?It?s fun! It?s specular! And it?s wonderfully different!?

The traditional Chobi Mela rally at the start of each festival

There?s only few days left before the beginning of Chobi Mela VII and there are  still a thousand things to be done and we are awaiting many guests from all over the world. So tell me, how is this Chobi Mela different from previous editions of the festvial? What is special this time round?
Firstly, it?s actually an extension of previous ones, What we?ve always done in Chobi Mela is to ensure that it?s a very inclusive festival, there are people from all the continents, there is a very diverse range of work in terms of photographic practices, but also in terms of the ideas behind it. Of course we have some artists who are here for very first time, I mean Graciela Iturbide will be here for the first time, Max Pam will be here for the first time, we are not sure yet if Eugene Richards is able to make it, they have very tight schedules but their work is already here. So yes! Very exciting work.
I think it?s also very different in the sense that this time we have a much broader curatorial team, different styles, there?s been a far stronger curatorial input on this festival than there has been previously and of course new venues even within Shilpakala (National Art Gallery), it allows us to do things in a very different way.
I think it?s also different because there is much much more Bangladeshi involvement in this festival then there?s ever been. So in a sense while Chobi Mela is something we have been doing over so many years, its only now the Bangladeshi public is  waking up? What a fantastic event it is. And I think this will certainly be an event to remember.
Shahidul Dancing in the boat@ Shehab uddin Continue reading “?It?s fun! It?s specular! And it?s wonderfully different!?”

DW on Drik's 23rd anniversary

Original interview on Deutsche Welle website

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???? ????? ??????????? ??? ?????? ???? ????? ???, ??? ?? ???????????? ???? ????? ??? ???? ??? ???? ??????????. ?????? ???? ?? ???????? ???? ????, ???????? ????? ???? ??? ???? ????? ??? ?????, ????? ???? ??????? ???????? ???? ???????? ??? ?????, ??????????????? ?????? ????? ???????????? ???? ???? ?????, ???????, ??????? – ?????? ?????? ????? ?????????? ?????? ??? ?????? ????? ???? ???, ???? ??? ??, ??????????? ??????? ??????? ??????????, ???? ?????? ???? ??? ??? ???? ????? ???, ???? ?????? ????? ??????? ????? ??? ?????? ???? ??? ????? ???????? ?????? ?? (????????)????????? ?????????? ???????”

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??????????, ??????? ?????? ????????? ?????????????? ?????, ??? ?????? ?? ????????? ??? ???? ???????? ??? ??????????? ?????? ????????? ????????? ?????? ?? ????? ??????? ?????? ??? ?????????? ????? ???????? ??????? ??? ??? ????? ??? ????? ???? ?????? ??? ????? ????? ??????? ??????? ??? ???? ???? ????? ???? ????????? ????????? ??????????? ?? ?????? ???? ????, ???????? ??? ????? ???? ??? ???? ???? ?????????? ????????? ??????????????? ???? ?????? ??????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ??? ??? ??? ???? ???? ?????? ??? ???? ??????? ??? ????? ???? ???? ???? ??? ????????????? ?? ?? ?????, ?????? ???? ?????? ?????? ????? ?????? ????????? ?? ????????, ?????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ??????? ???? ?????”

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Picture is worth a thousand words

Show:?The Afia Salam Show
Host:?Afia Salam
Topic:?Picture is worth a thousand words
Description:?While renowned Bangladeshi journalist, Shahidul Alam is not a man of few words, the storytelling he indulges in through his pictures are more powerful than words can be. Founder of DRIK photographic agency, he has traveled the world, and has worked for organizations like the National Geographic. However, it is work where he showcases the development challenges of the marginalized and under represented that have made him the persona of a teacher and an activist.
How do you think you can depict the problems of your area through photographs?
Do you think they will be a better medium than the words at expressing your thoughts?

