Countdown to Chobi Mela VI

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Countdown to Chobi Mela VI ? 10 days to?go

Are you dreaming of coming to Chobi Mela VI or wishing you were coming?. A wish is voluntary and you make it consciously and have some power over making it come true.? Dreams on the other hand by definition, involve our unconscious mind. Do we have power over our dreams? Or do they have power over us? Can we make a wish come true ? 10 days to go to find out.

Yes, the countdown has started and taking a closer look at behind the scenes?of the festival?was Channel I, one of the partners of the Chobi Mela festival.

M. Mahbubur Rahman hard at work on the exhibition prints. Photograph Habibul Haque.

M. Mahbubur Rahman meticulously checks colours of prints. Photograph Habibul Haque

Getting ready for the interviews. Photograph Saikat Mojumder

Shahidul Alam, Festival Director on Chobi Mela VI: Our right to dream on for a better majority world. Photograph Mahbub Alam Khan

Abir Abdullah Vice Principal Pathshala South Asian Media Academy. Photograph Saikat Mojumder

This entry was posted in?Chobi Mela,?Chobi Mela VI Partners,?Dreams

Chobi Mela VI Press Conference

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PRESS RELEASE
Chobi Mela VI to Open a Portal to a Restive World of Dreams
?All that we value, that we strive to uphold, all that gives us strength, has been made of dreams?

A peacock mutates from a princely pet to a goddess blurring boundaries between reality and illusion reinventing the Panchatantra (Indian animal fables in prose and verse) for the 21st century. Festival theme photo from the "India Song" exhibition by Karen Knorr UK/Puerto Rico, Courtesy of Tasveer.

Dhaka, Bangladesh. 28 December, 2010😕 The Chobi Mela VI – International Festival of Photography will be held from 21 January to 3 February, 2011 in Dhaka Bangladesh and will present the work of creative artists participating from 30 countries. The festival with its theme ?Dreams? is designed to be a birthplace of ideas, and a crossover meeting point for many artists. It will open a portal to a mystical world of images showcasing new trends in photography and bringing to the fore issues of our troubled world.
The unique festival will be launched on the 21 January, 2011 at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Parallel exhibitions will be held at Alliance Francaise, The Asiatic Gallery of Fine Arts, The British Council, Drik Gallery, The Goethe-Institut and the Lichutala at Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University. In congruence with the exhibitions there will be 8 workshops, 2 portfolio reviews and a week-long discussions, seminars and lectures at Goethe-Institut Auditorium that will initiate debates and discussions on issues central to contemporary photographic practice.

The main attraction on the 22 January at Goethe-Institut will be a video conference with Dr. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor, International Criminal Court.? In this position, his mandate is to select and trigger investigations and prosecutions of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Inaugural ceremony and the evening presentations will also be broadcast ?Live through Internet? at: www.drik.tv.

The first Chobi Mela festival (Dec.1999-January 2000) was launched by Drik and Pathshala South Asian Media Academy to fill the need for a forum for sharing work and ideas, a platform for debate that was missing on this side of the globe. This inaugural festival focused on ?Differences? in the world we live in and in a sense was prophetic. The twin towers disaster followed and buried beneath the rubble the freedoms that the world has since lost. ?In a world ravaged by war, to turn to ?Dreams? after ?Differences?, ?Exclusion?, ?Resistance?, ?Boundaries? and ?Freedom? is to return to what holds us together in the face of all our obstacles, the focus of all our longings. In a vastly unequal world, it is our insistence on justice and our ability to ride the waves, which still keeps us dreaming,? says Shahidul Alam, Festival Director and Managing Director of Drik. ?I dream that Chobi Mela will play a role in re-writing the history of photography, and correcting the extremely Eurocentric version of history that is currently propagated.?
Many bodies of work that went on to become well known were first shown in Chobi Mela. Considered to be the most demographically inclusive photo festival and the resulting pollination has led to many exciting exchanges, and given rise to several new festivals in the region for which Chobi Mela has been the catalyst.
Ensuring the general public?s access is an important part of the festival and admission for the festival is free. Mobile exhibitions on rickshaw vans are now a trademark of the Chobi Mela festivals. The festival provides an opportunity not only to enjoy the outstanding work of national and international photographers but also raises important social issues critical to our existence.
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For more information please contact Chobi Mela Secretariat
House 58, Road 15A (New),?Dhanmondi, Dhaka 1209
Tel +8802 8112954, 9120125, 8123412
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In response to `Smoking gun abused for smokescreen'

