Battuta Was Here

Tughlaqabad Fort is a ruined fort in Delhi, stretching across 6.5 km, built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, the founder of Tughlaq dynasty, of the Delhi Sultanate of India in 1321, which was later abandoned in 1327. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Tughlaqabad Fort is a ruined fort in Delhi, stretching across 6.5 km, built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, the founder of Tughlaq dynasty, of the Delhi Sultanate of India in 1321, which was later abandoned in 1327. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Shams al-Din Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Yusuf al-Lawati al-Tanji Ibn Battuta was more commonly known as Ibne Battuta. Born into a family of Islamic judges in the Moroccan town of Tangier, he developed a thirst for travel after going to Makkah on pilgrimage in 1325 at the age of 21. He travelled extensively, going to Anatolia, East Africa, Central Asia, China, up the Volga, down the Niger, even in the tiny Indian Ocean sultanate of the Maldives. He kept meticulous records of what he saw, what he heard and the people he met. 29 years later, he went back home and wrote about his experiences with the help of Ibn Juzay, a young scholar. He was little known when he died in 1368 as his rihlah was not respected as a scholarly piece of work. Continue reading “Battuta Was Here”

Having the Eye

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Preface to Drik Calendar 2006

It was a stinker of a letter. Written to an organisation I knew little about. I was angered that World Press Photo (WPP) had little to do with the world and was largely about European and North American photography. Though it featured work from all over the globe, the jury, the photographers who entered the contest and the winners were largely white western males. So in my letter I had suggested that they rename themselves Western Press Photography. The phone call was a surprise. We didn’t get too many overseas calls in those days. The managing director of WPP Marloes Krijnen, politely pointed out that they too had written me a letter, still on its way, which was dated prior to my letter, and hence had not been written in response to my tirade. They had just asked me to be a member of the international jury. My letter had also mentioned that I considered WPP to be a very important contest despite its shortcomings, and should the opportunity arise, I would be interested in hosting the show in Bangladesh . This led to the second part of the conversation. While the exhibition is generally booked way in advance, there had been a cancellation, and should we want it, the show could be made available in three weeks.

Having recovered from the initial excitement of being asked to be on the jury of what is considered the pinnacle of press photography, I tried to compose myself and considered the options. I needed time, and asked Marloes whether she could call back in a couple of hours. The exhibition could only be shown in its entirety, and we had faced considerable problems with our own exhibitions. The major galleries were either state-owned or belonged to foreign cultural centres not prepared to question the government, or be controversial in any way. Our work had always been critical of the government and the elite, the donor community, the patriarchal system and of the self appointed protectors of religious and family values. We didn’t know of a single gallery that would guarantee that no censorship would take place, except for our own gallery. There was just one small problem. Our gallery hadn’t yet been built. We had drawn up the architectural plans for it though, and part of the superstructure was in place, but still no gallery. I was stalling.

Rafique Azam was then not the superstar that he is now. This was his first project, and we had wanted to give these young architects a free hand to interpret our ideas. I rang him up and asked him if he could build us a gallery in seventeen days! Rafique didn’t react as badly as one might have expected. He knew I was crazy enough to have meant it and having told me how ridiculous the idea was, settled down and gave me a list of all the things he would need to make it happen. He needed to work round the clock, a fair bit of money, some of it the following morning, and full freedom. There could be no slip ups in the supply chain. It was going to be a race to the finish as it was.

Osman Chowdhury was a client, but it was as a friend that I rang him up. There was no way he could organise the sort of money we needed at such short notice from his company, but he was able to promise a sum that we could get started with. And he could provide it the next morning.

Marloes rang as she had promised, and I said we would be happy to host the exhibition, in our own gallery. There the polite conversation ended. But that was also the beginning of a wonderful relationship between our two organisations, World Press Photo and Drik. A relationship that has blossomed over the years.

