A long way to run

It was 18th May 1976. My sister Najma (Apamoni to me) had just given birth to her second child. It was coming up to my final exams at Liverpool University. The hospital in Fazakerley was about ten miles away. I’d used all my holidays and every weekend, working as a labourer at the building sites of Lockwoods Constructions in Preston, St. Helens and Bootle, to save money for my overseas student fees, and for my keep. There had been little extra time to study during term and there was a lot of catching up to do. The bus ride would have taken too long and been much too expensive. I used to live in cheap digs at the Catholic Chaplaincy of the Liverpool University and pedaled out from Brownlow Hill with my Radio Shack bike radio churning out ‘Living Next Door to Alice’ by Smokie on full blast. Apamoni’s firstborn, Mowli, had been born on the 24th March 1971, the eve of the genocide in Bangladesh. The exams and money woes that accompanied Sofi’s birth were insignificant in comparison.

My nieces were my first models. This was probably taken around 1981, when Sofi would have been five.

Continue reading “A long way to run”

Had cadmium ever glowed so red?

I’d pretty much perfected the art. I’d go down to the newest library I could find. Become a member as quickly as I could, and armed with my new membership card head straight to section 770, the magical number for photography at UK public libraries. I would take out the full complement of 8 books that I was allowed at any one time. When the lending period was over, they would be replaced by another eight.
I devoured the books, which were mostly monographs, or ones on technique, composition or even special effects. I knew too little about photography, to know how limited my knowledge was. It was many years later, when my partner Rahnuma, gave me a copy of “The Seventh Man” by John Berger, that a new way of looking at photographs opened up. Unknowingly, it was the book “Ways of Seeing” that later opened another window. One that helped me see the world of storytelling. That was when I realised that image making was only a part of the process. Once youtube arrived on the scene, and the television series with the same name entered our consciousness in such a powerful way, his TV series “Ways of Seeing” became my new staple diet. Here was a leftie who could still speak in a language the average person could understand, and that too on a topic such as art. His fascination was neither about the artist nor the artwork itself, but how we responded to it and how it gained new meaning through our interaction. While it was art he was dissecting, it was popular culture he was framing it within.
That there was so much to read in a photograph, beyond the technicalities of shutter speed, aperture and resolution, is something my years of reading section 770 had never revealed. The photographs of Jean Mohr (The Seventh Man), were unlikely to win awards in contests, or fetch high prices in auctions, but Berger’s insights into the situations and the relationships that the photographs embodied, gave them a value way beyond the mechanics of image formation. Berger never undermined the technical or aesthetic merits of a photograph. He simply found far more interesting things to unearth.

John Berger signing book for Pathshala with Shahidul Alam, at South Bank in London. Photo by Paul Bryers

Continue reading “Had cadmium ever glowed so red?”

Bentleys and Benefits

POSTER1
Photo and design by Yusuf Saib

Bentleys and Benefits is a unique exhibition at Rich Mix capturing the story and social diversity of the East End through the eyes of the young people who live here. The exhibition brings together the outcomes of ‘Demystifying Photography’, a series of photography workshops, by Drik Picture Library, Dhaka in collaboration with Rich Mix and Morpeth School.

Five workshops between October 2014 and June 2015 were conceived to offer the youth of East London an opportunity to work with Shahidul Alam, founder of Drik and world-renowned photographer, writer and activist from Bangladesh, and learn how to use digital technology to capture a memorable image by using key elements of story telling. By exploring emotion and perspective, and studying qualitative shifts between first person and third person narratives, Alam introduces the often-neglected sphere of visual literacy.

The photographers, all sixth form students at Morpeth school, have been working closely with Alam, to develop their own voice through photography; resulting in an intimate, compassionate and inclusive dialogue shaped by their experiences of life in Bethnal Green. The result is a photographic journey through the financial and social landscape of this extraordinary area of London.

Photographers: Arshad Ali, Fahim Ali, Halima Khanom, Mohammad Nahid Zakaria, Mohammad Zackariyya Ullah, Zayn Ali, Yusuf Saib (Morpeth school)
Workshop Leader: Shahidul Alam (Drik)
Text: Mohammad Zackariyya Ullah (Morpeth school), Mary George (Drik)
Flyer Design: Yusuf Saib (Morpeth school)
Logo Design: Yusuf Saib (Morpeth school)
Social Media: Halima Khanom, Mohammad Zackariyya Ullah, Arshad Ali (Morpeth school)
Fundraising: Zayn Ali, Mohammad Nahid Zakaria (Morpeth school), Mary George (Drik)
Coordinators: Matthew Keil and Sam French (Morpeth school), Mary George (Drik)
Project Management: Saiful Islam (Drik)
Prints proudly supported by theprintspace.

