Liberating the Liberator

They say photography liberated painting from the need to be representational, freeing it of the task to show things as they are. Less than two centuries from the birth of photography, we need to consider whether photography needs to be liberated from itself. What photography excels at, its phenomenal ability to record the visible, is perhaps its Achilles heel. Not for doing it badly, as many practitioners do it phenomenally well, but because of the weight that bears down upon its shoulders. The burden of trust, rather than the erosion of it, lies at the centre of the drama, for drama is what it is. If the world is a stage then the photographer is the scribe, the choreographer, and sometimes the script writer, but rarely the one directing the play.

Bird in stormy sky 1998

Ironically, it is the entity that is blamed for the demise of truthful photography, the digital sleight of hand, which is perhaps the true liberator. What photography did for painting, the computer has done for photography. Not by replacing it, but by removing the mask. Photography, like any other medium, is what its proponent makes it to be. Its fidelity makes it neither more honest nor more ethical. Those attributes continue to reside with the author, both the one with the camera and the other author, the one who sits at the editorial table. The photographer selects the frame, the editor selects the frame within which this inner frame exists. The selection of the image, the cropping, the juxtaposition with text or graphic or advert or headline, the sequencing, the timing and the hierarchy within the news pyramid, makes the photographic image the putty with which the truth is massaged. Its unintended veracity, the very tool, which others in the news-chain exploit with abandon. Continue reading “Liberating the Liberator”

Desperation

The selfie sessions have now become a part of my life. Ever since coming out of Keraniganj, and possibly more, after becoming Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2018, I’m stopped in the streets, in shopping malls, bookstores, roadside cafes, at restaurants and weddings. The most recent spree was at the National Press Club on the 11th, where there was a public hearing of parliamentary candidates who were victims of election fraud. I have no idea who this guy is, but Blitz has again come up with a howler.

Posting on Blitz of selfie taken on 11th January 2018 by unknown person when I was at National Press Club on the 11th, January 2019, where there was a public hearing of parliamentary candidates who were victims of election fraud

They’re getting somewhat desperate in their smear campaign. Not having been able to come up with anything vaguely credible, they are now getting quite ridiculous. First I was a Mossad Agent. Then ISI. Then they tried the Hizbut Tahrir poster. Now I’m a Jamaati! I’d better be careful. I’ve been photographed with the President, and several cabinet ministers. They’ll accuse me of being an Awami Leaguer next. Now that would ruin anybody’s reputation!

 

Speeding Along on Digital Bullock Carts

It was in the early nineties. Having decided we would create a platform for local photographers, it made no sense to set up our agency in the conventional marketplaces of London, Paris or New York. We had to be where the storytellers were, here in Dhaka. But we also needed to be connected with our buyers. International phone lines were difficult to get, and the calls were expensive. Sending photos by courier was clumsy, slow and prohibitively costly. Alternatives needed to be found. The judging of World Press Photo in Amsterdam provided an opportunity to link up with TOOL, an NGO in the Netherlands that specialized in providing appropriate technology in Majority World countries.

Traditional bullock cart race in Bangladesh. Photo: DrikNews

Together we decided to set up a South-South network of like-minded organisations using off-line Email. We assembled our own scanner. We also developed an electronic postbox which allowed us to link up with the Internet. Other providers, Pradeshta and Agni were also trying to get onto the digital highway. Each of us found our own solution, but our off-line email using FidoNet technology became one of the precursors of the digital revolution in Bangladesh. We called it DrikTAP (Drik TOOL Access Point). Continue reading “Speeding Along on Digital Bullock Carts”

If Sophia shed tears

Sophia, UNDP’s first-ever non-human Innovation Champion for Asia and Pacific and Mr Haoliang Xu of China, assistant secretary-general, assistant administrator and director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, at the Responsible Business Forum in Singapore. — Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

THE lack of paper, meatless meals and complete recycling of waste, were refreshingly different, though not everyone appreciated the paperless culture. It’s a while to go before squinting at a small screen becomes the norm. The absence of pop up banners and local branding was also refreshingly more soothing for the eyes. Singapore does have a culture of putting people in a deep freeze. Not having to shudder in ridiculously cold temperatures in this equatorial country, because the air-conditioning was for once, not making things intolerably cold, was a delight in itself. I was still not expecting an event with a low ecological footprint. The ambitious agenda of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands’ first-ever ‘Zero Waste to Landfill’ event promised just that. The Responsible Business Forum hosted by the United Nations Development Programme and Global Initiatives involved over 600 international business, government and NGO leaders inviting them to engage with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in at MBS from 22-24 November 2017. Continue reading “If Sophia shed tears”

