Chobi Mela VII: Dhaka revisited

Le Journal de la Photographie

by Pablo Bartholomew
More photos at Le Journal De La Photographie

Med_pablo-bartholomew-shahidul-alam-jpgPablo Bartholomew ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
What is about Chobi Mela that makes it special and important?
So what makes me come back to Chobi Mela, this pioneering festival for photography in Asia? It is the question that I ask myself, now that I am here in Dhaka setting up both my father?s and my exhibitions. Obviously it is the opportunity to show the works and be part of discussions that may provide and lead up to good dialogues and debates. But the fact that the last time I was here was such an important reference point is something that I would like to share.
6 years ago was last the time I was here, as part of Chobimela IV. There was this one particular evening during the on-going sessions, I was to present my work and discuss it. That evening the line up of the speakers was great and the quality of the presentations that unfolded and the dialogues emerged, made it a special magical event. It super charged many of us, stimulating us with an adrenalin rush and I remember not being able to sleep for hours that night.
At a personal level that evening was an important marker that has embedded itself into my memory. After my standard presentation, which was about the length and breadth of my photojournalist career, a Q&A session followed. When asked what I was doing currently, I picked up my computer started to project pictures from my archive of my pre-photojournalism days. Randomly picking folders and running through un-sequenced images. This archive of over 15000 images was from the period of my teenage to mid twenties and there was something about being unprepared and showing raw uncorrected black and white scans which had dust and scratch marks which made it a cathartic experience. For the first time I was able to share with an audience, work that I had only been quietly editing. Still trying to figure out what I would make of it.
Since then, I have gone on to intensely work with the archive, editing and creating different bodies of work. The first show was titled “70s & 80s, Outside in ? A Tale of 3 cities” at Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2007 and since then it has travelled to over 10 destinations across India and the world. At the same time I started to work on my father?s photography archive. I had already been involved with his archive of writings on Indian art for the past decade. So the family archive became the seminal repository to work with from which I have created two other bodies of work “Bombay ? Chronicles of a Past Life?? and the more recent one ?Calcutta Diaries?. From my father?s archive I have recently published his writings on the birth of Modern Indian Art called ?Richard Bartholomew ? The Art Critic? and prior to that was his photography book and exhibition ?A Critics Eye?.
So the circle is completing with me coming back to Chobi Mela where I am showing both my father and my work in the same gallery space at Drik House and I am very curious to see how the Bangladeshi audience will react to our photographs as there are so many shared cultural and social nuances between our countries with a common and shared past.
Pablo Bartholomew?
January 22nd 2013, Dhaka
Chobi Mela – International Festival of Photography
January 25 to February 7, 2013
House 58, Road 15A (New),
Dhanmondi, Dhaka 1209

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”