things mean we are no longer invisible.
Now it?s a different set of rules. We have to prove we have the eye. A similar statement about blacks, women, or minority groups of any sort, would raise a storm. But when such prejudice is used against a group of media professionals from the South, who happen to represent the majority of humankind, no-one appears to bat an eyelid.
I have, of course, faced this situation before. There was, for example, a fax from the National Geographic Society Television Division asking if we could help them with the production of a film that would include the Bangladeshi cyclone of 1991. They wanted specific help in locating ?US, European or UN people… who would lead us to a suitable Bangladeshi family?. The irony of making such a request to a picture agency dedicated to promoting local voices had obviously escaped them. We had gotten used to requests for iconic objects of poverty that international NGOs insisted existed in abundance and had to be photographed ? but which locals neither knew nor had heard of. The economics of suffering
Charities and development agencies need to raise money from the Western public. The best way to pull the heart strings ? and thereby the purse strings ? is to show those doleful eyes of the disadvantaged.
Perhaps photographers from the South cannot be trusted to understand this. Perhaps they are so hardened to such images of daily suffering that they are unable to appreciate the impact these sights might have on Western audiences ? and the coffers of Western aid agencies.
But certain changes have been taking place, forcing various adjustments. Media budgets have become tighter than they were. Flying people to distant locations is expensive. Having Western photographers ?on the ground? can be dangerous in some cases ? and costly in terms of insurance premiums. Better to have locals in the firing line. So, slowly, local names have begun to creep in. Certain rules still apply of course, such as the vast differentials in pay between local and Western photographers.
Stories about Nike regularly make the headlines, but the exploitative terms on which local photographers work rarely surface. The Bangla saying ?kaker mangsho kak khai na? (a crow doesn?t eat crow?s meat) seems to apply to journalism: criticism of the media is taboo. Not only do the workers on the media sweatshops have to work for peanuts, they need to know which stories to tell. None of this journalistic independence rubbish: gimme stories that sell.
This, of course, affects Southern photographers. When they know certain stories sell, they themselves begin to supply the ?appropriate? images. A man known to carry a toy gun in the streets of Dhaka is repeatedly photographed at religious rallies, and despite common knowledge that it is a fake gun, news agencies run the picture without explaining the nature of the situation. Numerous wire photographers have been known to stage flood pictures and in one famous instance, a child was shown to be swimming to safety in what was known to be knee deep water. The photograph went on to win a major press award.
Money also affects publishers. Smaller budgets require careful shopping. The Corbis, Getty and Reuters image supermarkets are rapidly squeezing out the ?corner store? suppliers and a small Majority World picture library simply can?t compete.
But there are other factors in the equation. Development isn?t simply about money. What about developing mutual respect; enabling equitable partnerships; providing enabling environments for intellectual exchange? What about creating awareness of the underlying causes of poverty? These are all integral parts of the development process. When all things are added up, cheap images providing clich?d messages do more harm than good. They do not address the crucial issue: poverty is almost always a product of exploitation, at local, regional and international levels. If poverty is simply addressed in terms of what people lack in monetary terms, then the more important issues of exploitation are sidelined. Materially poor nations should have a say in how they are represented. This picture, taken in the early days of the Maoist movement, by Nepalese photographer Binod Dhungel, shows members of his country?s Maoist Movement long before it was breaking news. ? Binod Dhungel/Drik/Majority World A broader picture
However, the type of imagery required from the Majority World is broadening. This is coming less from growing political sensibility and more from global economic shifts. Negative imagery is seen as a deterrent to foreign investment in emerging markets. With transnationals interested in cheap labour, and a wider consumer base, a different profile is now required to stimulate investor confidence. So, along with the standard fare of flood and famine, there are stories of Indian and Chinese billionaires and how they have benefited from capitalism.
Furthermore the new ?inclusive? media now take on more ethnic-minority journalists. But when they come over to do their groundbreaking stories, it is the rookie on the streets of Dhaka who provides the leads, conducts the research, translates, drives, fixes, and does all that is necessary for the story to emerge. If things do go wrong ? as when Britain?s Channel 4 TV attempted an ill-fated expos? in Bangladesh in late 2002 ? the Western journalists are likely to be home for Christmas while the local fixers face torture in jail. Drik?s vision
Lacking the advantages of our Western counterparts, image-makers in the South have had to rely on ingenuity and making-do in order to move from being fixers to being authors in their own right. We have had to be pioneers. With one filing cabinet, an XT computer without a hard drive, and a converted toilet as a darkroom, we decided we would take on the established rich-world photo agencies. On 4 September 1989 Drik Alokchitra Granthagar was set up in Dhaka.