By Rahnuma Ahmed

As a New Age columnist, I was thinking of writing about the controversy surrounding the Tibet exhibition (Into Exile. Tibet 1949 ? 2009, November 1-7) for my next column. My dear Maobadi friend, Tarek Chowdhury’s piece, which he was kind enough to forward me, had meanwhile been published in Samakal (`Tibboter odekha chobigulo onek kotha boley,’ November 13). Since some of our political concerns and perspectives are shared, since I benefited from his piece as I did from that of other writers who had trodden the path before me, who have extensively researched and written on China, Tibet and US imperialism, who have carefully built up their arguments and critiques based on a close scrutiny of facts and figures and have thereby helped deepen our understanding of imperialism, I drew on them. Unflinchingly. Unreservedly. Of course, I was careful to credit ideas as I went along (but not all. For instance, although I learned a lot from reading pieces by authors such as Michel Chossudovsky, F. William Engdahl and others, they were not named since I had not directly cited them. For an ex-academic like me, the space constraints of column-writing have been a learning experience).
In `Smoking Gun Abused for Smokescreen‘ (December 13) Tarek assumes that what I wrote in my column (‘China-US politics over exhibiting Tibet. In Dhaka,? November 23) was a `response’ to his Samakal op-ed. But if I had felt obliged to pen a response, surely??I would have written it up as that, and sent it off to Samakal?
I wrote as a columnist, not as Drik’s spokesperson. I have never done thus, because I do not see myself in that role. Neither, I think, do my readers (nor Shahidul Alam, or anyone else at Drik for that matter, but that’s beside the point). Secondly, I do not think my task is to pass judgment (`we don?t see Rahnuma draw any judgement about the SFT?the real ?area of contention? between us’). Not on SFT (Students for a Free Tibet), nor on anything else. That work, I think, is best left to judges. As a writer, I work towards contributing in, and in opening up further, spaces of critical thinking. Hence, I map out fields of debate, I position myself within the debate, often bringing into the discussion issues which have escaped the attention of other writers (in this case, `neat fit,’ Guantanamo, which I will go into later). I constantly seek to clarify why I think and believe what I do, as I do. Readers are intelligent people; in my view, they are both capable of, and also free to, reach their own conclusions which may, or may not, be in agreement with mine. To try and persuade, yes. To argue, yes. To pass judgment, no.
And hence, what I wrote in my column was obviously framed by my concerns (which would not have been the case if I was writing a `response’). After briefly describing what had happened (a visit by Chinese embassy officials, followed by Bangladesh intelligence, eventually a lock-up of Drik’s premises by the police), I wrote about what Tarek had written in his Samakal piece: the SFT, its funding sources, his suspicion about the timing of the exhibition, CIA funding of the Tibet movement through NED (National Endowment for Democracy). I then drew on the work of others who have researched on the SFT/NED/CIA nexus to elaborate on Tarek’s argument, and to offer my readers additional evidence: NED’s Reagan-ite origins, the roles of the (present) Dalai Lama’s brothers in the Tibet resistance movement during the 1950s in which the CIA had been active, had trained guerrilla units etc. etc.
After this, I broached the issue of cultural and political activism, seeking Shahidul’s response: an `opportunity to see rare photos,’ `we have faced pressure before,’ even `progressive institutions’ have wanted us to practise `self-censorship’; this I juxtaposed with Barker’s argument, namely, that progressive activists, both Tibetan and foreign, should first and foremost cast a critical eye over the `antidemocratic’ funders of Tibetan groups, or else, a progressive solution to the Tibetan problem, a `more thoroughgoing democratisation of [Tibetan] social life’ will not be generated. But Shahidul had said that Drik was not above criticism, that it was welcomed, and I expected readers to remember that. For me, the obvious implication of what he’d said was, whether Drik’s decision to co-host the exhibition was right or wrong should be a matter of public debate. It would give Drik the opportunity of critically appraising itself.