It didn’t take long for the news to spread. Mr. Gajentaan, the Dutch ambassador was a friend who had a strong interest in the arts, and had arranged photo exhibitions in his home in the past. Excitedly he rang me and wanted to come straight over. WPP coming to Bangladesh was big news, and he wanted to be part of the action. He was calm enough when we told him about our plans to have it in three weeks and in our own gallery. It was when we told him he was standing inside the gallery that he flipped. There was no gallery. ?Do you realise this is the most prestigious photo exhibition in the world?? he asked. Yes, we knew. And we would have a good show. A much shaken ambassador went back to Gulshan. To be fair, he didn’t call World Press to tell them that the gallery was only being built.

There was more to the story. It was 1993 and the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party were fighting each other in the streets, locked in a bitter battle for power. This we felt, could be a chance to unite these warring factions. We knew there was no chance of getting the two leaders of the parties at the same table, but the deputy leader of the BNP was Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury, a student of my father, and we could probably approach Abdus Samad Azad through a personal friend Kaiser Chowdhury who was then the chief whip of the Awami League. Having been so critical of World Press Photo in my letter to them a week earlier, I was now extolling its virtues to two of the most powerful politicians in the country. Kaiser and my mum did the original groundwork, and I put in a good pitch about how this would demonstrate to the nation that they were forward looking political parties, and how much media coverage the event would have. It worked, and they agreed to jointly open the show. Now I had another tool to play with. While local media didn’t really know much about World Press, the fact that these two sworn enemies were going to open a show together was big news, and we managed to get the media excited. Mahfuz Anam of The Daily Star, the biggest English daily, agreed to do a whole media campaign around the event, and the bits were beginning to fall into place. At the packed press conference on the veranda of my parents’ home (Drik rents the upper floors), we were stalling for time, to let the paint dry in the gallery upstairs!

?rp?d Gerecsey the curator (who later went on to become managing director of WPP) and Bart Nieuwenhuijs, the board member who had come to setup the show, huddled with my colleagues and spoke in agitated whispers. Who was going to bell the cat? Eventually it was Bart who came up to me. They wanted to put in nails on the freshly painted walls! We did put in those nails, and the show was a spectacular success. The two deputy leaders cut the ribbon together, and confessed that they enjoyed sharing a cup of coffee, despite their political differences. The media went gaga. WPP and Drik had together pulled it off.

Since then, the two organisations have continued to work together at many levels. An impromptu seminar for press photographers followed. We arranged for the show to go to Kathmandu and Kolkata. Rabeya Sarkar Rima of the Out of Focus group became the first Asian child jury member. I remember telling Marc Proust when he came to curate yet another WPP exhibition in our gallery, that Nurul Islam, the young man who sold us flowers in Monipuri Para, had also been a former child jury member. We had the WPP retrospective exhibition at the National Museum at the first Chobi Mela, the festival of photography that we launched.

We collaborated on many other things. We started nominating young Asian photographers for the Masterclass, and one year, two photographers from Pathshala, our school of photography, GMB Akash from Bangladesh and Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi from Zimbabwe were amongst the twelve talented photographers in this international pool. Pathshala itself relied heavily on WPP for its existence. With no state or other external funding, it was always going to be difficult to setup and maintain a school of photography in our region. We utilised the first WPP seminar programme to launch the school, and the tutors and the workshops that WPP provided became important anchors for what has now become a degree programme. WPP even provided a grant which was a big help in those early days. Since then we have collaborated on training Asian and African photographers in regional programmes organised in Jakarta and Kenya , and been involved in longer term educational projects in Sri Lanka and Tanzania . I myself worked in the jury another three times, once as chair, and I have spoken at several WPP events.

Interestingly, it was the very issues I had raised in that original letter which the two organisations have worked together to try and solve, and both WPP and Drik are very different organisations today.

It is to celebrate that friendship, on the 50th Anniversary of World Press Photo, that we put together this calendar. The images are by the majority world participants of WPP seminars and their tutors, some of the finest photographers around. It is a protest against the continued use of exclusively white western male photographers to document the majority world that developmental agencies and western media have made their standard practice. It is a direct answer to the superior race argument that they continue to use to justify their actions and to dismiss our work when they say ?they don’t have the eye?.