The Sanskrit word Drik means vision, inner vision, and philosophy of vision. That vision of a more egalitarian world, where materially poor nations have a say in how they are represented, remains our driving force.
The European agencies I had encountered wanted a minimum submission of 300 transparencies and told you not to ask for money for the first three years. This constituted a massive investment for a Majority World photographer, and virtually ruled out her entry into the market. We had a very different approach. If a photographer had a single good image which we felt needed to be seen we would take her on, try and sell the picture and pay her as soon as the money came in.
It allowed the photographer to buy more rolls of film and carry on working. The photographers didn?t have printing and developing facilities so we set up a good quality darkroom and trained people to make high quality prints. They had no lights so we set up a studio.
The only gallery spaces available were owned by the State or foreign cultural missions, none of which would show controversial work. So we built our own galleries. Few would publish pictures well so we built our own pre-press unit and published postcards, bookmarks and calendars which we sold door-to-door to pay for running costs.
Photography was largely male-dominated, so we organized workshops for women photographers. There were no working-class people in the media, so we started training poor children in photography. We couldn?t afford faxes or international phone calls, so we set up Bangladesh?s first email service and lobbied for the introduction of fully fledged internet. Professor Yunus, the Nobel Prize winner, was our first user. We set up electronic bulletin boards on issues important to us, such as child rights and environmental issues.
We started putting together a database of photographers in the South, and wrote off to as many organizations as we could, offering our services. No-one replied. Undeterred, we put together a portfolio of black-and-white prints, largely by Bangladeshi photographers.
On a rare visit to Europe, I visited the office of the New Internationalistin Oxford. Dexter Tiranti greeted me warmly. He had received our letter, but hadn?t given it too much importance. An agency in Bangladesh seemed too far distant for the NI to work with on a regular basis. Having seen the portfolio, however, Dexter sat me down at his desk and started ringing picture users across Europe. I remember feeling envious of this ability simply to pick up a phone and call someone in another country, but was grateful for the contacts. Dexter asked us to submit pictures for the NI Almanac. The next year we got a letter from him that stated: ?The photographs are beautiful and the reason we are using only six is because we can?t really have too many from one country.? Others Dexter had phoned that day, and many others we have contacted since, have responded similarly, and so picture sales slowly grew ? but it was no easy ride.
Drik?s email network was put to use when writer and feminist Taslima Nasrin, pictured here in hiding, was being persecuted. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World Knife wounds and death threats
Our problems weren?t simply ones of surviving on slender means and competing against agencies based in London, Paris and New York. Our activism created problems on our home soil too. We had, by then, set up our own website and had helped to establish the first webzine and internet portal in the country. Our email network had been put to use when Taslima Nasrin was being persecuted. The website became the seat of resistance when pro-government thugs committed rape in a university campus. So the site, and later the agency, came under attack.
The day after our human rights portal www.banglarights.net was launched, all the telephone lines of the agency were disconnected. It took us twoand- a-half years to get the lines back, but that never stopped our internet service and we stayed connected. Later, Drik became the seat of resistance when the Government used the military to round up opposition activists. I was attacked on the street, during curfew and in a street protected by the military. I received eight knife wounds.
So we learnt to walk a fine line.
It wasn?t just the Government that found us unpalatable. The US embassy felt it couldn?t work with us because we opposed President Clinton?s visit to Bangladesh. Letter by John Kinkannon (director of USIA in Bangladesh) to Mayeen Ahmed, coordinator of Chobi Mela (2000).
The British Council demanded we take down a show that talked about colonialism, and threatened that future projects might be jeopardized when we openly opposed the invasion of Iraq. Death threats, some real, some less serious and a whole range of sabotage attempts have been part of the path we?ve travelled.
