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What of the photograph made out of nothing? What about painting with light? Is it photography? Surely if we can paint with light we can paint with dreams, create the morning mist or the afternoon glow. Is it fake? Hardly. Whatever else may be false in this tenuous existence of ours, imagination is not. All that we value, that we strive to uphold, all that gives us strength, has been made of dreams, and we must dream on. If pixels be the vehicle that realises our dreams, be it so.

These words had been written as one of the forewords to the upcoming book and CD by the celebrated Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer. I hadn’t met Pedro then, but we knew of each other and had shared correspondence. I had been somewhat surprised that I was being asked to talk about digital technology. I later discovered it was partly because of my unfamiliarity with the digital medium that Pedro had asked for my take on this new technology. Our friendship grew and we went through the entire gamut of snailmail, telex, fax, email. Later on a visit to Mexico, I the Bangladeshi Luddite introduced Pedro the digital guru, to Skype. In this new landscape ‘the way it used to be’, is no longer a reliable frame of reference, and the boundaries of our zones of comfort are continuously eroded. We helplessly grasp what is fleeting. It is in that ambiguous unsteadiness that our medium triumphs.

Pedro opened one of our festivals, and conducted workshops at Pathshala. We have remained the closest of friends. In between, we’ve changed how the theme of our festival gets selected. After an intense debate of the last day of Chobi Mela V in February 2009, the suggested themes were collected. Later they were put online and more themes invited. There was an online discussion, followed by an online poll. The theme that won by far the most votes was ‘Dreams’.

To be taken back to the theme of dreams nearly two decades later is perhaps no accident. We are essentially storytellers. The transaction from analogue to digital hasn’t changed the fabric of storytelling. Today the tools are different. Our dreams differ of course. From the need of the activist to speak out against unlawful killings, to the artistic aspirations of creating a visual aesthetic, to the conceptual goals of a certain engagement through a particular visual form.

For are not all photographers dreamers? We paint with light, to hold on to the ephemeral. We play with tones to arrest the fluidity of the transient. We play with form to navigate the edges of our borders. We tug and pull fleeting elements in a never-ending search to redefine what we know and discover what we don’t. It is a restless search, for even in the stillness of a timeless image, the soul wanders, looking for new meaning. Old contact sheets, reworked digital files, uncoupled layers and translucent paths, vintage prints, digital composites all blend seamlessly in the curator’s relentless choreography, in a festival of light and darkness.

As dream merchants, we create images that confront us with horrific facts, and allure us with magical metaphors. We seek a society where love songs are cherished and curiosity celebrated. We conjure up a mystical world, through light and shape and dancing pixels. We toy with perceptions and juggle facts. We trade in the currency of dreams, and flirt with an elusive reality. So to turn to dreams after ‘Differences’, ‘Exclusion’, ‘Resistance’, ‘Boundaries’ and ‘Freedom’ is perhaps to return to what holds us together in the face of all our obstacles, the foci of all our longings. To realise our dreams is perhaps the ultimate paradise.

So we invite dreamers and wanderers and the soulful troubadour, to ignite our imagination. To provoke and goad us out of our slumber. To fly in the wings of our wishes, and glide in the sea of hope. To enchant and entice and mesmerise. To take us on flights of fancy, to fling us in the face of the storm, to hurl us into unchartered journeys, to rejoice in the recklessness of passion, to singe in the heat of rage, to float in the weightlessness of love. To dream.

Shahidul Alam
Festival Director
Online submission at: Chobi Mela

Published inBangladeshmediaPhotographySouth AsiaWorld


  1. shahidul
    how interesting I have been working on Dreams for the last couple of years and now i see the theme for Chobi mela is Dreams.
    But I got your newsletter with deadline for submission onlyl today, 5 minutes ago.
    All my photos are ready. But I am snowed under with work, so may not be able to submit till early next week.
    I will try and send something across immediately, just to make the deadline.

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