As for what I had written, it’s implication was much sharper. If formulated as a question it would stand thus: should Drik, as a progressive institution, have agreed to partner an exhibition with the Bangladeshi chapter of SFT, since the latter (the parent organisation) receives funding from NED, which now does what was covertly done by the CIA 25 years ago, even though the exhibition gives members of the public an opportunity to see a collection of rare photographs? This clearly was a matter for public debate (not a matter of my passing a `judgment’). I was certain that intelligent people/readers would clearly see what I was driving at.
I then returned to Barker’s argument. I wanted to tease it out further, not to minimise the importance of what he had said, but because I think (as probably Barker and many others do too) that there is no `neat fit’ between the different movements for freedom that different activists may, and do, simultaneously support. In other words, there is no `single’ list of freedom movements that will satisfy everyone critical of US imperialism. To illustrate my point, I drew on Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Irish Nobel Peace laureate, who is a strong defender of both the Palestinian, and the Tibetan, cause. I pointed to the recently-launched `Thank You Tibet!’ campaign to which Mairead belongs, which extends support to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet, claiming that they are a “model for all of us.”
In `Smoking Gun,’ Tarek points out that I had failed to mention Maguire’s connection to ICT (she’s a member of the International Campaign for Tibet’s International Counsel of Advisors). Also, that she’s an advisor to the Points of Peace Foundation (a media and human rights foundation located in Norway with “a mandate to support Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in urgent need of media, dialogue and communication assistance in their home countries and internationally”), and the founder of Voice of Tibet radio station (a PPF project aided by NED; the radio station, from what I gather, was founded by three Norwegian NGOs and not Maguire, as Tarek states, but it’s a slight error which is not crucial to our discussion). However, these additional? facts provided by Tarek, only serves to substantiate my point that there is `no neat fit.’ Does Maguire’s support for the Dalai Lama, her ICT membership, and being a PPF advisor weaken her credibility as a progressive activist? Does it imply that she is, let’s say, not genuinely concerned with promoting freedom and democracy in Tibet, or elsewhere, like Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq? Even though Maguire has strongly criticised Israel, “an allegedly democratic country with a sham justice system,” ?and the Bush administration for “increasing nuclearism, ongoing wars, and the ignoring of international treaties and laws in articles published in CounterPunch, USA’s best known left newsletter (which has also published articles critical of “anti-Chinese frenzy in the West, pursued in the guise of pro-Tibetan… human rights activism,” John V. Whitbeck)? (CounterPunch has published articles critical of CIA, US imperialism, too countless to mention).
Maguire’s support for the Dalai Lama, interestingly enough, does not appear to have prevented US immigration officials from detaining and harassing her at Houston airport (May 2009). `They questioned me about my nonviolent protests in USA against the Afghanistan invasion and Iraqi war.’ She added, ‘They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities.’ Detained for two hours, grilled, fingerprinted, photographed, then grilled again, Maguire was released only after the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an organisation she helped found, raised a hue and cry.
