10th year of Pathshala
Video on Pathshala by Brian Palmer. Commissioned by Pullitzer Foundation:
Boli. Goat being sacrificed at Hindu religious ceremony. ? Saikat Mojumder.
Rashid Talukder had been unwell and had excused himself. The other board members Afzal Chowdhury, Mahfuz Anam, Nawazesh Ahmed and I had pored over the crude portfolios. Much of the work was raw, but there was freshness and a vibrancy that touched us all. This new school would take risks. Ideas would be given a chance.
The students have emulated that principal characteristic of Pathshala. Reaching for the impossible has become the norm. Pushing the school and themselves to the limit has been their mode of practice. Dreaming, a way of life.
On the day of the first workshop, with World Press Photo in 1998, a hastily flung white cloth had covered up the bricks being used for the unfinished construction of the computer lab. On its tenth year, the school boasts achievements by students that is the envy of schools worldwide. The early partnerships, with World Press Photo Foundation, The British Council, Panos Institute, The Thomson Foundation and Free Voice (formerly CAF) have all played an important role, but the new liaisons, with the University of Liberal Arts in Bangladesh, and the upcoming regional masters programme between universities in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Norway and Pakistan are paving the way for a school that has matured beyond its years.
The academic exchanges with Oslo University College in Norway and Edith Cowan University in Australia provide Pathshala students an opportunity to share experiences with students of very different backgrounds. The long-term partnerships with Sunderland University, Bolton University and the Danish School of Journalism, offer educational opportunities for students with other world class institutions. The internship opportunities at Drik, Chobi Mela and Drik News offer on-the-job training that is invaluable in professional life. The regular participation in international festivals and workshops provide a world-view essential to becoming established in the global marketplace. And then there is the acid test. Emerging students are in demand, and ever since Pathshala started, all students who have graduated are gainfully employed. Some are already at the very top of their profession.
But the goal of Pathshala is far more than teaching photography. It is about using the language of images to bring about social change. It is about nurturing minds and encouraging critical thinking. It is about responsible citizenship. In a land where textual literacy is low, it is about reaching out where words have failed. In a society where sleek advertising images construct our sense of values, studying at Pathshala is about challenging cultures of dominance.
Curating an exhibition of so diverse a group is always difficult. One wants to be inclusive but selective. Demonstrate trends, but value differences. Nurture new talent, but recognise excellence. Choose favorites but not be partisan. The greater importance given to some artists has as much to do with what needs to be said now as it has to do with the calibre of their work. Pathshala cannot be an academic island untouched by local realities. While recognising the merit of those producing quality work, space has also to be given to voices that need to be heard now. These are images of ‘Now’ being articulated.
A True Pathshala
The word Pathshala, a traditional Sanskrit word for a seat of learning, was generally associated with the shade of mango trees in open fields. There were no walls, no classrooms, no formal structures, but children gathered to listen to wise folk. It was wisdom being shared.
Having decided that the language of images was the tool to use to challenge western hegemony and to address social inequality within the country, Drik had begun to put in place the building blocks to make it happen. The agency was serving people already in the trade, but opportunities for learning had to be created. There wasn?t a single credible organization for higher education in photography in the region. One had to be built. Taking advantage of a World Press Photo seminar on 18th December 1998, the school was setup. A single classroom was all that was available. The visiting tutors Chris Boot (formerly with Magnum, then with Phaidon) and Reza Deghati (National Geographic) conducted the workshops. I continued as a lone tutor. Kirsten Claire an English photographer whom a friend had recommended, came over soon afterwards and stayed for a year. We paid her a local salary, the best we could afford. The two of us formed the faculty.
A stream of tutors, all friends willing to be arm twisted, came at regular intervals. For some we provided air fare and modest accommodation. Some came at their own cost. Some slept on our floor. Some, like Ian Berry, who had come over on an assignment, were simply roped in. The students, most new to the craft, didn?t know they were rubbing shoulders with the greatest names in photography. And it was an impressive list of names. Abbas, David Wells, Daniel Meadows, John Vink, Ian Berry, Ingrid Pollard, Martin Parr, Morten Krogvold, Pablo Bartholomew, Pedro Meyer, Raghu Rai, Reza Deghati, Robert Pledge, Steven Mayes, Tim Hetherington, Trent Parke and many others had spent quality time with Bangladeshi photographers. Some had come even before Pathshala started. Some, like Robert Pledge, Reza Deghati, Abbas, David Wells, Morten Krogvold and Raghu Rai, were repeat visitors. Few demanded payment; none flaunted their superstar stautus, one even made an anonymous donation. They all wanted to be part of a very exciting journey. One or two wanted to be on the faculty to embellish their CVs, but they all gave generously, and this organization has been built on their labour of love.
