This is an amazing book because although it is the tale of the most successful Bengali politician of all times, it is one of the simplest stories told. The lack of pretension and straightforwardness of the narrative is humbling.?It is not the ?great leader? who is speaking in this book but the ?ordinary person? who is offering his version of history, both personal and political. One is thankful that he wrote it long before history itself crowded him so overwhelmingly after independence. In that narrow space that he occupied after 1971 this book couldn?t have been written. At so many levels the book introduces the man as never done before, turning the public persona into a real human being. This Mujib is an unknown Bangladeshi who through this book becomes someone we would know very well. Continue reading “The autobiography of an unknown Bangladeshi”
?Isn?t it a thrill to have him here in London? said the woman behind me to a friend as we we all waited, hardly an empty seat in the small lecture area of National Geographics?s Regent St first floor, and the next hour or so listening to Shahidul Alam talking, showing pictures and answering questions certainly justified her anticipation.
Probably most of us in the audience had some idea of the incredible transformation Dr Alam has made to the world of photography, not just in his native Bangladesh but worldwide, although so much still remains to be done, but I think all of us found there was even more to him – and his family – than we had been previously aware.
Alam?s mother in particular was a formidable woman; determined to get a university education despite the opposition of her mother-in-law to the education of women, she left home every morning in a burkha ?going to visit friends? and went to study. Armed with her degree she dedicated herself to the education of women, and having found little backing for her project, bought a tent and used it to set up her own school for girls.
Later too we heard that his father had dared to evade the ?invitation? sent to him along with the other leading intellectuals of the country to take tea with the occupying Pakistani generals in 1971 just a few days before the end of the war. It was a story accompanied by a picture by Rashid Talukdar of a severed head in rubble, from the killing fields of Rayerbazar. Altogether more than a thousand teachers, journalists, doctors, lawyers, artists, writers and engineers were massacred. Continue reading “From the Lions Point Of View”
WASHINGTON ? The poet?Allen Ginsberg, who died in 1997, adored life, feared death and craved fame. These obsessions seemed to have kept him, despite his practice of Buddhist meditation, from sitting still for long. He was constantly writing, teaching, traveling, networking, chasing lovers, sampling drugs, pushing political causes and promoting the work of writer friends.
?Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg?: Neal Cassady and Natalie Jackson in San Francisco, in the show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.?More Photos ?
In the early 1950s he began to photograph these friends in casual snapshots, meant to be little more than souvenirs of a shared time and ethos. Years later his picture taking ? often of the same friends, now battered by life or approaching death ? became more formal and artful, as if he were trying to freeze his subjects? faces and energies, and to show off his photographic skills, for the history books.
Nearly 80 pictures, early and late, many with handwritten inscriptions, are on view through Thursday in ?Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg? at theNational Gallery of Art here. Some are familiar; others rarely seen. As arranged by Sarah Greenough, the senior curator in the museum?s department of photographs, they form a continuous narrative. In the space of two small galleries we watch legends take shape, beauties fade, an American era come and go.
Ginsberg began his photographic chronicle of what would become the Beat generation in earnest in 1953, when he was in his late 20s and living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He had known the group?s crucial personalities ??William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso,?Jack Kerouac and their communal muse Neal Cassady ? since his student days at Columbia. He regarded them collectively, himself very much included, as a new literary vanguard. The work they were doing in the early ?50s seemed to confirm his faith. And his early pictures, taken with a secondhand Kodak, project a buoyant confidence.
We see figures who would soon enough become cultural monuments still vital and mercurial. In one much-published picture Kerouac, smoking and brooding, is already a romantic hero, but in another he?s a mugging cut-up on an East Village street ?making a?Dostoyevsky mad-face,? to quote Ginsberg?s caption. Continue reading “Poet With a Kodak and a Restless Eye”
Apni kisher chobi tolen? Just what is it that you?re taking a picture of? It?s a question a photographer is commonly asked. It happens particularly when a lens is pointed at nothing in particular. At least nothing that one considers significant, or photographically meaningful. That a photographer might find joy in capturing the fleeting, the ephemeral and the insignificant is difficult enough to explain. When one photographs ?something? that does not necessarily have a material presence, or is visible in some tangible form, then explaining it becomes more difficult still. I am not even getting into the ?why are you doing it? syndrome. What you are doing, is difficult enough to get across. This is a dilemma in a profession where one is seen as a communicator. Reaching out to an audience is part of what a photographer is generally meant to be doing. In a medium known as the most ubiquitous art form, which prides itself in being the most accessible to the person in the street, part of the exercise is in people being able to ?get it?.