Drik logoMorpeth logoRich Mix logoPrint space logo

Defying the Laws of Gravity

Photographers in Bangladesh 1987 -2014

Rich Mix exhibition

It’s an unlikely mix.  The powerful but sage Abir Abdullah,, the protesting activist Taslima Akhter, the quiet and reflective Sarker Protick, the agent provocateur Jannatul Mawa, the deep and other worldly Anisul Hoque, the disturbingly questioning Tushikur Rahman and the visionary Shahidul Alam. Collectively they shape one of the most powerful photographic movements of modern times.

In fifteen years, and with the most rudimentary of equipment, they have taken a hundred square metres of Dhaka as their own and created a vortex of creativity that has shaken the world of photography. The whirlwind around that vortex, fueled by a revolution against injustice, has not only taken on a tired education system steeped in bureaucracy, but also a global and seemingly impenetrable photographic industry hijacked by wealthier nations. They are photo-militants who have learnt to defy the rules of gravity.

The work is remarkable for its range, but is bound by an underlying strand: a belief that the art of photography, cannot, must not, limit itself to the aesthetic alone. The compulsion to address wrong, regardless of the vocabulary of the art, is what holds this wild bunch together. Unlike other schools of thought however, Pathshala has been able to accommodate and thrive on this diversity.   Freed from the need to conform, unencumbered by role models other than in ethics and philosophy, each artist has found a unique signature, where the greater signature of the school only becomes apparent when one steps back to see the bigger picture. Multicoloured bogies in vastly different guises all on the train to justice.

Alam’s “Struggle for Democracy”, produced at a time when the concept of a photo story had not been developed, looks at politics not merely in terms of the physical struggle for power, but also in everyday life. Religion, class, gender and militarization are all addressed in a succinct essay produced and exhibited under oppressive military rule. An open letter to the prime minister, incorporated within a visual narrative, formsa window for other practitioners to peep through.

Abir Abdullah, at that time a young recruit at Drik, looks at the war veterans whom the euphoria of victory had left behind. Classic in its approach, it is the tender humanity of his work and his ability to relate to a dream that had shaped a generation before him, which makes the work stand out.

One could walk past Anisul Hoque without seeing him. Quiet, unassuming, almost invisible, Anis is almost like the bonsais that he grows. His work, influenced by the mother that he lost while young, is similarly diminutive, but detailed and laden with symbolism. He is the ultimate sufi photographer.

Taslima Akhter is inseparable from the labour movements she has singled out as her space. It is only fitting that perhaps one of the most iconic images of the decade, was seen through her lens. One that she was perhaps destined for. Typically, she scorned the award ceremony in Amsterdam, to be there with the workers.

Tushikur Rahman draws on his own troubling past to take us to uncomfortable realms. Dark and somber, the work unearths the subject of suicide, a common but taboo subject that middle class sensibility finds difficult to discuss. While it draws us into problematic areas, the work, through his own life, also gives us hope and provides an understanding of youth culture.

Sarker Protick’s delicate imagery floats amongst this heavy cast. The high key images surround their subject, wrapping them in tenderness. While the typical photojournalist photographs events and moments, Protick photographs feelings, his images lovingly brushing themselves across the canvas.

Jannatul Mawa returns us to the essence of documentary photography. She peels back layers of societal veneer and strips bare the relationships of power and class. Embedding herself within that social milieu, she offers images that are understated and unreliant on words, reminding us that the personal is political.

Diverse as they are, there are few courts of Justice that could deny the living, breathing documents, of these powerful witnesses of our times.

The exhibition is part of Freedom Week 2015

Ami Tomay Bhalobashi

Bedford College Magazine (my first short story)

The sound of the bolt seemed to grate loud into the night as he locked the door. For a fleeting moment he flustered as he imagined every person in the enormous house knowingly smile at hearing the sound. It was her he was more worried about; locking the door when they were the only ones in the room seemed to have sinister implications somehow – but, surely it was understandable, after all they were now man and wife. Continue reading “Ami Tomay Bhalobashi”

Textile & Photography Installation at the Alchemy Festival, Southbank Centre, London

A new wave of Bangladeshi fashion designers come to the Alchemy Festival
10th?to 29th?April 2013, Southbank Centre, London

The Alchemy Festival is a fantastic annual showcase of music, dance, literature, design and debate from South Asia and the UK. Continue reading “Textile & Photography Installation at the Alchemy Festival, Southbank Centre, London”

Shahidul Alam: Interview on BBC Asia News Network

Interview on 22nd February 2013, where he talks about the Shahbagh movement, his recent exhibition at Oitijjo in the South Bank in London and his upcoming exhibition on the disappearance of Kalpana Chakma.