Shahidul Alam

Tales From A Globalising World: Launch of World Tour

Ten photographers illustrate selected aspects of globalization in Asia, North America, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Their stories express a single subject that can be comprehended only in the light of its constant transformation.
Together they create a whole, which is brought together in the exhibition.

TALES FROM A GLOBALIZING WORLD
is a collective project that draws its strength from its individual authors. By uniting diverse photographic perspectives and styles of expression, it combines various aspects of globalization into an image of the new reality that is shaping the world we live in.
Photographed by
Akinbode Akinbiyi, Ziyo Gafic, Philip Jones Griffiths, Tim Hetherington,
Thomas Kern, Bertien van Manen, Shehzad Noorani, Cristina Nu?ez, Andreas
Seibert and Stephan Vanfleteren.
Conceived, curated and produced by
Daniel Schwartz
The show begins its international tour at Drik?s new gallery in Dhanmondi at 5:00 pm today (22nd September 2005) and will be the inaugural show at this exciting new venue. The exhibition will later go on to Cairo and Rome.
The guest of honour for the exhibition will be Professor Muzaffer Ahmad,
Trustee, Transparency International Bangladesh. Dr. Dora Rapold, the
honourable Ambassador of Switzerland in Bangladesh will be present as
the special guest.
The project is an initiative launched in 2002 by the Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation (SDC)
.

At The Mercy Of The River

http://www.newint.org/issue378/exposure.htm  swapan-nayak.jpg
'We are at the mercy of the river. Sometimes it spares us the agony of
shifting out. Sometimes it doesn't. But almost always it haunts us.'
Zoinuddin is a grizzled 70 years old. He is one of the people who live on
the temporary islands of the River Brahmaputra, which are constantly
flooded. I first met him when I was on an assignment for Outlook magazine. I
came back with enough pictures for my magazine. But I returned to the same
place a year later to photograph independently. It was then that I saw this
sunken boat being pulled out of the water. The immense labour put in by
these people to retrieve the boat struck me as the perfect symbol of their
daily struggle for survival. It was as if through this one picture I had
captured the essence of the lives of the people of the temporary islands of
the Brahmaputra.
Swapan Nayak, India

Imaging Famine and other events

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Born Aid 20. The Commission on Africa. Live 8. Make Poverty History. The G8
Summit in Gleneagles. We are witnessing renewed debate about global poverty,
disasters and development, especially in Africa. Coming two decades after
the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980’s the time is ripe for a
reconsideration of the power and purpose of disaster pictures given the way
the images of the Ethiopian famine spawned the original Band Aid/Live Aid
phenomenon.
http://www.imaging-famine.org/
Imaging Famine is one of several intriguing events I’ll be involved with in
September 2005. The event in New York is not public, so I’ve left out the
details, but I will be there in case anyone wants to meet up.
5th and 6th September: Imaging Famine Conference
The Newsroom. Guardian. London. UK
contact: Dave Clark, Bolton University: dj at djclark.com
http://www.imaging-famine.org/
*8th September: Panel Discussion: Imaging Development*
*Open University Campus, **Milton Keynes**. **UK***
*contact: Helen Yanacopulos, Open University: H.Yanacopulos at open.ac.uk *
*http://www.devstud.org.uk/Conference05/abstracts/PED.htm *
10th September: Symposium, A Critical Evaluation of Photographic
Commissions
Sunderland University. Sunderland. UK
contact: Bas Vroege, Paradox: Ebv at paradox.nl
http://www.theiprn.org/temp/media/pdf/folder.pdf
12th ? 14th September: New York
17th and 19th September: 15th Videobrasil International
Electronic Art Festival
Sesc Pomp?ia, S?o Paulo. Brazil
contact: Luciana Gomide, Video Brasil: *fcfcom at uol.com.br*
www.videobrasil.org.br <http://www.videobrasil.org.br>**
**
22nd September: Launch of Internatioanal Touring Exhibition: Tales From a
Globalising World
Drik Gallery, Dhaka, Bangladesh
contact: Rezaur Rahman, Drik: reza at drik.net
http://www.foto8.com/reviews/V2N3/globalizing.html
24th September: National Geographic’s All Roads Film Festival
Egyptian Theatre: Los Angeles. USA
contact: Alexandra Nicholson, National Geographic: anichols at ngs.org
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/allroads/schedules_la.html
26th September: Presentation: “In Search of the Shade of the Banyan Tree”
UCLA. Los Angeles. USA
contact: Angilee Shah: angshah.asiamedia at gmail.com
29th September: Conference: Free Media
The Norwegian Institute of Journalism
contact: Solberg Oona, MFA: oona.solberg at mfa.no
http://www.ij.no/friemedier.htm
It was Drik’s birthday yesterday! Sweet Sixteen!
Best wishes,
Shahidul
ps: we’ve started a data entry unit and are looking for work. So if you have
any ideas…