Current strategies are more subtle. We know we will never be given work by certain agencies and that visas for some of us will be more difficult to get, but it is certainly not all negative. The main strength of Drik has been its friends and their support. None of what we have achieved would have been possible without the contribution of a large number of people, ranging from ordinary Bangladeshis who have rallied when it mattered, to influential people thousands of miles away who have provided moral and material support. Combining our compulsion to be socially effective with the requirement to be financially independent has remained our biggest challenge. It is a difficult balancing act. A great high
Taking a principled position has other drawbacks. People work long hours for salaries below the industry norm. There are few perks. But working at Drik is a special experience; a great high. Not everyone can survive on these highs, of course, and job satisfaction doesn?t help pay the bills, so we need to be competitive and ensure a level of quality so that we can hold our own despite the political pressures.
Eighteen years down the road, we now have a workforce of around 60. Graduates from our school of photography, Pathshala, hold senior positions in major publications. The working-class children we?ve trained have gone on to win Emmys and other awards, and I believe Majority World photographers feel they have a platform.
The big agencies like Reuters and Getty can provide images at a cost and a speed impossible for independent practitioners to match, a very real consideration for picture editors under time pressure and working to tight budgets. The fact that Corbis (owned by Microsoft) is buying up picture archives like the Bettman is important for their preservation, but the images that now exist 200 feet below the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania are no longer accessible to the students, scholars and researchers. An important part of our visual history is now in the control of one person ? Bill Gates. Golam Kasem (nicknamed Daddy) was Drik?s oldest photographer when he died at the age of 103. His original glass plates date back to 1918. This 1927 image is one of many where Daddy records everyday life in rich detail. ?Golam Kasem/Drik/Majority World Fair trade
Father Paul Casperg, who has been working for many years with the tea plantation workers in Kandy, has an interesting story to tell. Nearly 30 years ago, in his Masters thesis at the London School of Economics, Father Casperg was able to show that an increase of two pence (four US cents) in the price of a cup of tea being sold on the British railways would, providing it went to the Kandy tea plantation workers, result in more income than the total foreign aid received by the Sri Lankan Government.
Father Casperg rightly concluded that it was fair trade that Sri Lanka needed, not more aid.
That is what fair trade imagery organizations like majorityworld.com and kijijiVision (see Action) are trying to do. By invoking ethical standards in the trading of images, these organizations address not only the distorted and disrespectful depiction of people of the Global South, but also the economic divide.
Organizations that call for Majority World governments to be more transparent and accountable need to reflect upon their own ethical standards when it comes to depicting and dealing with the South. Practices such as not allowing photographers to retain copyright or film are justified by the ?convenience? of distributing images. Such ?convenience clauses? are rarely applied to Western photographers, who know the law and can exercise their rights. Light, flexible, potent
We are resisting, though. The new portal, majorityworld.com, supported strongly by its lobbying partner kijijiVision.org, has built on the extended groundwork done by Drik. DrikNews.com, though still very young, threatens to give the wire agencies a run for their money, and photographers in the South are pooling their resources, including developing close partnerships with like-minded Western organizations.
Recently, I was sitting with a small group of photographers, painters and filmmakers in a corner of the top-floor gallery of the Voluntary Artists Society of Thimpu (capital of Bhutan). At the end of the showing of a film on Chobi Mela IV ? the festival of photography in Asia ? projected on a bedsheet pinned on the gallery wall, the conversation veered to pooling resources in neighbouring countries. Sharing computers, scanners, and contacts, we talked of bus routes to neighbouring countries, and finding public spaces for showing work. What we needed was an online solution that would serve all Majority World photographers.
Having purchased expensive software produced in the West for selling pictures online, we were further bled by consultancy fees we had to pay every time we needed to adapt it to our situation. So, eventually, we developed our own software. It is an inexpensive but highly efficient search engine that local newspaper archives can use. Developed using largely open-source modules, it is constantly updated based on feedback from users from all over the globe and it has worked well on low bandwidth.
Groups in Bhutan, Peru, Tanzania and Vietnam recognize that the wire services and the big agencies have a different agenda. If it?s a guerrilla war against the corporations that has to be fought, then we need different tools. Light, flexible, inexpensive and potent ones.
A revolution is taking place. As new names creep into the byline, unfamiliar faces step up to the award podium and fresh imagery ? vibrant, questioning and revealing ? makes it into mainstream media, a whole new world is opening up. A Majority World.
Originally published in the New Internationalist Magazine in August 2007
In the 1990s independent picture libraries and agencies disappeared at an alarming rate as they were absorbed or driven out of business by larger ones. Dominating the field was Corbis, created by Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates. Corbis now has 24 offices in 16 countries, represents some 29,000 photographers and controls around 100 million images. Last year it acquired the Australian Picture Library, entered a partnership with IndiaPicture.com and opened a new office in Beijing. Its 2006 revenue was more than $251 million.