Kalpana's Warriors in Delhi

Kalpana's Warriors_Exehibition Opening
Opening of “Kalpana’s Warriors” at Drik Gallery 12 June 2015 on the 19th anniversary of her abduction. Photo: Habibul Haque/Drik

Shahidul Alam has long been gripped by the life of a woman he has never met.

It’s been two decades since Kalpana Chakma was abducted, but Shahidul refuses to forget her. Standing at the threshold of his latest exhibition,Kalpana’s Warriors, the Bangladeshi photographer pauses for a moment.

In the room beyond is the third in a series of photo exhibitions that began with Searching for Kalpana Chakma in 2013, and was followed by 18 in 2014. The woman around whom these pictures revolve is notably absent from them. She was abducted at gunpoint in the early hours of 12 June 1996 from her home in Rangamati in Bangladesh. Her captors were a group of plain-clothed men who were recognised as being from a nearby army camp. Kalpana never returned home and her fate remains unknown.

When the exhibition first opened at the Drik Gallery in Dhaka, many of those who had been photographed could not risk coming out of hiding, yet the room was full of people who knew Kalpana’s story intimately. Some simply stood for a while before the portraits, others wept.
Continue reading “Kalpana's Warriors in Delhi”

As Drik As Possible

The dot matrix Olivetti printer was noisy. The XT computer came without a hard drive: two floppy disks uploaded the operating system. When the electricity went (as it often did), we had to reload it. Our bathroom doubled as our darkroom. A clunky metal cabinet housed our prints, slides, negatives and files. Anisur Rahman and Abu Naser Siddique were our printers; I was photographer, manager, copy editor and part-time janitor. Cheryle Yin-Lo, an Australian who had read about us in a magazine, joined as our librarian. We offered and she happily accepted a local salary. My partner Rahnuma Ahmed often got roped in when we were short-staffed, which was often.

Climate_Migrants
Climate Migrants: “Our people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” Alanis Obomsawin Photo Abir Abdullah from his series on Climate Change.

Continue reading “As Drik As Possible”

As Drik as Possible

Introduction to the Drik 2016 calendar.

A behind the scenes glimpse at a remarkable media phenomenon:

The dot matrix Olivetti printer was noisy. The XT computer came without a hard drive: two floppy disks uploaded the operating system. When the electricity went (as it often did), we had to reload it. Our bathroom doubled as our darkroom. A clunky metal cabinet housed our prints, slides, negatives and files. Md. Anisur Rahman and Abu Naser Siddique were our printers; I was photographer, manager, copy editor and part-time janitor. Cheryle Yin-Lo, an Australian who had read about us in a western magazine, joined as our librarian. We offered and she happily accepted a local salary.

Continue reading “As Drik as Possible”

A Planet Made of Diamond

The 6 Most Mind-Blowing Things Ever Discovered in Space

It’s actually really easy to think of space as boring. The planets in our own solar system all seem to be empty rocks or balls of gas, and you find a whole lot of nothing before you get to the next star. Meanwhile, Hollywood’s most creative minds can’t get past populating the place with planets that look a whole lot like Earth (and specifically, parts of California) featuring monsters, rapey aliens or Muppets.

But real space is far, far stranger. You just have to know where to look to find things like …

Science fiction writers have this annoying thing they do where they can only think of like five different types of planets. You know, there’s the ice planets (like Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back) and the forest planets (like in Avatar), desert planets, lava planets, etc.

But scientists have studied almost 700 real planets outside the solar system, and some of them are downright gaudy. Case in point: PSR J1719-1438 b. Planet Fancy isn’t having any of that rocky gassy stuff. Because it’s straight up made of diamond:

Via?Inewp.com
It’s a wedding gem worthy of Jesus or the Sultan of Dubai.

How Is This Even Possible?