PopTech 2011 Interview:

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PopTech 2011 Interview: Shahidul Alam on photography for change

Lindsay Borthwick?(?BIO / ??POSTS )??|??Friday, October 21, 2011 UTC
Shahidul Alam walked on stage on Thursday wearing a marigold-colored salwar kameez, a camera over his left shoulder, and a beltpack slung around his hips. There was no mistaking his calling. The Bangladeshi photographer, activist and social entrepreneur has almost single-handedly rebalanced the world of photojournalism, long dominated by Western photographers and their worldview. He has shifted its lens eastward and southward by training legions of photographers in his homeland, creating an award-winning photo agency to sell their work and founding a prestigious international photography festival to showcase their talent. And this fall, he published a book,?My Journey as a Witness, telling the story of Bangladeshi photography as an instrument of social justice. He serves as an ambassador of this movement, in the words of PopTech?s executive director, Andrew Zolli, ?travelling the world leaving new cultures of art makers in his wake.? We sat down with Alam backstage in Camden, Maine.
PopTech: You founded?Drik, a photo agency, and the?Chobi MelaInternational Festival of Photography. Why did you feel it was important for Bangladeshi photographers, as well as their peers, to have these outlets for their work?
Shahidul Alam: Firstly, it was a question of addressing this very distorted perception people have of what I call the ?majority world? countries. Our poverty is a reality, but that is not the only identity that we have. Secondly, I wanted to challenge a very unidirectional form of storytelling that has — to a large extent — been propagated by the West. The richness and diversity of human life gets lost in a very agenda-led information distribution system. So that was the beginning.
We also wanted to celebrate our own culture. It?s not that I am against white, Western photographers producing work in Bangladesh — I think our ideas need to be challenged just as much. It?s the monopoly of dissemination that I was against. So we wanted to create a space for diversity — for both Western work and our own work. That?s where the Chobi Mela festival came in — to facilitate that cultural infusion.
Continue reading “PopTech 2011 Interview:”

My Best Shot

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Guardian 16th October 2011

Photographer Shahidul Alam’s best shot

‘The fisherman told me the river is a destructive animal. It had destroyed his home many times’

The only fish that matters ? Shahidul Alam's shot of ilish fishing on the river Brahmaputra, Bangladesh. Photograph: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
I was working on a story about?the Brahmaputra river, following it from its source in Tibet, through?Arunachal Pradesh and?Assam in India, right the way to the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. I had been doing it for about three and a half years, and a sail boat was the missing element in the story.
In Bangladesh, there were once over 800 species of riverboats, most of which have now disappeared, largely because of the advent of motorboats and changing lifestyles. But during the monsoon, fishermen still go out to catch a particular fish called?ilish, which is a delicacy in Bangladesh. To the connoisseur, it is the ilish of this particular river that is said to be the only type that matters.
I took a fishing boat along the river from Daulatdia, but at first the light was terrible, so I decided to?wait. I stayed with a fisherman in his home, and we went out for three days. On the third day, as sometimes happens during the monsoon, there was this shaft of light that shone through a small gap in the dark cloud formation. A red sail just?happened to be there, and for several minutes became luminescent. It was absolutely a fortunate moment, but I had been waiting for it to happen.
The fisherman told me that, while the river is very much part of his?life, it is also a very destructive animal. His home, which is very close to its bank, has been destroyed many times. That didn’t deter him, though ? the river is his life. He gave me ilish to?take home, and it was as good as I’ve ever had.
We tend to think of the river as a geographical entity. I think it is much more than that: it is something that connects humanity. My picture captures a fading way of life, unique to the Bangladeshi landscape.
Born: Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1955.
Influences: A man you will never have heard of, who I always see in Dhaka. He and his son are scavengers. I’ve seen him do it for years with a quiet dignity that I admire immensely.
High point: There was the time in my life when I had the choice of making an easy living and I was able to resist it.
Low point: The death of my brother when I was 15.
  1. Shahidul Alam: My Journey as a Witness
  2. Wilmotte Gallery at Lichfield Studios,
  3. London
  1. Until 18 November
  2. Details:020-8968?3333
  3. Venue website