Jean-Philippe PERNOT however, rejects the notion of the photographic truthsayer.? Neither does he attempt to search for the decisive moment. It is ambiguity that he thrives in, the most tangible part of his work being the metaphor. Even while depicting the female nude, he stays away from a classical representation of beauty, rejecting form for energy. Playing with space, bending time. His finished frame is always work in progress. Is his work beautiful? It is the wrong question to be asking. For in this work, one never arrives. These are still images depicting perpetual motion. Slices of time layered as an onion. A silent scream, tethered down anger. A violence that is sometimes quiet, and always disconcerting. For it is not the ?what? of the photograph but the ?why? that leaps out of every frame. A muffled scream that struggles to free itself from its binds. A coiled rage that seeks neither solace nor release, staying forever in a state of flux.
PERNOT walks at the precipe between the still image and cinematic motion, blurring the edges, blending one with the other. His photographs may be painted with light, but the hues in his canvas are from a palette of raw emotions. It is not the content of his frame that moves me, but what his images aspire to that fire my imagination.
The exhibition is open at the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts till the 2nd September. 12pm – 8 pm
House 275/F, Road 16 (new), Dhanmondi. (stone’s throw from Drik)
So much for the post-national, globalised world. Looking through hundreds of photographs from?India,?Pakistan and?Bangladesh, which will go on show at the Whitechapel Gallery in London this month, I find myself unable to follow the curators’ lead. Wisely, they have chosen to group the images thematically, rather than according to nationality; but almost immediately I am looking hungrily for Pakistan (my homeland), largely ignoring India, and pausing longest at pictures of Bangladesh from 1971, the year in which it ceased to be East Pakistan.
It isn’t that I don’t find anything of interest in India or in photographs of it. But of the three nations, India has always been the most visually reproduced; many of the photographs taken there feel over-familiar. This is not the over-familiarity of a scene I’ve personally witnessed or inhabited: it is the compositions or the subject matter or sometimes the photograph itself that I feel I’ve seen time and time again. There is Gandhi stepping out of that train; there are the Mumbai boys leaping into a body of water on a hot day; there is the movie poster in the style of movie posters.
It is something of a surprise to find how intent I am on tracking down pictures of Pakistan. I have spent the greater part of my life there and will be returning shortly, but neither homesickness nor estrangement lie behind my wanting to see more. It is the role of photographs themselves in Pakistan that may serve as explanation. There is still very little appreciation of photo-graphy as an art form, so pictures tend to fall into three categories: private celebrations, news ? and cricket. I have seen countless pictures of weddings, of burning buses, of a fast bowler winding his arm over his shoulder at the end of his run-up. Life’s more quotidian details occur away from the lens, and so feel unacknowledged. Pakistan is a nation tremendously poor at acknowledging what goes on when it comes to individual lives, and bad at acknowledging the sweep of its own history. Great areas of the past and present remain away from the nation’s gaze.
If there is one period in history from which Pakistan most adamantly averts its eyes, it is 1971. That year, Pakistan ceased to be a nation with two wings, and the state of Bangladesh came into being. And so I turn to the Bangladeshi photographers in order to fix my gaze on that blood-soaked epoch. I don’t even realise I’m doing this, at first. I think I’m looking at a man’s head, cast in marble; the sculpture is cheek-down amid a cluster of stones, almost camouflaged by?them. Then I read the caption: “Dismembered head of an intellectual killed 14 December 1971 by local collaborators of Pakistani army. Bangladesh.” It is extraordinarily eerie, and sad. There are other pictures of that period, too. Many, if not all, will probably be familiar to anyone from Bangladesh; none are part?of Pakistan’s consciousness.
Pakistan’s erasure of its own muddled history is the subject of Bani Abidi’s witty series of photographs, The Ghost of Mohammad Bin Qasim. In?the nation’s attempt to create an official history, which focuses on Muslims in the subcontinent (rather than Pakistan’s geographical boundaries), the Arab general Bin Qasim (712 AD) was lauded for being the first Muslim to successfully lead a military campaign in India ? even though he did little to consolidate his position. In Abidi’s photographs, a man in Arab dress is shot at different locations in Karachi, including the mausoleum of?the nation’s secular founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The man is clearly Photoshopped in, deliberately so: he represents the attempt to graft a false history on to Pakistan, linking it to the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia.
