Written by Louis Werner Photographed by Shahidul Alam / DRIK
Split not quite in half by the border between India to the west and Bangladesh to the east, crowning the Bay of Bengal, the world?s most complex river delta works like South Asia?s showerhead?one the size of Lebanon or Connecticut. Fed by Himalayan snowmelt and monsoon runoff, carrying a billion tons a year of Asian landmass suspended as sediment, the three great flows of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna rivers all end in one vast estuarial tangle, one of Earth?s great water filters, the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. Continue reading “Forest of Tides: The Sundarbans”
The dot matrix Olivetti printer was noisy. The XT computer came without a hard drive: two floppy disks uploaded the operating system. When the electricity went (as it often did), we had to reload it. Our bathroom doubled as our darkroom. A clunky metal cabinet housed our prints, slides, negatives and files. Anisur Rahman and Abu Naser Siddique were our printers; I was photographer, manager, copy editor and part-time janitor. Cheryle Yin-Lo, an Australian who had read about us in a magazine, joined as our librarian. We offered and she happily accepted a local salary.
My partner Rahnuma Ahmed often got roped in when we were short-staffed, which was often. That was 25 years ago. Little experience and zero cash rarely got in the way: we started publishing from day one. Postcards, bookmarks (often using offcuts from the press) and even a company calendar were produced by friendly printers who printed on credit. Residents of Bangladesh?s capital, Dhaka, used to seeing flowers, pretty women, mosques and waterfalls, suddenly woke up to social messages in black and white on their wall calendars. It worked, and we were able to sell them door-to-door and pay back the printers ? until there was a flood and half our stock got inundated. Tired of being pitied for our poverty, and do-gooder attempts to ?save? us, we had decided to become our own storytellers. And did we have stories to tell! Our agency Drik, grew, and we picked up many loyal friends and several powerful enemies along the way. Knowing we had to compete with better-resourced entities in the West, we set up the nation?s first email network using Fidonet. Banglarights, our human rights portal, annoyed the government; our telephone lines were switched off for 30 months. Mainstream galleries turned down exhibitions which were shamelessly political and often critical of the establishment, so we built our own. The government sent riot police to close down our shows on several occasions. Being stabbed in the street, arrested, and generally persecuted became some of the more troubling after-effects of our activism, but a nationwide campaign to reopen our gallery, and a court ruling in our favour, convinced us that the person on the street was on our side. That was all the ammunition we needed.
Along the way, we had set up a photo school, Pathshala, now recognized as being among the finest in the world. We also set up a photo festival, Chobi Mela. Again, a highlight of the Asian cultural calendar. Geed up by what we?d achieved in Bangladesh, we set our sights on challenging the global world order. Majority World was born, a platform for local photographers from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East with their own stories to tell. Activism didn?t pay the bills though and competing in the market place, often with professionals we ourselves had trained, required us to remain cutting edge. Clients cared less for ?good intentions? than they did for good delivery and value for money. It was comforting therefore when a prestigious international client, mentioned in the ?special instruction? section that she wanted the work to be ?As Drik as possible.?
As the organisation grew, we needed better management, stricter controls, increased efficiency and lower costs. This led to a culture shift which didn?t come easily to a group that had grown up like a family and had gotten used to working in a particular way. Our new CEO reminded us, that producing the perfect product was gratifying, but getting it to market on time and within budget, was just as important. Drik today is a role model for the majority world, but a world that is changing. Twenty five years ago, it made sense to start from the ground up. Today we tap into fine professionals we ourselves have groomed, and take them to the international arena. Long term strategy, succession plans and a more global vision are the concerns of the day. It?s a lean, agile and creative organisation run by a younger team, ready for tomorrow.
Drik?s ultimate strength however, has been the people who have rallied around us. This includes the people who work here, but goes way beyond it. People, all across the globe, across all conventional barriers, who have believed in us, and stood by us, in the many difficult moments we?ve shared, through many dark nights and days. We owe our very survival to them. Some we have lost forever. Others have stayed away from the limelight, happy to bask in our success from afar. While they have never wanted or expected anything in return, we shall remain indebted to them. This publication is a tribute to them all. See as slideshare
All credits and supplementary text available in Flickr page
Last time I met my old friend Gowher Rizvi at his office in December 2011, he was very upbeat and optimistic about the ?impending? Teesta water sharing agreement with India. He seemed to have reposed absolute trust in what Manmohan Singh ? a fellow Oxford alumnus ? had promised him in this regard. Although I was still a bit skeptic about the deal, I brushed aside my skepticism momentarily, thinking the Oxford Old Boy camaraderie might have worked to the advantage of Bangladesh. Continue reading “Modi visits Bangladesh, but Teesta is not even in the agenda”
Absolutely stunning: Jess Worth. New Internationalist Magazine (Oxford)
They told me you were quiet. But I felt the rage in your silence. That when you spoke, they rose above themselves. But I felt their fear. That they held you amidst them. But I felt their loneliness. They pointed to the Koroi tree where you would all meet. The banyan tree under which you spoke. Ever so powerfully. They pointed to the mud floor, where you slept. I touched the mat that you had rested upon, and I knew I had found the vessel that must hold your image.
They had tried to erase you, your people, your memory. They had torched your homes and when coercion failed, when you remained defiant, they took you away, in the dead of night.