There are `strings attached’ to Maguire’s `compassion for Tibet,’ says Tarek. I am not clear what he means by this phrase, and much less so, by this sentence which follows soon after, `True beauty of any actor can only be judged when the audience gets the chance to take a glance at the greenroom’ ? except that it seems to imply that something sinister lies behind Maguire’s activism. If Tarek means that support for the Tibetan cause is per se suspect, then what is one to make of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s recent decision to pull out of a peace conference meeting linked to the 2010 Football World Cup because the South African government had denied Dalai Lama a visa? (Reportedly, as a result of Chinese pressure). Further, what is one to make of Archbishop Tutu’s statement on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, human rights leaders and concerned individuals which tells the Dalai Lama, “we stand with you. You define non-violence and compassion and goodness.” How does one view this? As naivete on the Archbishop’s part, because he does not seem to be aware of the Dalai Lama administration’s acknowledgement (1998) that it had annually received $1.7 million in the 1960’s from the CIA, spent partly on paying for guerrilla operations against the Chinese, a fact which critics say, puts His Holiness’ commitment to non-violence, as being a public face? Or, should we be looking for a `strings attached’ answer? Or do we interpret it to mean that Archbishop Tutu’s opposition to apartheid and/or his subsequent defence of human rights and? commitment to campaigning for the oppressed is not genuine, but a mere rhetorical device? Or, do we re-think some of the issues, while reminding ourselves in the process that premier Chou-en-Lai had lent his support to the Pakistani military dictatorship in 1971 when it had unleashed a genocidal campaign against the people of east Pakistan because it was in communist China’s national interest?
Tarek writes, “Mistakenly she has equated Parenti?s strong criticism of China of ?dazzling 8 percent economic growth rate? (does this apply to pre-1978 period or when HH fled to India?) with the China which ?stood up? in October 1949 under the leadership of Mao and misled her readers grossly by misrepresenting Parenti?s views.”
What I wrote was: “One area of contention [with Tarek] is an old one, centering on whether Tibet is better or worse off, under Chinese communism. As Michael Parenti, severely critical of the Hollywood `Shangri-La’ myth puts it, old Tibet, in reality, was not a Paradise Lost. But if Tibet’s future is to be positioned somewhere within China’s emerging free market paradise?with its deepening gulf between rich and poor, the risk of losing jobs, being beaten and imprisoned if workers try to form unions in corporate dominated “business zones,” the pollution resulting from billions of tons of industrial emissions and untreated human waste dumped into its rivers and lakes?the old Tibet, he says, may start looking better than it actually was.”
Now, if I were to list out the different periods and their characteristics that are packed together in this passage, this is how it would look:
1. Old Tibet/pre-Communism, was not Shangri-la/paradise lost
2? New Tibet=part of Communist China:
(a) earlier/pre free-market paradise
(b) present/emerging free-market paradise: deepening gulf between rich and poor, risk of losing jobs in corporate-owned zones, pollution, untreated human waste
As should be obvious to intelligent people/readers who know that chairman Mao was not an advocate of free market enterprise ? even to in-attentive readers because of? the word `emerging’ ? the sentence incorporates the assumption that the deepening gulf between rich and poor, risk of losing jobs in corporate-owned zones, pollution, untreated human waste etc. etc. — was unbeknownst in the New Tibet which precedes the present pre free-market paradise, in other words, it was unknown in Mao’s China.
Tarek further writes, “To make her public response to my views and questions…” which seems to imply that my `private’ response to his `Tibboter odekha chobigulo..’ (Samakal had published its own slashed-down version) had been very different. But this is how I had responded privately:
2009/11/9 Rahnuma Ahmed (translated to English)