While Abidi’s work asks the viewer to engage with history and politics, there are others that draw a more visceral response. Mohammad Arif Ali’s photograph of rain in Lahore captures the size and force of raindrops during the monsoons; the vivid colours at the edge of the frame also evoke how startlingly rinsed of dust the whole world looks. The boy darting out into the downpour, ahead of a line of traffic, his shalwar kameez plastered to his skin, is both lord of the world and a tiny creature, in danger of being crushed. It brings a familiar world vividly to mind. And yet, of course, exactly this scene could be played out ? and photographed ? in Delhi or Dhaka. It is foolish of me to think of it as quintessentially Pakistani. Sometimes these countries are three; sometimes one: the movement between three distinct nations and one?region is impossible to pin down.
Away from the pictures of 1971, the Bangladeshi images are both unfamiliar (Munem Wasif‘s picture of a Burmese worker struggling through bushes in Bangladesh) and familiar: notably, Abir Abdullah’s Women Working in Old Dhaka, which shows two women making chapatis together, though their positioning suggests distance rather than camaraderie. Is their lack of proximity a consequence of class or personality?
I turn back to the pictures of India and am almost immediately struck by Ram Rahman’s Young Wrestlers, Delhi: two boys, each wearing a pair of briefs. It is mystifying that I didn’t notice before how one of them stares assertively at the camera, his muscles relaxed, in the most casual of poses. The other’s eyes are unsure, his muscles tensed, he is trying to suck in his stomach and puff up his chest, and there is a rip, it seems, in his briefs. The boys are touching but it’s clear they aren’t friends ? not at the moment, at least. I worry for the tensed boy. He is going to lose his wrestling match; he is going to lose it badly.
And then there is Anay Mann’s picture of a breastfeeding woman with headphones over her ears: she looks wary, her head angled away from the camera. Is there someone in the room, just out of the camera’s reach? Or has she retreated into her own thoughts? And why is it that children’s toys can add such menace to a picture, as is the case with the yellow smiling object, its head bobbing, at the edge of the image?
I would see this exhibition differently if it were in Karachi. Or Mumbai. Or Dhaka. In London, I am so far removed from these landscapes I’m aware of the photographs’ “otherness”. But there’s also this: any kind of simultaneous engagement between these three nations, with so much in common and so much that sets them apart, is almost unheard of within the subcontinent itself. In Karachi, Dhaka or Mumbai, I would spend a very long time watching people look at these photographs. How we see ourselves; how we see each other ? these two questions would be politically charged where they are not here. Strange that, only 63 years after the Raj, London should seem such a historically neutral venue, comparatively speaking.
The World’s Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time
Sterling. 2008. 335p. ed. by David Elliot Cohen. photogs. index. ISBN 978-1-4027-5834-8. $27.95. POL SCI
PHOTOGRAPHY EXPOSES TRUTHS, advances the public discourse, and demands action. In What Matters, eighteen important stories by today?s preeminent photojournalists and thinkers poignantly address the big issues of our time?global warming, environmental degradation, AIDS, malaria, the global jihad, genocide in
Darfur, the inequitable distribution of global wealth and others. A “What You Can Do” section offers 193 ways to learn more and get involved.
Omer Bartov ? Judith Bruce ? Awa Marie Coll-Seck ? Richard Covington ? Elizabeth C. Economy ? Helen Epstein ? Fawaz A. Gerges ? Peter H. Gleick ? Gary Kamiya ? Paul Knox ? David R. Marples ? Douglas S. Massey ? Bill McKibben ? Samantha Power ? John Prendergast ? Jeffrey D. Sachs ? Juliet B. Schor ?
What Matters?an audacious undertaking by best-selling editor and author David Elliot Cohen?challenges us to consider how socially conscious photography can spark public discourse, spur reform, and shift the way we think. For 150 years, photographs have not only documented human events, but also changed their course?from Jacob Riis?s expos? of brutal New York tenements to Lewis Hine?s child labor investigations to snapshots of torture at Abu Ghraib prison. In this vein, What Matters presents eighteen powerful stories by this generation?s foremost photojournalists. These stories cover essential issues confronting us and our planet: from climate change and environmental degradation to global jihad, AIDS, and genocide in Darfur to the consequences of the Iraq war, oil addiction, and the inequitable distribution of global wealth. The pictures in What Matters are personal and specific, but still convey universal concepts. These images are rendered even more compelling by trenchant commentary. Cohen asked the foremost writers, thinkers, and experts in their fields to elucidate issues raised by the photographs.