Other big players have included Getty Images, founded in 1995, which now has 20 offices worldwide and controls over one million images. Jupiterimages, a division of the Connecticut-based Jupitermedia Corporation, manages over seven million images online, while Reuters has an archive of over two million images.
In recent years the microstock photography industry, led by iStockPhoto and later ShutterStock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, and BigStockPhoto has emerged as a rapidly growing market. Using the internet as their sole distribution method, and recruiting mainly amateur and hobbyist photographers from around the globe, these companies are able to offer stock libraries of pictures at very low prices. Corporate giants Corbis, Getty and Jupiterimages have now muscled their way into this market too, adding to their everexpanding fortfolio of the world?s imagery.
Drifting in cage and out again
Hark unknown bird does fly
Shackles of my mind
If my arms could entwine
With them I would thee bind
Rooms it had eight
And doors it had nine
Windows betwixt you find
Up above the glittering hall
Mirrors might make you blind
What fate alas makes bird do thus
Caged bird breaks free to fly
Of bamboo raw the cage I saw
This mind of mine still longs oh so Lalon Fakir cries as he sees with his eyes
The cage wither and go*
The body, the soul, the self, the universe, Lalon saw freedom not as an entity outside oneself, but as a lived experience. Within yet afar. Ephemeral but tactile. With wings but encaged.
New forms of slavery form new forms of chains. Violence suffered in silence. Ancestral land commandeered. Resistance made illegal.
What mask does freedom now wear? Freedom to profit is the new elixir. Freedom to reach distant markets, to exploit cheap labour. The word that takes us to such dizzying heights leaves the deepest of wounds with its loss. ‘Foreign’ sounding names, ‘wrong’ coloured skin, ‘different’ passports, circumscribe our new freedoms.
Going beyond walls built to occupy territory. Beyond bombs dropped to coerce the unarmed. Beyond cells built to hold the other. Artists paint with colours that don’t exist. Write with words as yet un-invented. Photograph where light is yet to reach. The cage. The door. The wing. The soul. Freedom.
Festival Director Chobi Mela V
We invite photographers working in the fields of photojournalism, fine art, conceptual or any other field of photography, to interpret the theme “Freedom” in the widest sense possible. Submissions may be made online from 1st March 2008 through to 31st May 2008. Selections will be made by 15th June 2008. Final work must be submitted by 31st July 2008. Festival opens 6th November 2008. Submission guidelines will be available online.
*Translation by Shahidul Alam from “khachar bhitor ochin pakhi” by Lalon Shah.
Amidst, more often than not, the chaotic traffic on the roads of Sukrabad in Panthapath, with various inter-city bus terminals on either side, a relatively narrow gate with a board bearing a logo of a wide branched mango tree ? even perhaps the trade being plied inside to an extent ? often tends to go unnoticed. The mango tree, generally associated with a ?Pathshala?, a traditional Sanskrit word for a seat of learning, is symbolic of just that, a Pathshala, though of a different type where the language of images is explored.
February 1 marked the commencement of celebrations lasting three days, for those associated with Pathshala, South Asian Institute of Photography, on its completion of 10 years. A photography exhibition titled ?Studying Life?, featuring the works of Pathshala students and alumni marked the beginning of the celebrations. The exhibition, inaugurated by pioneer playwright and theatre person Atiqul Huque Chowdhury on February 1 at Drik Gallery is set to last till February 15, open to all from 3 pm up until 8 pm.
During its 10 years in existence, the institute has certainly redefined photography as a whole. ?Pathshala?s contribution to photography is not just limited to Bangladesh, but in a sense is global,? says Rezaul Karim, tutor and administrator of Pathshala.
?An aspiring photographer needs to understand the difference of taking up the different aspects of photography, something an amateur would not catch right away, and that is what Pathshala tries to help one with,? he says.
?At the institute, we keep our students up-to-date with the world helping them make a more informed career choice. It helps them develop a stance in their work as well,? he says.
The achievements of some of its students is a testament to the institute?s success, having won prestigious awards such as the Mother Jones, World Press, the National Geographic All Roads as well as being hired by leading publications which included the likes of Time Magazine, Newsweek and the New York Times to name but a few, in the process, undermining the common paradigm of photography as anything but a gainful profession.