Chobi Mela and Bangladeshi photographers excel at National Geographic

You may be forgiven for thinking that the results of the National Geographic All Roads project had been fixed by me. Two out of the four main awardees and two out of the five
honourable mentions were from my list! Those of you who were here for Chobi
Mela III will recognise the work of three of the photographers listed here.
Shehzad was not involved in the festival, but has been a regular contributor
to Drik for many years. Neo spent a year at Pathshala as a Fredskorpset
participant. I am enclosing my introductions to the photographers that I had
submitted to the National Geographic.
 The festival opens at the Egyptian Theater in LA on the 21st September 2005.
Or else you could come to the 2nd part of the festival at the National
Geographic headquarters at Washington D.C. from the 29th September to the 1
st October. There is a morning seminar on the 30th. You will get to meet All
Roads Advisory Board members, photo program awardees, magazine editors,
filmmakers, and artists from around the world.
 The blurb from Geographic:
 Photographer Panel Discussion
*"Camera and Culture: The myth of objective documentation"*
Is documentary photography inherently objectifying? Can comprehensive
documentation be done through non-native eyes? Is there an unspoken
universal morality in documentary work?
 Please join us for a candid and interactive panel discussion exploring
these issues and more at both festival venues. Panelists will include *All**
Roads Photographers Program 2005 Awardees*, world-renowned photographer *
Reza*, and award-winning International Editor & Curator *Shahidul Alam*; the
discussion will be moderated by National Geographic Magazine, Senior Editor
*John Echave*.
Please see below for times at each location:
*L.A.**:*
Saturday September 24, 2-3:15 pm, Egyptian Theater
or
*D.C.:*
Saturday Oct.1, 2-3:15 pm Grosvenor Auditorium
  And now the photographers:
 Neo Ntsoma:
 Neo Ntsoma is a complex person. High strung, energetic, intense,
passionate, laughing, crying, running, leaping, she is in the middle of
everything and everywhere. A spring ready to uncoil. She is also deceptively
perceptive. Having faced racism, in every guise, she has toughened herself
to face life's challenges. But it is her black identity that has emerged as
the soul within her work. She rejoices in her colour and rejoices in colour.
Her search for identity within the black South African youth, is no
nostalgic trip down memory lane, but rather a buoyant leap at the crest of
the wave of youth which captures
the energy, the dynamism, the joy of a youth determined to find its own
expression. It is the raw energy of her work that attracts me.
 Sudharak Olwe:
 Olwe's photographs have a Dickensian construction that reflect the
complexities of the lives he portrays. Fine detail. Frames crammed with
information. Seemingly superfluous data spilling over the rim of the frame.
Photographs charged with an energy that perhaps talk of the people he
portrays. People who eke out everything they can from a life that has had
the nutrients pulled out a long time ago. With visual elements jostling for
space, Olwe's multilayered images reflect the layered hierarchy of a class
and caste system that have permanently relegated those in the bottom of the
rung. A rung is perhaps a deceptive metaphor, as a ladder suggests the