Lazy at first and unaware of how special the environment was, the students soon became infected by the passion of their marvelous tutors. They studied photography, economics, statistics, environmental studies, visual anthropology. They were in a true Pathshala, studying life. And it showed. Despite the limited resources of the school, we maintained one goal we had set for ourselves at the outset. Every emerging student was gainfully employed. The trend has continued since 1998. They got selected for the prestigious Joop Schwart Masterclass. They won awards like the Mother Jones, World Press, the National Geographic All Roads and a host of other prestigious awards. Time Magazine, Newsweek, New York Times and other leading publications began to hire them, and the reputation spread. Soon students and interns from other countries began to come in. Most were from neighbouring countries, but some from far flung places like Norway, the USA and Australia wanted to join.
The number of regular tutors has grown from the original two to eleven. Eight are former students. The tutor to student ratio remains very high. DrikNews, a news agency which gives emphasis to rural reporting, hires former Pathshala students for its their core staff. The staff photographers and picture editors of most major newspapers in Bangladesh are from Pathshala. Some are also working in television stations and other broadcast media. And Pathshala continues to defy gravity. A school of photography in one of the most economically impoverished nations and with no external support, continues to produce some of the finest emerging photographers.
The school of photography Pathshala, is entering its tenth year. Greetings to all students, teachers and well-wishers who have journeyed with us over the last nine years. An exhibition “Studying Life” featuring the work of Pathshala students and alumni will mark the beginning of our celebrations.
Pioneer playright and theatre person Atiqul Huque Chowdhury will inaugurate the exhibition on 1st February 2008 at 5:00 pm at Drik Gallery.
The exhibition will continue till 15th February 2008 and will be open to all from 3:00 pm till 8:00 pm.
You are invited.
Inauguration date: 1 February 2008
Time: 5:00 pm
Exhibition duration: 1 February – 15 February 2008 (3-8 pm. every day)
Venue: Drik Gallery, House 58, Road 15A (new), Dhanmondi Residential Area, Dhaka.
1 February 2008
5:00 pm, Drik Gallery
Opening of photography exhibition “Studying Life”
2 February 2008
Pathshala Campus (16 Sukrabad, Panthapath)
3:00 pm: Certificate Distribution
3:45 pm: Discussion on Photography
4:30 pm: Portfolio Presentation
5:15 pm: Film Show
3 February 2008
Pathshala Campus (16 Sukrabad, Panthapath)
2:30 pm: Portfolio Presentation
6:30 pm: Songs by Prachyanat
8:30 pm: Dinner
Selected photographs from the exhibition can be seen in the Drik 2008 Calendar:
Submissions are invited for Chobi Mela V. The theme is “Freedom”. The online submission form will be available at www.chobimela.org from the 7th February 2008.
G.M.B.Akash a student from Pathshala’s first batch wins first prize for his photo titled “Passengers without Ticket” in the prestigious Gordon Parks Photography Competition 2007. More work by Akash can be seen at www.majorityworld.com and www.gmb-akash.com.
Other winners include “A woman standing by her paraplegic husband” by Lisa Wiltse (2nd place)
“Touch of protection” by Olivier Asselin (3rd place)
“Loss” by Chris Zuppa (honorable mention)
Mom and me by Kenny Felt (honorable mention)
and “New Citizen” by Jim Gehrz (honorable mention)
More news on the contest available soon from www.gordonparkscenter.org The video of Chobi Mela IV can be seen at: http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1213900621 The video “In Search of the Shade of the Banyan Tree” can be seen at: http://www.brightcove.tv/title.jsp?title=1237905984 Thanks to Oliver and Angilee and UCLA International Institute for uploading the video, Asfia for the Banyan Tree song and to the large number of people who helped in the production of the videos.