?Photography is not just about shutters and lenses, but about posing questions through critical thinking, leading to social changes which is what Pathshala tries to nurture in Pathshala ,? says Dr. Shahidul Alam, the principal of the school of photography.
In 1998, Alam won the prestigious international award, the Howard Chapnick, the prize money of which was used to set up Pathshala. Pathshala was set up on December 18 1998, as part of a three-year World Press Photo (WPP) educational initiative, launched to coincide with Dhaka?s annual WPP exhibition, with Drik, already serving people in the trade, laying the foundations for the first credible institution for higher education in photography in this region.
?At the time, there was only a single classroom and even though various well-renowned photographers would come over to conduct the workshops, I was predominantly the lone tutor as they could only stay over a limited time span, before Kirsten Claire, an English photographer joined, enabling us to form a two member faculty,? Alam adds.
Since then, the number of faculty members have gradually increased to 11, out of which, eight are former students of the institute, as it pursues to maintain the goal set from the onset, that was to ensure employment for its students.
?The skill we try to teach is more about how to tell a story and subsequently bring about a change for which we incorporate economics, visual anthropology, statistics, environmental studies along with the study of photography to make our students more adept when dealing with a subject,? says Azizur Rahman Peu, a student of the first batch and now a teacher there.
?Many of the staff photographers of most major newspapers are from Pathshala while many are working in various television stations as well,? adds Peu, also the editor of DrikNews, a news agency emphasising on rural reporting which hires Pathshala students as part of its staff.
?We aim to encourage a global perspective among students with the teachers teaching the significance of keeping informed, through the proper use of the internet and not just camera techniques for instance,? explains Rezaul Karim.
?We aim to produce not just photographers but photo readers with visual literacy. Visual language can be seen as a more communicative form of social interchange which is a vital part of the education provided in the institute,? he adds.
Since its inception, the institute has also seen many an eminent names of the photography world, including Raghu Rai, Reza Deghati, Morten Krogvold, Robert Pledge, to name but a few, dedicating their time to the photographers of the institute, conducting workshops which many of the current students believe is one of the biggest privilege and opportunity provided at Pathshala.
?Once during a workshop of Morten Krogvold, a girl flew all the ways here from Norway to work with the photographer who is a Norwegian himself while we were getting the privilege for free,? says Tanvir, a former student of BUET currently in his third year at Pathshala.
?I never thought that photography could be taken up as a profession while my family also did not approve of it, although that changed a little once I had one of my photographs published on Time.?
?After taking part in the workshops where one has to work on a particular subject for up to a month at a stretch, for example, one of my subjects for a particular workshop was a member of a certain family. I realised that even though it would not guarantee a financially secure job, I could learn more about people in depth through photography, which would certainly not be the case with say engineering,? adds Tanvir, who is currently working for DrikNews, while also contributing to the friendly rapport shared between the teachers and students to the enhancement of education in the institute.
Liton, another third year student of the institute, inspired by the works of Abir Abdullah, a prominent photographer as well as a former student and now a teacher at Pathshala, quit his job at the time as a studio photographer to join the institute. ?In some classes, we had to draw out a subject presented to us,? says Liton.
?Although I was a keen artist as a young boy, I became a bit bemused by that particular task for I had left my job to study photography not drawing.
?However, that exercise all but helped acquire a higher level of concentration which is essential in photography while the tips we receive from foreign photographers have also helped develop a strong thought process,? he adds.
While the three year BA course provided by Pathshala is not UGC approved, it is nonetheless accepted in other world class institutions abroad such as the Sunderland University, Bolton University as well as the Danish School of Journalism, all of whom are long term affiliates of Pathshala, with many students transferring credits to these institutions.
The degree from Pathshala also bears a certain degree of uniqueness, as there are no other notable institutions providing one can parallel it, as a result of which, there aren?t much troubles faced by its students in terms of competition, according to faculty members. The internship opportunities at Drik, Chobi Mela and Drik News also offer students the chance to experience some of the requirements and demands of professional life.
Academic exchange programs with Oslo University College in Norway and the Edith Cowan University in Australia have also given the students of Pathshala the opportunity to work with students of diverse backgrounds.
A merger between Pathshala and the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) as well as the upcoming regional masters programme between universities in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Norway and Pakistani are also symbolic of the large strides made by the institute.