Dear Tarek

Many thanks for writing this article, and for selecting me to be the first reader. My chief comments are:

(a) the issue of China-Tibet-US politics, and its analysis from a geo-strategic perspective, is undoubtedly interesting, and important. But when this perspective is utilised to analyse the politics of culture, it is necessary to be extra-cautious, since our conceptual tools have been developed to analyse geo-strategic politics, on the assumption that it is primary.

(b) I have felt that you view politics and political struggles conspiratorially, this diminishes the significance of your piece, for instance, you seem to view people as conspirators. To push my point further, I have felt that you did not subject the Chinese government/state to the same critical eye as you did the US and Tibet/Dalai Lama.

(c) while it is true that the US and China are opposed forces, that their political systems and ideologies are different etc., I do find their alliance in some areas — and here I am not? talking of trade relations — very interesting. For instance, the recent Uighur/Guantanamo incident. And it is incidents such as these which remind me that it is no longer possible to view China from a 1960s perspective, as a beacon of light amidst darkness. If one sticks to the dichotomy that China is `good’ and the US is `evil’ — one has to turn a blind eye to too many things, I believe this will hinder our attempts to understand the state as a historical phenomenon.

We will/must continue to argue and debate. lal salam/r
And toward the end of my column, I spoke of the Uighur/Guantanamo incident, of how Chinese interrogators had gone to Guantanamo and grilled Uighurs (a Muslim minority from the autonomous region Xinjiang, in western China), how they had been actively assisted by US military personnel to soften them up. But in hindsight, it is my second point, about a conspiratorial view of politics, that now seems almost-prophetic. Even though, I must admit, it doesn’t answer why Tarek has chosen to ignore the long response which I posted on Shahidul’s blog (December 4) in response to? questions and comments on my column `Exhibiting Tibet.’ I had forwarded him the link, he himself had posted two comments after mine. Probably, an acknowledgement would have made writing `Smoking Gun,’ with all its allegations and accusations, difficult.
When Tarek writes, “Personally, I won?t be surprised to see the SFTBD?s Bangladeshi national director (it has quite a corporate style organisational structure), the young devoted lady who ?breathes her time equally between Dharamshala ? and Bangladesh? rewarded soon by some heavyweight promoter for her superb service” (italics mine), his gaze is undoubtedly male. It is directed at male readers, written to incite their curiosity on gendered lines.
May be if Tarek had been less melodramatic, less into `actors,’ `greenrooms,’ `make-up,’ `choreography,’ `media event,’ `orchestrated propaganda,’ `dress rehearsals,’ `TV shows,’ `anchors,’ he would have digressed less. May be if he had steered clear of metaphors that have become associated with an imperial mentalite ? Condoleeza Rice’s declaration, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” ?? he would not have barked up the wrong tree. Maybe, if he had been less `judgment’-al, he could have meaningfully contributed to the debate.
But who knows?
Published in New Age, December 20, 2009

Coping With Life

tanzim teaching 5-DSC03298Practical session under a banyan tree on the banks of the river Mahananda, Chapainawabgonj. ? Reza/Drik

?Kamera tulen?. Elsewhere, one would think a hundred times before pointing a camera. Permission, legality, issues of representation, all came into play. In any Bangladeshi village, getting people out of your lens is the problem. A cluster of heads surround the LCD. Peals of laughter. Old toothless smiles, a little baby held up so she can see. The disappointment of being left out. There might be serious issues to be dealt with, but right now being photographed was all that mattered.

Unicef_Workshop_JamalpurFourteen-year-old Rabeya, a member of our adolescent group, was taking photos in this beautiful location. I want everyone to live in such a beautiful environment. Jamalpur, 2009. ? Fatema Akter Hasi; 14

children on bridge 2-DSC03405Trainees from?Barguna. ? Jeevani Fernando


With every intervention, one has concerns. Entering people?s lives, creating expectations, making friends, all have to deal with the disengagement that follows. It was people you were dealing with. How do you walk out of a life you have changed, perhaps forever? What do you leave behind, how much do you take away? These were difficult questions and we didn?t really have answers. But we?d tried it before, in cities and in villages. The remarkable transformations it had made to some children?s lives made the risk worth taking.

13_Morium_IMG_0196This is Shorifa Begum on her wedding day in Taherpur. She is a bride at eighteen years old. Shorifa did not want to get married. She stopped her education because she could not afford to continue it. Then her mother forced her to get married to a man who agreed to have a cheap wedding ceremony. Chapainawabgonj, 2009. ??Morium Khatun; 16