Interview on BBC Asia News Network part 1
Interview on BBC Asia News Network part 2
Interview on BBC Asia News Network part 3

Bangladesh: Past Present Future

Bangladesh Oitij-jo Past Present Future

OITIJ-JO|
FEBRUARY 22-24 |
BARGEHOUSE | LONDON | SE1 9PH 

London?s South Bank will play host to the UK?s biggest and most vibrant showcase of Bangladeshi creativity next month when a three-day celebration of art, craft, design, fabrics, fashion, literature and music takes place at the Bargehouse from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 February.
OITIJ-JO?is a three-day celebration of creativity and culture rooted in Bangladesh.
Participants include dancer Akram Khan, photographers Shahidul Alam and Enamul Hoque, jazz musician Zoe Rahman, singer Shapla Salique, State of Bengal, textiles artist Rezia Wahid and the world music fusion band, Lokkhi Terra?alongside a new generation of designers, creators, cultural commentators and craft historians at?Oitij-jo.
The festival is taking place at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH
Friday 22 ? Sunday 24 February 2013. Public opening hours are 11am ? 7pm, daily.?
Admission to first two floors of exhibitions and events is FREE. ?Admission to the upper floors costs ?7.50p (?5).

Oitij-jo?also offers a selection of unique and special events each evening, ticketed separately.
The festival is being organised by a broad alliance of UK-Bangladesh trade bodies, business people, community groups and cultural organisation led by the Bangladesh Brand Forum UK (BBF-UK), Culturepot Global and Paraa
Browse the?programme?line-up + click on the above links to buy tickets

Majority World exhibition at Guardian Gallery London

Gallery Walk “Insider, Outsider?” from Shahidul Alam on Vimeo.

Featuring images taken by: A. M. Ahad, Bangladesh; Aaron Sosa, Panama/Venezuela;Adolphus Opara, Nigeria; Andr?s Lofiego, Argentina; Andrew Esiebo, Nigeria; Daniel Pati?o Flor, Ecuador; Dominic Sansoni, Sri Lanka; Fabrice Monteiro, Benin; Farzana Hossen, Bangladesh; Kishor Sharma, Nepal; M?rio Macilau, Mozambique; M. Anisul Hoque, Bangladesh; Neo Ntsoma, South Africa; Samar Hazboun, Palestine; Shadi Ghadirian, Iran; Shankar Sarkar, India; Tammy David, Philippines
What makes a photographer different? Camera manufactures would have us believe it is their latest model, perhaps a fancy lens. Others will cite prestigious awards, or acceptance in galleries. A grandmother in a village in Bangladesh, a teenage rapper in South Africa or a tin miner in Bolivia will differ. These accolades will have little meaning to them. Surprisingly, not even the photographer?s nationality, or the colour of her skin, or the language she speaks will greatly affect their judgment, though all of these will matter. It is the relationship she has with them that will determine what they make of her. Are they comfortable in her presence? Does she know how to listen? Does she return? Does she care? Does she make them laugh? They have always found these human traits far more important. The characteristics that have led to intimacy, trust and understanding.
These are the photographers they will confide in, shelter in their homes, and reach out to when they need a friend. It is she they will consider an insider, helping them reach out. This does not reduce the necessity for a professional photographer to have superb technique, absolute reliability, and excellent communication skills. Traits any well-trained photographer will have. The presence of the Internet and the sophistication of modern equipment ensure that with the support of a good agency, any good photographer will send out high quality images with minimum delay. The variables today, are those human traits, the exorbitant costs and delays that plague international travel and local language and knowledge.
It is precisely in these areas that majority world photographers have an edge. Their understanding will ensure that the story is not ?misread?. The trust they have gained will provide that unique access. The fact that they return will lead to those many breaking stories that get left behind when the media moves on. Because they care, the stories will be about people and not about numbers.
This exhibition provides a rare insight into the work of seasoned professionals living and working in their own communities. Fresh imagery sensitively produced provides the visual quality that generic images of mega agencies lack. Local knowledge and the ability to follow up, provides the assurance and credibility that a fast moving media constantly risks missing out on. The show also provokes, asks hard questions, challenges prejudices. In an age where PR substitutes for news, these are refreshing ingredients.
Shahidul Alam
Dhaka, July 2012