Shahidul Alam is a Bangladeshi photojournalist, teacher, and social activist. A TIME “Person of the Year”, he is celebrated for his commitment to using his craft to preserve democracy in his country at all costs. See the project at http://mediastorm.com/clients/2019-icp-infinity-awards-shahidul-alam
Interview with Shahidul Alam by Daniel Boetker-Smith
In one of his first major interviews since the events of late last year, Alam talks to Daniel Boetker-Smith about the upcoming festival, the political power of photography, and the state of the medium in Bangladesh, South Asia and beyond.
DBS: Given recent events that we have all followed closely, how has planning for this Festival been different to previous years?
SA: The last few months have meant that this year’s festival is coming back to its roots. Chobi Mela began as a very small event, and over the past 20 years it grew significantly in stature. But this year, we are activating a diverse range of less formal exhibition venues around Dhaka. This shift is one of necessity, because Chobi Mela is not an organization that everyone in Bangladesh wants to work with at the moment—we are seen as dangerous. A lot of previous supporters and sponsors of the festival are businesses in Dhaka, and right now they are being tested. They know that their decisions are being monitored and that there is high level of government surveillance surrounding the event. Because of this, we have had to be more inventive, finding new ways to show work, utilizing different types of exhibition and event spaces for photographers and audiences. Some public venues and government-owned buildings are no longer available to us, and we are choosing to see this as an opportunity to move away from the traditional ‘white cube’ mode of presentation, to a much more raw and community-oriented festival. Continue reading “There’s Power in Photography: The Undying Resilience of Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival”
As things settled, we decided we would continue doing the things we did. That would become part of our resistance. However, the Bangladeshi Jail Code has restrictions on what a prisoner can send out. In my case, it meant a complete firewall.
Resourceful as ever, Rahnuma and Saydia, managed to get a short list of suggested photographs through to me, and I was able to do an edit. Abir Abdullah and Tanzim Wahab were to co-write the introduction. But we had underestimated the power of our brilliant legal team and the sheer doggedness of the local and global campaigners and I was finally granted bail on 15th November. Even that didn’t lead to my release, and after a lot of drama in and out of court, and tension constantly rising outside the jail gate, the political dam burst, leading to my release on the night of the 20th. As we sang our way out of prison, Rahnuma whispered in my ear “you have an intro to write.” No rest for the wicked. Continue reading “Crossing the Threshold”
By Mahfuz Anam: The Daily Star
Who is this man whose arrest has sparked outrage and condemnation from global bodies and media, including Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN International, SAMDEN (South Asia Media Defenders Network) and publications such as the Guardian, The Washington Post and many South Asian media?
He is one of the most respected photographers in the world. Very few Bangladeshi of his profession has reached his present global stature. His pictures have been published in almost all the global newspapers and magazines in the world. He is among that elite corps of global photographers who is regularly hired by the most renowned global publications to do assignments in various parts of the world. The Guardian (London) while carrying news of his arrest (Aug 6) wrote “his photographs have been published in every major western media outlet, including The New York Times, Time Magazine and National Geographic in a career that has spanned four decades.” Only those in the world of professional photography can really appreciate the honour and prestige of getting published in the media of such renown. Continue reading “Justice for Shahidul Alam”
Awake, deep in the silence of the night
I dread the sound, I?ll hear your bleat tonight
Your tiny toes tied together with twine
Your tiny body weighed down by people fine
Children circling, some in fright, others in glee
Butcher man with knife, crouching on his knee
You?ll struggle in vain, your bleat a garbled cry
Blood will spurt, red floor, no questions why
Is someone there, another goat, a baby even?
Who wants you, regardless of who goes to heaven
What God needs blood, as evidence of love?
What sacrifice in swapping, money for life above?
A shopping spree, celebrations on TV
What?s one goat less or more for you and me?
It is quiet again, a respite from the heat
The sound remains, I?ll forever hear your bleat
12th September 2016
A report on Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, published by the online news portal bdnews24.com, has come to our attention (?Shahidul Alam?s Pathshala operates without affiliation,? bdnews24.com, 6 August 2016). Unsubstantiated allegations, backbiting and innuendo and the absence of cross checking characterise the ?report.? It is a shoddy piece of journalism. Continue reading “PATHSHALA?S RESPONSE TO BDNEWS24.COM?S REPORT”
We chose not to be photographed. His broad smile was somewhat subdued, though the impishness of his chuckle still remained. The big hug didn’t work out. Even in the generous light through the large open window, a frail Kiarostami with tubes wasn’t how we wanted him depicted. He had cancer, and the surgery had gone wrong. My young friend Mansour Kiaei had accompanied me and had only met the great man for the first time. He wanted to photograph the two of us. We declined, saving the moment, for when Abbas would be better, and more the Abbas, as I had known him.
OPINION – 11 MAR 2016?BY DANIEL BAUMANN Frieze.com
How a photography course in Dhaka is challenging religious and artistic prejudices
I just got back from the third Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) in?the Bangladeshi capital. DAS is the?brainchild of Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, a young collector couple based in the city; it?s not a biennial, nor an art fair or a festival, but an?intense four-day summit. For it?s third edition, the Chief Curator of DAS, Mumbai-based Diana Campbell Betancourt, decided not to focus on a particular theme per se but on the South Asia region as a?whole, which in itself is a contradictory concept. (What exactly is South Asia? Is Australia a part of it? Sri Lanka? Iran?) She engaged several curators, including me; I was invited to organize an exhibition for the Samdani Art Award, which is given to a Bangladeshi artist between the ages of 20 and 40. Back in October 2015, I had spent a week in Dhaka meeting the 20 artists who had been shortlisted for this award by Aaron Cezar, director of the London-based Delfina Foundation. From my very first conversation with the artists, I?sensed that?we?were at the beginning of an extremely interesting week.
I learned a lot about Bangladesh ? the local scene, art education, religion and why, for instance, art?works about love do matter. Some artists I met mentioned that their partner was either Hindu or?Muslim and that they could not tell their respective families. As the?week went on, I became increasingly enthusiastic about the obvious sense?of urgency with which all of the nominated artists work: Bangladesh is rapidly changing on all levels, and?these artists are all embracing the challenge to get involved, to have their voices heard and to find appropriate forms of?expression for that.
This seemed particularly true?for many of the photographers on the shortlist. As it turned out, they all came from a single school: Dhaka?s Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Set up in 1998?by the Bangladeshi photographer, writer, curator and activist Shahidul Alam, this private school has been dedicated to documentary photography and reportage from the beginning. Located in the central Dhanmondi/Panthapath area of Dhaka, it is a small institute for about 90 students who follow the three-year professional programme, and for about 600 students enrolled in the short, one-semester course. Initially funded by international organisations, Pathshala now is entirely supported through tuition fees. (Though relatively modest at?US$460 per semester for the professional programme, inevitably, as in Europe or the US, students are?likely to come from more affluent backgrounds, while there are scholarships allowing five students?per year to study for free.) Continue reading “New Developments: How a photography course in Dhaka is challenging religious and artistic prejudices”