Some stories in What Matters will make you cry; others will make you angry; and that is the intent. What Matters is meant to inspire action. And to facilitate that action, the book includes an extensive ?What You Can Do? section??a menu of resources, web links, and effective actions you can take now.
Cohen hopes What Matters will move people to take positive steps??no matter how small??that will help change the world. As he says in his introduction, the contributors? work is so compelling that ?if we show it to you, you will react with outrage and create an uproar.? If, says Cohen, you look at these stories and think, ?What?s the use? The world is irredeemably screwed up,? we should remember that, historically, outraged citizens have gotten results. ?We did actually abolish slavery and child labor in the US; we abolished apartheid in South Africa; we defeated the Nazis; we pulled out of Vietnam. As the saying goes, ?All great social change seems impossible until it is inevitable.? ?
– Michael Zajakowski, Chicago Tribune
A. Newspapers and Online
1. Hard to see, impossible to turn away – Issues and images combine in ‘What Matters,’ a powerful and passionate new book
“Great documentary photojournalism, squeezed out of mainstream newspapers and magazines in an age of shrinking column inches, has had a hard time gaining traction in other venues… But nobody has told the 18 photographers in “What Matters: The World’s Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time.” These are photo essays by some of today’s best photojournalists following the great tradition begun over a hundred years ago with the expos?s of New York tenement life by Jacob Riis. Through the doggedness of these photographers?who are clearly committed to stirring us out of complacency?all the power and passion of the medium is evident in this book… Some of the pieces will break your heart, some will anger you. All will make you think. To channel your thoughts and feelings into action, the book ends with an appendix “What You Can Do,” offering hundreds of ways to be a part of the solution to these problems.”
– Chicago Tribune Book Review, 2 page spread
2. “Must viewing.”
– San Francisco Chronicle, 2 page story
3. Photographs that Can Change the World
“David Elliot Cohen?s new book, What Matters, which hits bookshelves today, is a collection of photo essays that explore 18 distinct social issues that define our time. Shot by the world?s most renowned photojournalists, including James Nachtwey, who has contributed to V.F., the photographs explore topics ranging from genocide and global warming to oil addiction and consumerism, offering a raw view into the problems that plague our world. Each photo essay is accompanied by written commentary from an expert on the issue. Cohen hopes the book will inspire people to work toward resolving these problems. ?Great photojournalism changed the world in the past, and it can do it again,? Cohen says. ?I want people to see these images, get angry, and act on that anger. Compelling images by the world?s best photojournalists is the most persuasive language I have to achieve this.?
4. Book Review: What Matters
“Changing the world might sound like a lofty goal for a photo book, but that?s what the new book, What Matters, The World?s Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of our Time edited by David Elliot Cohen (Sterling Publishing, $28, 2008), hopes to do. Citing the power of socially conscious photographers over the last 150 years, the beautiful collection of 18 photo-essays by some of today?s prominent photojournalists hopes to ?inform pre-election debate and inspire direct action.” Regardless of what side of the political fence you sit on, this collection of heartbreaking and powerful stories and images is guaranteed to get you thinking.”
– Popular Photography
5. What Matters: The World’s Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time.
Those doubting the power of photojournalism to sway opinion and encourage action would do well to spend some time with this book. In 18 stories, each made up of photos by leading photojournalists and elucidated by short essays by public intellectuals and journalists, this book explores environmental devastation, war, disease, and the ravages of both poverty and great wealth. The photos are specific and personal in their subject matter and demonstrate how great photography can illuminate the universal by depicting the specific. Cohen has a goal beyond simply showcasing terrific photography. In his thoughtful introduction, he makes explicit his aim to connect the work compiled here with the great tradition of muckraking photography that helped to change conditions in New York tenements and to end child labor at the turn of the last century. A terrific concluding chapter directs readers to specific actions they can take if they are moved to do so by the book’s images, and it’s hard to imagine the reader who would not be moved. Highly recommended for public libraries and academic libraries supporting journalism and/or photography curricula. (a starred review in Library Journal generally means the book will be acquired by many libraries.)
– Library Journal
6. First of five part series about What Matters
(The first installment drew 500,000 page views)
7. Second part in CNN. Black Dust by Shehzad Noorani