The leaves burned as the soldiers stood and watched. The same leaves they weave to make your mat. The same leaves I shall burn, to etch your image. Will the burning mat hold your pain? Will the charred leaves hold your anger? Will the image rising from the crisp ashen leaves reignite us? Will you return Kalpana?
For nineteen years I have waited, my unseen sister. For nineteen years they have waited, your warriors. Pahari, Bangali, men, women, young old. Was it what you said? What you stood for? Was it because you could see beyond the land, and language, the shape of one?s eyes and see what it meant to be a citizen of a free nation? For pahari, bangali, bihari, man, woman, hijra, rich, poor, destitute, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, Animist.
You had reminded us that a nation that fought oppression, could not rule by oppressing. That a people that fought for a language, could not triumph by suppressing another?s. That the martyrs who died, so we might be free, did not shed their blood, so we could become tyrants. That we who overcame the bullets and bayonets of soldiers, must never again be ruled through the barrel of a gun.
That Kalpana is what binds us. That is why Kalpana, you are not a pahari, or a woman or a chakma or a buddhist, but each one of us. For there can be no freedom that is built on the pain of the other. No friendship that relies on fear. No peace at the muzzle of a gun.
These Kalpana are your warriors. They have engaged in different ways, at different levels, sometimes with different beliefs. Some have stayed with you from the beginning. Others have drifted. They have not always shared political beliefs. But for you Kalpana, my unseen sister, they fight as one.
The process involved in creating these images are rooted to the everyday realities of the hill people, the paharis. Repeatedly, the interviewees talked of the bareness of Kalpana?s home. That there was no furniture, that Kalpana slept on the floor on a straw mat.
Rather than print on conventional photographic media, we decided we would use material that was part of pahari daily lives. The straw mat became our canvas. The fire that had been used to raze pahari homes, also needed to be represented, so a laser beam was used to burn the straw, etching with flames, the images of rebellion.
It was the politics of this interaction that determined the physicality of the process. The laser beam consisted of a binary pulse. A binary present on our politics. In order to render the image, the image had to be converted in various ways. From RGB to Greyscale to Bitmap, from 16 bit to 8 bit to 1 bit. To keep detail in the skin tone despite the high contrast, the red channel needed to be enhanced. The Resolution and intensity and duration of the laser beam needed to be brought down to levels that resulted in the straw being selectively charred but not burnt to cinders.
A screen ruling that separated charred pixels while maintaining gradation had to be carefully selected. And then, working backwards, a lighting mechanism needed to be found that broke up the image into a discrete grid of light and dark tones, providing the contrast, the segmentation and the gradation, necessary to simulate the entire range of tones one expects in a fine print. This combination of lighting, digital rendering, printing technique and choice of medium, has led to the unique one off prints you see in this exhibition. A tribute to a unique woman that had walked among us.
Travelling through Bangladesh, you soon become aware of the fluidity of nature, its ultimate omnipotence and perfection, and the comparatively contorted predicaments of human aggregation. Continue reading “The Poetics of Space”
“Kemon achen?” Mr. Li from the Chinese embassy greeted me in near perfect Bangla. I had an invitation to the Middle Kingdom, in Chinese, with a gold stamp and an embossed watermark. I felt important as he ushered me in to the spacious embassy building in Gulshan and offered me tea. Normally, I am not a tea drinker, but this elaborate concoction of herbs and berries steeped in water could hardly be refused. It didn’t look anything like tea anyway, and I didn’t want to appear rude. He brought pictures of China, gave me a video and showed me their photographic collection. However, despite all the fanfare, what he steadfastly refused to do was to issue me a multiple entry visa. I had half hoped this official invitation by the Mayor of Beijing, would make my subsequent trip to Tibet easier. Oh well!My first trip to China had been in 1986. The Indian photographer Raghu Rai and I had been asked to judge the Standard Chartered Photography Contest in Hong Kong. The photographs weren’t that great and we’d gone through them quickly. The organisers were embarrassed. Having gotten us, the judges, over for a week, they now needed to entertain us, and arranged for us to see a dolphin show. Raghu and I both felt a side trip to China would be far more interesting. We had taken the train to Guangzhou, and found to our amazement Hindi music wafting down the aisles. Staid-looking Chinese passengers were glued to the train video, listening to “Ichik dana bichik dana, dana’r upar danaaa”. I did have a three-month solo show at the Nikon Gallery in Richmond with that work, but that had been a long time ago, and I was looking forward to Beijing. Continue reading “Flood expert from Bangladesh”
Photos by Abir Abdullah/EPA
NEW DELHI ? Rescuers were searching for survivors on Tuesday after a ferry carrying as many as 200 passengers capsized in Bangladesh, killing at least 24 people with many more feared dead.
Jashim Salam is a Chittagong, Bangladesh-based photographer working for DrikNEWS, an international news photo agency, since 2008. He is also studying photojournalism in The South Asian Media Academy and Institute of Photography. His work focuses on social documentary such as profiles of migrant workers, handicapped people, and climate-change refugees. His work has been published in The Sunday Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Better Photography, CNN, Photojournale, National Geographic online, Reuters, and many others. He is the recipient of many awards including the Jury Special Award in the 6th Humanity Photo Awards.