The universe’s biggest showoff actually used to be a star, and sometimes the debris that’s left over after the star dies starts a second career as a planet. In this case, Blingworld started off life as one of two parts of a binary star. The larger twin made like a bomb and supernova-ed. What was left behind was a pulsating star, or pulsar, and a white dwarf. The dwarf stabilized just far enough away from its former brother to lose matter to the bully but to keep its carbon core.

Via?Spaceflightnow.com
What a dick!

Carbon is just a shitload of heat and pressure away from becoming a diamond. On Earth, that happens underground and creates little shiny bits for people to dig up and cram into their jewelry. But in this particular spot in space, the conditions were just right for the entire interior of that former star to harden, crystallize and turn into a planet-sized gem.

Damn it, mankind’s single goal should now be to assemble a mission to tow this bastard back to Earth. There’s one pawn shop owner who’s going to be in for a big fucking surprise.

Photos.com
“Yeah, that’s cute. Get your telescope and come with me.”

#5. A Gigantic Rain Cloud

Here’s another thing you never see in space movies: water. The Millennium Falcon doesn’t have windshield wipers. The Enterprise’s huge display screen doesn’t get fogged up because they flew through a space cloud. If you saw that in a sci-fi movie (with the pilot all “Damn, I can’t see due to all of this space rain!”), you’d laugh your ass off. “Have these people even been to space?”

But, guess what: Scientists have found a big-ass pool of water just floating out there in the cosmos. This massive reservoir of floating space water vapor is in fact the biggest collection of water in the universe that we know of.

Photos.com
With the smallest concentration of child urine.

And when we say “big” we’re not talking Pacific Ocean big. We’re talking 100,000 times larger than the sun big. This is a vapor cloud so large it holds 140 trillion times more water than all of our oceans.

Photos.com
And you know what that means …?space sharks.

How Is This Even Possible?

As with everything else on this list, scientists are doing a lot of shrugging and guesstimating at what we’re actually looking at. After all, the water cloud is 10 billion light-years away, so it’s not like the next generation of astronauts are going to be packing their swimming trunks or anything. But they think that what’s going on is that there’s this massive black hole that’s chomping down on everything around it. Instead of spewing out energy like a normal black hole would, the black hole is excreting water vapor. Somehow. They’re still figuring it out.

Basically, picture the big black spot as a gaping mouth and the ring of water around as drool, and you get the idea:

Via?Universetoday.com
And all like, “Duuuuhhhh,” because black holes are stupid.

Or, if that image is disturbing, pretend the big black hole in the center is a space water park and the gassy ring around it is the universe’s most kickass lazy river.

OK, so you could totally wind up flying your spaceship through a rain cloud. But it’s not like flying through a thunderstorm. After all, there’s no lightning in space. Right?

#4. Lightning!

Wrong!

Scientists have known for a while that lightning isn’t unique to Earth. They’ve observed lightning on Mars and Saturn. What they didn’t know is that lightning could occur in the middle of goddamn space, with a force equal to a trillion lightning bolts, or to use the proper scientific terms, 50 million fucktons of electricity.

Via?Newscientist.com
Yeah, where’s your kite now, Benjamin?

That insane electrical current was discovered near galaxy 3C303. But is this huge electrical current serving as an outlet for God to plug in his blow dryer? No, it’s not doing anything that cool … it’s just firing a massive jet of electrified matter 150,000 light-years into outer space.

OK, so maybe referring to this as a lightning storm was underplaying it a bit. Instead, try imagining a single bolt of lightning 50 percent longer than the entire Milky Way galaxy.


Add a skull and the silhouette of a graveyard and you have yourself an ’80s metal album cover.

How Is This Even Possible?

Like most cool things in space, this electrical current is caused by a black hole, the prima donna of the universe. Astronomers speculate that a giant black hole in the center of 3C303 has an unusually strong magnetic field, which in turn generates a ridiculous amount of electricity.

Photos.com
Which in turn makes a wicked T-shirt design.

In fact, it’s the biggest burst of electrical current ever detected in the universe. Maybe that’s how we were able to pick it up from two billion freaking light-years away.