Bangladeshi photographers have consistently shone internationally. Yet photography remains neglected by the Bangladeshi government. A bill passed in parliament in 1989, to open a department of photography in “Shilpakala Academy” the academy of fine and performing arts, has yet not been implemented. Even “Charukala Institute” the department of fine arts, lacks a photography course. Yet Dhaka is rapidly becoming one of the major capitals of photography and Chobi Mela, the festival of photography held in Dhaka is one of the major events in the Asian media calendar. It has often been the case that artists have only been recognised in our own soil once they have received international acclaim. Sadly, even outstanding international perfomance in the field of photography, does not appear to have woken up the fossils in the Bangladesh secretariat.
Farish had talked of situations “so full of all qualities of
loveliness and purity, such new regions of high thought and feeling?
that to the dwellers in past days it should seem rather the production
of angels than of men.” Madras Christian Instructor and Missionary
The Baroque music in the forests of Bolivia, did indeed sound like the
production of angels. Cecilia had brought us all over during the “VI
Festival Internacional de teatro Santa Cruz”. The church itself was
quite beautiful. Helmut’s comment, “At least the church did something
good”, rang in my ears. I see this beautiful land, one of the few in
South America where the indigenous people haven’t been largely
decimated. I see extermination of their religion, their language and
struggle to see how it was all dressed as civilization. I see the
ornate walls of the grand church and listen to the untold stories
screaming to be heard.
Thousands of miles away, a young Bangladeshi photographer Munem Wasif,
gives up the ‘respectable professions’ chosen for him and decides to
be a story teller. The third Pathshala alumni to be selected for the
prestigious Joop Swart Masterclass tells an ordinary story. One of his
growing up. But at a time when the only stories told are those told by
the conqueror, it is time the story tellers changed.
Santa Cruz, Bolivia
30th April 2007
I had arrived to this world at just past noon on an overcast, rainy day some seventeen years before the new millennium. Following my birth, my mother moved back to our ancestral home in provincial Comilla. My real growing up was to start there. This move would lay the foundations of the person I would become. Like any other boy of my age, growing up in a small town, everyday carefree life coupled with a complex web of friends and family made up my world. Meandering over wishful thoughts of flying airplanes, riding bikes at will, kicking battered footballs under the incessant rain, and later trying to make excuses to my mother were all an integral part of this time. I grew up with cousins and uncles all around me. This developed a close-knit relationship with my family and deeply instilled in me a feel of collective being. After completing my middle schooling in Comilla, as I was pushed between the honking horns and blinding lights of the capital, Dhaka, I left behind the easy life of small town settings, but something came with me. A sense of belonging to the people, the place, the innocuous values of small town life ? the closeness of it all ? came bundled with the person that was to start a new journey in the city. It was hard. The days of pace and nameless acquaintance was fixated with forgetfulness. Homesick for my mother and sister, the nights were crossed with bouts of restlessness. To make the best out of such a turbulent time, my uncle admitted me to a photography course. While the medium had not appeared in any formal mode before, growing up in a visually explosive country with riots of colors all around, it instantly grabbed my attention. In fact, more so than the formal academics, which experienced a roll of turbulence along this time, as days of frenzied fermentation of variant frames were followed by equally fantastic nights of soul searching within those ?newly discovered? worlds. Sounding as tacky as one might, but seeing everything through a new pair of eyes is how I felt! Even before I had started to look with my own eyes at the unsettling, new environment of the city revolving around me, I was peering down a looking glass that was to be the lens. It gave me a wider, yet probing look, and one may say, meaning, to the lives in trepid spin within and beyond my periphery. The common place humdrum of daily activity suddenly imposed a rather ?larger than life? frame upon me. Call me idealistic but to me life must hold more meaning than just a fat paycheck, the proverbial suburban home, and the prescribed way to the promised, prescribed happy life. To me exploring my dreams ? the ones that were born and not imposed ? and realizing it ? by pushing the very boundaries of reality and imagination ? as far as possible is the path to self-actualization. I often ask myself ? ?do we try to create a mirror world when we take a picture??, ?do we want to see something that might have passed us by otherwise?? Well, I think we do. And I have come to believe that that is the singular, yet important, reason I am drawn to photography. It gives me time and space to a stand, maybe even suspended in motion, to search and delve into myself and my surroundings. Till now, and in the coming frames, I explore the dreams that are yet to be born.