FiveBooks Interview

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The Bangladeshi photojournalist tells us about the power of images and offers some striking examples of the photographer as artist, witness or activist

What are your thoughts on the power of images as compared with the power of words?
They complement each other very well. We storytellers use whatever works. Where a picture makes a difference is that it?s much more difficult to block out a photograph, because of its immediacy. You can choose whether you read a body of text or not, or on which of many layers you interact with it, such as just the headline. You may decide how you interpret a photograph, but very rarely is there the option to not absorb it. Something as powerful as photography can be used and abused ? it can push people into war, it can be used as propaganda, and it can create racism.
Let?s start with your own book, My Journey as a Witness, which contains over 100 photographs. How would you describe it?
My book documents the journey of an activist as a photographer. I suppose it?s also a history book ? the photography movement in Bangladesh was immersed in its political struggles. I was on the streets during the protests against?General Ershad?s regime. There was repression and people were killed. When Ershad announced he was stepping down on 5 December 1990, it was a major public victory, because the people had brought down a very powerful general. It was a phenomenal thing to be part of and observe. The experience led to my career in photojournalism.
As a photographer I?m a very late starter. I come from a middle-class home, and most middle-class men in Bangladesh are expected to take on respectable professions. Photography doesn?t fall into that category. I?ve always been a very political animal. I wanted to play a role in working towards social equality, in my country and globally. The media seemed the most sensible place to do that.
Photojournalists in Bangladesh continue to face repression. Your own exhibition,?Crossfire, on extrajudicial killings was banned by the government on the basis that it would create ?anarchy?, and you received death threats. The closure was criticised by Amnesty International and later retracted. Do you believe photojournalists enjoy greater freedoms today than in the past?
I think the level of repression has increased in Bangladesh. It?s ironic, in the sense that we now live in a democracy ? to the extent that there are regular elections.
Your book also contains images of the English aristocracy ? why were they of interest to you as a photographer?
I shot those photographs for an Arts Council project. I felt it was important to take pictures of the English aristocracy. By and large, what I?d read about photography was about European conquests ? how anthropologists, writers and sociologists came to the colonies to index and categorise us, by documenting the width of our cranium, the length of our penis, and all other attributes. ?This is what you are,? we were told. So I thought perhaps I should turn this thing around. The project?s theme was ?work?, and I wanted to photograph people of leisure. Work is seen in terms of activity, but not in terms of the power structures that determine it. I thought it would be interesting to look at the people who decide what work is and how it is regulated, but rarely have to do manual work themselves. It wasn?t an easy project ? the better-off have doors to close on your face. It was difficult to explain what I wanted to do and still be allowed to take the pictures.

Image of Soweto


By Peter Magubane
Your second recommendation is?Soweto by Peter Magubane, who was the first black South African to win a photography award in the country. What makes this book special?
A lot of work about conflict has been undertaken by well-known war photographers. But?Soweto is the work of a black photographer living in the townships reserved for non-whites during apartheid. This book documents his struggle. He had close links with Nelson Mandela and was very involved in the struggle against apartheid. And as he was witnessing it he was also persecuted, and spent a lot of time in jail. Photography was much more dangerous as a black person.
Over a sustained period of time, and with a great deal of honesty and nearness, Magubane produced stunning images ? not just in terms of their action and strength, but also because he showed what was really happening in Soweto by capturing the relationship between blacks and whites. Take, for example, his photograph of a group of naked black men with their hands held up above their heads. Inspections such as these were standard procedure before allowing black workers to enter a mine. The humiliation and degradation of the search was, I suspect, part of the process to dehumanise them. Magubane?s work stands out as being the voice of the people.
Continue reading “FiveBooks Interview”