?One of the main reasons behind the formation of Pathshala was to question our educational system which primarily focused on the methods of memorisation and taking a completely different path to that process,? explains Shahidul Alam.
?Most of the current crop of teachers here were students of this institution, leaving its future in good stead, however, we need more investments in order for the institute to achieve a greater level of financial independence as it is still quite reliant on Drik and hopefully through our endeavors, we can actually change the face of the mass media that exists here,? he concludes.
Pathshala, The South Asian Institute of Photography celebrates its 10th anniversary
Elita Karim Star Weekend Magazine Volume 7 Issue 5 February 8 2008 ?D. M. Shibly
Members of the Pathshala family have a lot to celebrate. ?My son had once written an essay in class, where he wrote that his mother is a photographer,? says Munira Morshed Munni, freelance photographer, photo editor at Drik News and teacher at Pathshala. She is also one of the first students of Pathshala, and has been with the school for the last ten years. ?His teacher, upon reading the line, immediately cut it out, assuming it to be a mistake made by the child. Later on, I had to go speak to her and explain that I really am a photographer and also make a living out of it. She was dumbstruck for a while.? You can’t blame the teacher, adds Munni. It is still very difficult for the society to accept this art-form as anything but a hobby, a side interest or a skill that is more or less limited to documenting wedding receptions or capturing nice images. Most people are unaware of the detailed calculations made by the seasoned photographer, of the possible number of angles that can be used for one shot, or the analysis of composition, frame and subject in the blink of an eye. Left to Right ? Saikot Majumder, Sazzad Ibne Syed, Abir Abdullah
Pathshala, The South Asian Institute of Photography, located on Panthapath, has played a pivotal role in the last decade, in changing the social attitude towards photography as a profession. Offering basic and advanced levels courses in this field, the institution also offers diploma and Bachelor equivalent courses to students. Very soon, a Master’s level programme will also begin in collaboration with the University of Liberal Arts. The school is also a part of the upcoming regional Master’s programme between universities in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Norway and Pakistan.
Back in 1998, Pathshala had begun as a part of a three-year World Press Photo educational initiative in 1998. As the name Pathshala symbolises the ancient education system held in the open air, under the shade of a tree, free from the confining walls of a classroom, the institute emphasised on not merely conventional teaching the students. It allowed students to ask questions and develop their own style and perspective. The school was designed in a way that leads students to experience knowledge beyond the confines of the discipline. Dr. Shahidul Alam speaking on the institute’s anniversary ? D. M. Shibly
According to Shahidul Alam, the Principal of the school and MD of Drik, Pathshala strives to do much more than teach photography. ?It is about using the language of images to bring about social change. It is about nurturing minds and encouraging critical thinking. It is about responsible citizenship. In a land where textual literacy is low, it is about reaching out where words have failed. In a society where sleek advertising images construct our sense of values, studying at Pathshala is about challenging cultures of dominance.? Dr. Shahidul Alam speaking on the institute’s anniversary. According to Alam, in the South Asian region, the need for a structured education in photography has always been felt. Since photography plays a significant role in the mainstream media, this need is mostly felt in the field of photojournalism. ?The people’s right to information is generally not recognised by the official media in many countries,? he says. ?This is clearly also true for the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) nations. The lack of sufficient professional skills in the media, especially in the field of photojournalism, has also allowed successive governments to pass on propaganda in place of news, and the people’s role in governance has been totally ignored.? Interestingly enough, most students, who go to this school, are studying subjects like Engineering, Medicine, BBA at other universities to comply with the conventional social mindsets. There are some, however, who end up choosing between passion and tradition, hence letting go of the so-called educational system approved by society. One such student is Azizur Rahman Peu, editor of Drik News, teacher at Pathshala and also one of the first students to have entered the school ten years ago. ?I was studying medicine in Rongpur,?he says, ?when I practically ran away from home to Dhaka. I wanted to be a journalist. Back then, I didn’t know how one would define a journalist. I used to think that a photographer was, obviously, what described a journalist, capturing and documenting moments in history. My love for photography, eventually, led me to start studying here at Pathshala.? Pathshala’s certificate awarding ceremony. Blaming not only the social net, but also the media in Bangladesh, students claim that even inside newsrooms, photographers are not given their worth. A photograph tells a story as well, which should complement the journalist’s written work, rather than act as a side support. ?Newsrooms have news editors,? says Shahidul Alam. ?However, the concept of a photo