Sneaking Social Media into the Classroom

In professional circles our school of photography Pathshala is considered to be one of the finest in the world. So it is no surprise that our students are excellent at their craft. However, having been in the profession for over 30 years and having worked in over 60 countries, I know full well that it takes more than photographic skills to become a successful photographer. People skills are essential and having a good online presence is mandatory.

So in the class I take for final year students, I no longer teach photography. There are plenty of other teachers who do that well. I help develop students’ career prospects. We talk about presentation, writing grant applications, negotiating with clients and about having a strong online presence.

While I showed them graphs and statistics about how photographs and videos increase their reach and engagement in social media, I was still having trouble getting them to use social media (SM) effectively. They were active on facebook and did share things amongst one another, but it wasn’t part of a systematic online strategy. Several of the students had done badly in their exams in my last batch, and as a teacher I had to share part of the blame. Then I came across Empire Avenue (EA). The best thing about EA was that it was a game. They might not see the value of having virtual stocks and virtual money, but winning at a game is what many young people enjoy, and the ruse worked.

Empire Avenue leaderboard for stock prices for Bangladesh on 27th July 2014

Empire Avenue leaderboard for stock prices for Bangladesh on 27th July 2014Debashish Chakrabarty (DEBASHISH) quickly made it to number four in the Bangladesh leaders table and several other students made it to the leaders list. By setting up and completing missions, they were expanding their network, promoting themselves and their pet projects, actively engaging online and using the Internet more effectively. Soon all students had set up accounts at the most popular SM sites. They were posting more, running and completing missions, and in general terms much more active online.

A side benefit for me as a tutor was that all their activities were measurable. I could see changes in their SM scores and we could together analyse what worked and what didn’t. Soon they were giving me a run for my money. It also meant that their Klout rating went up. As engagement in the most popular platforms helped both their EA score as well as their Klout score. It was easy to mark their exams as EA did most of the work for me. It also set up a mild competition in the classroom where they tried to outdo each other, encouraged by the changes in their scores based directly upon their online activity.

There was a direct benefit to me too. Not only were they engaging with each other and making new online friends, they were engaging with my content as well! The surprise came yesterday as I saw my own Klout ranking soar from 74.43 to 76.86 in a single day. As it is, I am the second highest ranked Bangladeshi on Klout after the Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, and way above the online rankings of our Prime Minister or the leader of the opposition! But having a Nobel Prize does give you an advantage, and while Professor Yunus is an old friend whom I admire, catching up with him on Klout wasn’t going to be easy. Until now.

The students had an edge. Being photographers, submitting good content on instagramflickr and pinterest was easy. They also quickly realized that if they provided an interesting image to go with their text, it was much more likely to be picked up, discussed and generally engaged with. Those producing video had a further edge. Some were even making their mark as curators.

But I had the most fun. By letting them play a game, in one full swoop, I had transformed my classroom into an immersive teaching environment, and I didn’t even have to mark exam papers afterwards! And while you have students pushing up your score, who needs a Nobel Prize?

Picturing Abortion

by Sarah Ackley

Hipocrite Reader ISSUE 14 | INNOCENCE | MAR 2012

The stunning fetal images by photographer Lennart Nilsson, first published in the April 3, 1965 issue of Life, have become iconic in the anti-abortion movement. According to Life Site News, Nilsson is credited with taking “photographs that the pro-life movement has found priceless: the earliest and most compelling visual images that give intimate detail and clarity to the humanity of unborn children in the womb.” Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, President of Human Life International, an anti-abortion advocacy organization, has said, “Images such as those created by Lennart Nilsson absolutely reaffirm the humanity of unborn persons, which is why they are so unpopular with pro-abortion forces.”

Nilsson certainly wasn’t the first to photograph the fetus. A number of photographs of embryos and fetuses appeared in the July 3, 1950 issue of Life magazine, but Nilsson was thought to be the first to photograph live fetuses in the uterus. The editor’s note of the 1965 issue of Lifereads,

The opening picture in Nilsson’s essay, a live baby inside the womb, is a historic and extraordinary photographic achievement… [A] doctor said, “As far as I know, in utero pictures such as Nilsson’s have never been taken before. When you take living tissue in its living state and view it in its natural surroundings you can see things you can’t see afterward. Being able to view the fetus inside the uterus, and being able to note its circulatory details, is rather sensational from our point of view.”


Continue reading “Picturing Abortion”