ability to climb. For Olwe's characters, there is no exit. No happy ending.
Tomorrow is no different from today. So the characters themselves, squeeze
every inch out of life. Ironically, in dealing with a life with very limited
options, they live life to the full. Much as the frames of Olwe's
construction.
 Abir Abdullah:
 There are few photographers I have come across who have maintained as high
a level of integrity as Abir Abdullah. I have observed him as a student, as
a fellow photographer, as a colleague, a fellow tutor and a friend. At all
stages, he has been exemplary in the way he has upheld the values that
photojournalists live by.
 A fine photographer, Abir is also a sensitive individual whose work
reflects the attachment he has for his subjects. Though he is currently
employed as a wire photographer, his approach has never been superficial,
and he has relied on his ability to build relationships with his subjects.
 It is this sensitivity, and the respect that he has for people that I feel
comes through in Abir's work, and is eventually the underlying strength of
his photography.
 Shehzad Noorani:
 Noorani's life has shaped much of what he photographs. A child worker who
got caught raiding a neighbour's kitchen for food, is an unlikely candidate
for a successful career in photography. But statistics are very poor at
predicting life as it unfolds. A need to feed the family led to Shehzad
having to ensure that the money kept flowing in. This he did with consummate
ease by being one of those rare photographers who always deliver on time, to
specification and to highly exacting standards. This thorough professional
however, is also a skilled artist, who has combined his human skills with a
wonderful eye that finds things other eyes may have missed. It is the
subaltern that Shehzad has photographed, but not through pitiful eyes, or
some romantic notion of charity, but through a genuine understanding of what
being poor is. His tenacity, his ability to push himself and his unusual
duality between the disciplined professional and the gifted artist, makes
Shehzad special.
 Dear Shahidul:
We would like to thank you for taking the time to send in your nominations
for the 2005 class of the *All** Roads Photographers Program*. On Monday
July 18th four Awardees, and five Honorable Mentions were selected from a
very talented and diverse pool of nominees. As a matter of fact, having five
Honorable mentions is a testimony to the high quality of the photoessays.
The final awardees are: *Marcela Taboado*: Women of Clay (Mexico); *Sudharak
Olwe*: In search of Dignity and justice: the untold story of Mumbai's
conservancy workers* *(India); *Neo Ntsoma* South African Youth ID ? Kwaito
Culture (South Africa); and *Andre Cypriano*: Rocinha, An Orphan Town (
Brazil).
And the honorable mentions are: *Shehzad Noorani:* The Children of Black
Dust ? That child who wants to live (Bangladesh), *Abir Abdullah*: Old Dhaka
(We were born here and will die here?) (Bangladesh) , *Walter
Mesquita:*Viva Favela Project (BrazilMahalla,)
*Rena Effendi:* Faces of Change (Azerbaijan) , *
Gia Chkhatarashvili:* Ushguli, A Village at a Crossroad (Rep. of Georgia)
We were most pleased with the nominations and encourage you to please start
thinking of qualified photographers for next year!
 Warm Regards,
Chris Rainier and Eduardo Abreu
All Roads Photographers Program