editor is not seen in newspaper offices here.? According to Alam, it was the Independent in the UK which had practically revolutionised the way photographs were used in newspapers, hence breaking the system. ?Other newspapers like the Guardian had to eventually accept this idea as well.? Pathshala also has regular academic exchanges between Oslo University College in Norway and Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia. It is not really an exchange programme, since students from these countries come to Bangladesh to learn about photography and not the other way around, adds Alam. However, this provides Pathshala students an opportunity to share experiences with students of very different backgrounds. ?The long-term partnerships with Sunderland University, Bolton University and the Danish School of Journalism, offer educational opportunities for students with other world class institutions. The internship opportunities at Drik, Chobi Mela and Drik News offer on-the-job training that is invaluable in professional life. The regular participation in international festivals and workshops provide a world-view essential to becoming established in the global marketplace. And then there is the acid test. Emerging students are in demand, and ever since Pathshala started, all students who have graduated are gainfully employed. Some are already at the very top of their profession,? says Alam. Celebrating a decade with fireworks. Norman Leslie, the programme director from ECU, says that his students have had the chance to experience life in all its reality and colours through this exchange programme. ?ECU is located in Perth, which is a city extremely isolated even in Australian terms,? says Norman. ?Students from this university, besides having the advantages of international exposure through this programme, have also created a certain bond between the two cultures which is extremely important when it comes to the art of photography.? Even though passionate about art and photography from an early age, Shahidul Alam had decided to take up photography as a profession by accident. Back in the 80s, Alam was doing his PhD in Chemistry in the United Kingdom. As was the norm and still is in the society, studying a proper subject define the integrity and depth of being a true man. ?And that is what my parents believed as well,? says Alam. ?I did not have much money and would work to pay my tuitions.? One of his close friends got into the airlines business and asked him to fly to the United States with him. ?A poor student like me would never get this opportunity ever again and so I decided to go. My friend in the UK asked me to bring him back a camera since cameras were cheaper in the US.? Alam got a full set complete with a tripod and lens and got back to the UK, only to find that his friend did not have the money to pay him back. ?And I was stuck with it!? laughs Alam. Pathshala recently entered its tenth year. Celebrating the school’s anniversary, a three day festival was organised where both the old and the new students presented their works, amidst other festivities. Pathshala’s certificate awarding ceremony ? D. M. Shibly
A photography exhibition titled ?Studying Life? began marked the beginning of the festival on February 1 at the Drik Gallery. Exhibiting works by some of the most celebrated students of the school, this event was inaugurated by Atiqul Huque Chowdhury and Dr. Shahidul Alam. The exhibition, which will continue up to February 15, features thirty six photographers, including Munem Wasif, Abir Abdullah, GMB Akash, Tanvir Ahmed and many more. On February 2, certificates were distributed to the students who had finished their respective courses, starting from the basic to the undergraduate level. ?We had a full-fledged festival, complete with a winter Pitha Utshob,? says Joseph Rozario, the Administrative Manager of Pathshala. ?Students, teachers, along with a few photographers from outside the country had discussions on photography. These photographers also presented some of their unique works. The day ended with a film made by one of our own students,? he says. Celebrating a decade with fireworks ?D. M. Shibly
The last day of the festival, February 3, was an ?absolute blast,? according to Din M Shibly, a Pathshala graduate who now teaches at the school and works for the monthly magazine Ice Today. The highlight of the day was when Prachyanat, the musical theatre group, performed at the school, much to the delight of the students and also a number of guests who had turned up at the celebrations. The notion that photography cannot be a proper career no longer holds true. Many students from Pathshala are working in the media, both local and international. Tanveer Ahmed, student of Pathshala who now works at Drik News, recently had one of his photographs published in the Time magazine as the picture of the year. The photograph shows a grandfather carrying the dead body of his grandchild after being hit by the Sidr cyclone last year. Many other Pathshala students have won international awards. Alam says that young people believe that there is more glamour and less money in this profession. ?It is actually the other way around,? he explains. He plans to work more on visual literacy, hold workshops in schools and develop this field as an academic subject in the educational institutions in Bangladesh. Photography is much more than capturing a mere image. It is what one captures within the image; emotions, environment, thoughts, social perceptions and so on. One simply has to look into a photograph to discover these elements, rather than looking at it. As actor and author Sir Dirk Bogarde had put, ?The camera can photograph thought.?