Munim Wasif. Dhaka
PHOTOS and TEXT by SHEHAB UDDIN
Most people find shelters for senior citizens depressing and avoid visiting them. But working on this photo feature at the Pashupati Bridhashram over the past six months, I have been inexplicably uplifted. I forget the stress of living in Kathmandu and my homesickness for my native Bangladesh. I feel fortunate that I have a family, as many of the senior citizens once had. But what gives me hope is that even though they have lost families and possessions, they still care. They care for each other and they retain a deep sense of humanity. The story of how they landed up here is almost always the same: in their old age they became a burden on their families who dumped them at Pashupati. For the elderly, it?s sometimes a relief that they are in such a holy place and don?t have to bear the taunts of a home where they are no longer welcome. None of them came here willingly and no one has anywhere to go. The Pashupati Bridhashram is run by the government so its budget is limited, it is congested, short-staffed and shows signs of mismanagement. There are 230 residents, 140 of them women.
GREETING: ?Namaste, aram?? That is how Sankule Lati, 77, greets strangers with a namaste and a quick tilt to her head.
LAUGHING: Til Kumari Khatri, 71, and Yadongba Tamang, 70, laugh and play like children. Til Kumari has been here since 1998. Her daughter-in-law brought her to the shelter one day and left saying: ?I?ll be back soon.? She never came back.
CHANTING: Every morning and evening residents gather for bhajans. Those who can?t walk to the prayer room chant from their own beds.
BATHING: Dhana Kumari Ranabhat, 99, takes a bath with the help of her husband Dil Bahadhur Ranabhat, 90. The couple is lucky, few here still have their spouses. Dhana Kumari was forced here after her husband died but married Dil Bahadhur, a retired soldier.
CHATTING: Tirtha Maya Thapa, 75 and Man Kumari Thapa, 75, sit and chat. Tirtha Maya was so busy taking care of her parents, she never married. But after they died, her relatives evicted her from her house. Man Kumari?s long lost son came and took her home a few months ago.
EATING: Bishnumaya Lati, 72, takes her evening meal with her two favourite dogs in attendance. She lives here with her husband.
COOKING: Kanchi Khatri cooks food in the shelter. She was the maid servant at the home of an astrologer and when she was no longer able to work nine years ago, her employer brought her here.
PRAYING: Laxmi Thapa, 68, prays to a wall full of pictures of the gods. She doesn?t remember where she was born or her family since she was married very young. Laxmi worked as a domestic all her life. Her alcoholic husband used to beat her up. When she broke her arm, her employer abandoned her so she came here. Now she prays all the time. ?I spent all my life helping others,? she says, ?now there is no one to help me.?
FEEDING: Dipa Thapa, 75, has two pet cats in the shelter. They are her only friends. She used to sell flowers in Pashupati and when her husband died, she came here.
COMBING: Ratna Maya Katiwada, 68, has kept to herself since she came here three years ago. No one knows the whereabouts of her family or where she is from.
RECITING: Shanti Tuladhar recites a poem from her book, Unko Samjhana. She loves poetry and is still writing. Married at 30, her husband was in the army and when he died 12 years ago, she was sent here. Shanti doesn?t like to talk about her son. She reads us her favourite poem:
In my old age
My sons have grown up
Huts have turned into high-rises
They?re adding floors one by one
For me, there is just the pyre left
As the house grew taller
We were pushed lower
Lower than the staircase dark and dank
My son has grown up but what has he done?
I became a burden and he brought me here
My family is foreign forever,
These strangers are family now.
to publish these pictures or others from Drik Picture Library, please contact:
Mr. Md. Abdullah Al – Faruque
Drik Picture Library Ltd.
House # 58
Road # 15A (New)
Dhaka – 1209
Tel: +8802-8112954, 8123412, 9120125
Rest of the World
Mr Rowan Watts
Majority World (UK)
29 Walter Bigg Way
The United Kingdom
Tel: +44 1491 832627
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