moin teaching 7-DSC01225Md. Moinuddin training in Jamalpur. ? Aminuzzaman/Drik

There were aesthetic concerns too. In talking of composition, rules of thirds, moments, balance, were we suppressing their spontaneity? Did we impinge upon their way of seeing? Were we erasing their natural ability to tell stories? We needn?t have worried. Sure, they tried things out. Pictures were created with remarkable composition. Balanced frames with well-placed elements formed stylised images that a trained photographer would have been proud of, but we had underestimated their instincts. Our fears of over intrusion were unfounded. The most striking images resulted not from our training, but because they had a voice. They could now tell their own stories and no one was going to get in their way, not even their teachers. The proud, chest-out, stiff at attention pose, that thwarted every photographer looking for something ?natural? was very much part of that expression. The loud coloured d?cor that would embarrass the urban genteel, was shown off with panache. Quirky images of everyday scenes, seen the way only children see, were the nuggets that glittered through our light box.
Unicef_Workshop_BorgunaA group of children play in a local pond by climbing onto the tree and jumping into the water. They don’t go to school as their fathers are rickshaw pullers and do not earn enough to educate them. The parents are also not fully aware of the value of education. Barguna, 2009. ??Mohammad Jashim Uddin; 18
49_Salauddin_IMG_0402This is my uncle Shahidul’s goat. Every evening my uncle plays with the goat by holding up a leafy branch for him to jump up and eat. I watched this and took a photo. I also think that if the goat could become a human, then it might not need to jump like this. Chapainawabgonj, 2009. ? Md. Sala-uddin Ahmed; 16

There were quiet reflective moments too. Their realities, the every day challenges, the matter of factness with which they dealt with hurdles, had an immediacy that would humble a trained professional. Layered between romantic images in fields of Kash, looming clouds over flowing rivers, coiled branches silhouetted against stormy skies, were photographs that talked of strife. People less able who insisted on being able. Children longing to be children. A much too young bride. Another young mother to be, gingerly treading through a treacherous path. Absent are the images they were not allowed to show. That threatened a patriarchal society?s image. Pictures they had been forced to delete. Pictures they had staged, as their reality was being suppressed. To delete, to stage, to deal with censorship. These are things they hadn?t been taught. They were learning on the fly. Dealing with situations as best as they could. They were coping with life. Perhaps the ultimate lesson.
Shahidul Alam
Dhaka

Unicef_Workshop_BorgunaThis woman is removing paddy from the basket after it is boiled. She keeps her feet on a jute bag so that they don’t get burnt. Barguna, 2009. ? Tania Islam Jhuma; 14

viewing monitor 3-DSC03335Nature photographer. ? Reza/Drik

Unicef_Workshop_JamalpurSohel, 12, lives in Nandina and works in Mostafa Bakery making biscuits and other snacks. He helps his family with his daily wages. It amazes me that a young boy like Sohel has to work for a living instead of going to school. I do not want any child to work for a living. We have to create awareness among people about child labour. Jamalpur, 2009. ? Md. Amir Hossain Apon; 14

Unicef_Workshop_BorgunaAmy and Rumi are 11 and 12 years old. They go to the madrasa to learn Arabic every morning. Barguna, 2009. ? Tania Islam Jhuma; 14

20 Years of Drik

Twenty years.

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How does one articulate a history spanning two decades in a few lines? The truth is, you can’t. Which is why we are sharing with you some of our proudest moments in the best way we know how – with images.

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This exhibition is not about the number of years that have passed, but the milestones achieved and the battles won. It is about the new paths we have forged from the unlikely location of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.

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While we try to show cherished snippets of our past, there are others that we have to keep in our memory. The people who have helped us, the mistakes we made, the things we had to believe in with all our heart – these things are more challenging to visualise, but just as important.

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Drik was set up to be a platform for voices from the majority world, and on this special occasion, we are proud to introduce the first in the Golam Kasem Daddy Lecture Series.

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Twenty years.


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For some, it could seem like an eternity. For us, this is just the beginning.

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Charge Of The Light Brigade

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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 19, Dated May 16, 2009
CULTURE & SOCIETY ?
photo essay

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)

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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 Internationalist in 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

Image take-over

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.

Sources: Corbis-Corporate Fact Sheet, BAPLA, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Photo District News, StockPhotoTalk.

Belongings: felt, presented, challenged
Images from Bangladesh, Iran, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
A true Pathshala
The story of an extraordinary school, told by Sameera Huque and Shahidul Alam.
Lifecycle: with a few exits
Images from Nepal and Bangladesh.
Coping with pain
Images from India and Bangladesh.
Lifestyles: disappearing and aspired
Images from Bangladesh and Japan.
Action on Majority World photography
Contacts and websites for agencies that hold or promote Majority World photography.