Masterpieces To Go

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Another non-terrorist Pakistani story.

Under the shade of a colossal banyan tree, Karachi truck painter Haider Ali, 22, is putting the finishing touches on his latest creation: a side-panel mural of Hercules subduing a lion, rendered in iridescent, undiluted hues of purple, yellow, red and green. His 10-year-old nephew, Fareed Khalid, applies a preparatory undercoat of white paint to the taj, the wooden prow that juts above the truck?s cab like a crown. Like Ali?s father, who first put a brush into his son?s hand at age eight, Haider is carrying on a master-apprentice tradition with Fareed, who spends his afternoons in the painter?s workshop after mornings in school.

Where Elbows Do The Talking

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It was a mixed week. Sandwiched in between the hartals and the ekushey
barefoot walks and the launch disaster, were news items that led to very
different emotions at Drik. Shoeb Faruquee, the photographer from Chittagong, won the 2nd prize in the Contemporary Issues, Singles,
category of the world’s premier photojournalism contest World Press
Photo. The photograph of the mental patient locked by the legs as in a
medieval stock, is a haunting image that is sure to shake the viewer.
However, the stark black and white image tells a story that is far from
black and white. In a nation with limited resources, medical care for
all is far from reality. Expensive western treatment is beyond the reach
of most, and has often been shown to be flawed. Alternative forms of
treatment is the choice of many. The fact that the boy photographed was
said to have been healed, further complicates the reading of this image.
Shoeb is one of many majority world photographers who have attempted to
understand the complexities of their cultures, which rarely offer
simplistic readings.
It was later in the week, that Azizur Rahim Peu, told me that the
affable contributor to Drik, Mufty Munir, had died after a short illness
at the Holy Family Hospital. I would contact Mufty when I was in
trouble, needing to send pictures to Time, Newsweek or some other
publication. We would work into the night at the AFP bureau, utilising
the time difference, to ensure the pictures made it to the picture desk
in the morning. Occasionally, while hanging out at the Press Club
waiting for breaking news, we would dash off together. Mufty
uncomfortably perched on the back of my bicycle and me puffing away
trying to get to the scene in time.
Wire photography is about speed, and their photographers are known for
being pushy, but this shy, quiet, self effacing photographer made his
way to the top through the quality of his images. We had to push him to
have his first show in 1995, which our photography coordinator Gilles
Saussier and I curated. The show at the Alliance was a huge success, but
Mufty was not impressed by the excitement the show had created. He
simply wanted to get on with his work.
He did have problems with authority, or rather, authority had problems
with him. Despite his shyness, he was a straight talking photographer,
who didn’t hesitate to protest when things weren’t right. Not being the
subservient minion the gatekeepers of our media are accustomed to, he
often got into trouble. But the clarity of his protests played an
important role in establishing photographers’ rights. In the abrasive
world of press photography, where elbows do much of the talking, this
gentle talented practitioner will be dearly missed.
Unknown to the rest of us, the brother of Rob, the gardener at Drik,
died in the launch that sank in the storm at the weekend.

Kwaito Culture

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Neo’s work is one of the 40 exhibitions to be seen at the coming festival of photography Chobi Mela III. The festival opens on the 6th
December 2004 in Dhaka. neo-ntsoma.jpg
http://www.newint.org/issue371/exposure.htm
This picture is part of my self-initiated project SA Youth ID – Kwaito Culture, a personal and reflective body of work about the changes in the lives of South Africans in the new democratic country. The word Kwaito is derived from the Afrikaans kwaai – ‘angry’. In colloquial slang, negative words or phrases often acquire a positive connotation or ‘cool’ status. The language of Kwaito is Isicamtho, South African township slang.
While working on the project it became clear to me that the youth of South Africa refuse to be condemned by the politics of the past (apartheid) but choose to find their own identity. They have been developing one which is truly and proudly South African – Kwaito culture. It’s about peace, love and unity; about being yourself and loving yourself enough to be YOU.
I am a 31-year-old female photographer. I did my photography studies in Cape Town and Pretoria. I then freelanced in Mmabatho, my hometown, before moving to Johannesburg. My original interest was in film and television. But I could not pursue my dream because of the political situation in South Africa at the time. In 2000 I joined The Star newspaper. I later spent a year teaching at Pathshala South Institute of Photography in Bangladesh.
I have always been inspired to change the gender imbalance in photography. My recent achievement – the first woman CNN Africa Photographer of the Year – has motivated me to devote my time to this even more, popularizing the profession among other wome and ploughing back the knowledge I have gained by making a difference in the lives of others. I continue to work at The Star, specializing in news, fashion and theatre photography.
Neo Ntsoma
South Africa

World Press Photo In Dhaka: Behind The Scenes

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With hundreds of people seeing the show every day, and excellent media
coverage, it might appear as if the staging of WPP photo in Bangladesh was a
smooth well organised affair. As Marc will testify, the reality was very
different. For those of you who have seen the show at the gallery or online,
this behind the scenes look will provide an amusing take on a potential
disaster.
The crates had arrived at Zia International Airport on the 24th of December
2003, but the journey from Zia to Dhanmondi took considerably longer. The
opening was at 4:00 pm on the 7th January 2004. By 3:30 pm, the crates
hadn’t arrived! We did know they had left the airport, and was able to tell
the Dutch Ambassador that it was safe for him to come over. The head of the
caretaker government, our chief guest, Justice Habibur Rahman was already on
his way. The adrenaline was flowing!