Photography in Bangladesh: a medium on the move

F’ted internationally, the country’s photographers have struggled for status at home. Could that be about to change?

Water reservoir is for the Komolapur Railway station. It’s the main station in Bangladesh. Dhaka.

From the series “Railway Longings” (2011-2015) by Rasel Chowdhury

The eerie moonscape of Munem Wasif’s new photographic series, “Land of Undefined Territory”, appears empty. On closer inspection, it reveals the scars of industrial activity, from vehicle tracks to stone crushing. The sense of menace and alienation is compounded by a three-channel video with a grating soundtrack.
These digital black-and-white shots were taken along an indefinite border between Bangladesh and India, disputed land that is now home to unregulated mining but which also soaked up the blood of past upheavals, from the first, temporary partition of Bengal under the viceroy in 1905, to Partition in 1947 and the Liberation war of 1971. Ostensible documentary veers into questioning in Wasif’s deeply unsettling yet distanced probing of history, territory, ownership and exploitation. Continue reading “Photography in Bangladesh: a medium on the move”

Old Dhaka by Munem Wasif

Belonging: A book by Munem Wasif

Preface by Christian Caujolle


It only takes a single glance to recognize a classic. The confirmation can be seen here, in this direct, forthright photography — the same quality that came through in the series devoted to “Salty Tears”, in which Munem Wasif examined, documented and questioned the situation regarding water in his country, Bangladesh. Classic by choice, starting with the choice of black and white, whose relative distancing from reality demands exacting precision in the composition. Arising, as always in photography, from a succession of rejections, eliminations and decisions, this choice precludes the picturesque quality that too often prevails when lands and peoples are viewed through the prism of exoticism. But black and white, while it places the photographer within a documentary tradition long associated with journalism, obliges him to go beyond merely transposing a visual record of the world. He must take a position, and he does, deliberately and consistently.

Open salon at the riverbank, Buriganga, 2005.

Continue reading “Old Dhaka by Munem Wasif”

Work in progress

A Delhi Photo Festival workshop with Munem Wasif

In partnership with Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Delhi Photo Festival invites photographers who are currently working on a long-term project, a work in progress, to apply for a workshop to be held in New Delhi from September 22 to 26, 2013.

Munem Wasif ©Sarker Protick

Participants will not shoot new work during the workshop. Instead participants will produce/continue a body of work before coming to the workshop as it is important for any photographer working on a long-term project to realize that beyond a certain point, his or her work can take many directions and forms.

The resulting work may be presented as a slideshow at the Delhi Photo Festival on Sept 30, 2013.

WHO SHOULD APPLY

The workshop is open to any photographer with an ongoing, long-term project or body of work, irrespective of age, gender or genre of photography. It is meant for someone who is interested in pushing their work beyond their comfort zone, in sharing ideas and working in a group.

HOW TO APPLY

Send an email to delhiphotofestival@nazarfoundation.org with “WORKSHOP APPLICATION: Work in Progress” written in the subject line of the email and attach the following:

• 20 to 40 low-resolution JPEG photos from a long-term project you are already working on and intend to continue working on in the workshop. (Please note that each photo should be 800 pixels on the longer side saved in a zip folder. Maximum size of the zip folder should not be more than 5 MB).

• A Brief description of your project (not more than 300 words)

• A Statement of Purpose explaining why you are interested in this workshop and what you hope to learn from it (not more than 300 words)

• A CV or a short biography

• Proof that you need scholarship, if you are applying for the same.

COURSE STRUCTURE & WORKSHOP SCHEDULE

Online Interactions: 27 Aug to 21 Sept

Workshop in New Delhi: 22 to 26 Sept

After the students are chosen, in the days leading up to the workshop, Munem Wasif will begin working with each participant online – reviewing works and giving them feedback through platform such as Facebook. Students will follow the instruction and upload their work online.

During the final 5 days of the workshop, that will take place at Sanskriti Kendra, New Delhi from September 22 to 26, 2013, Wasif will show his work and explain his working process. The next few days will be spent doing group reviews and editing where everybody will have to present their work and talk about their experience. Finally the participants will be given assignments to present their work and think about its final form. Though the workshop will encourage participants to focus more on the process of experimenting and pushing personal limits than on its final outcome, the resulting work promises to be exciting.

About Munem Wasif

Having grown up in a small town Comilla, Bangladesh, Munem Wasif’s dream kept changing from becoming a pilot to a cricket player and then a photographer. But none of these choices made his father happy. Later he shifted to comparably a big city Dhaka. He found his graduation in photography from Pathshala a life changing experience, which made him aware of his stories, gave him a photographic voice to photograph the dying industry and afflicted workers of jute and tea, excluded people and disrupt lands due to environmental change and salt water, a nostalgic city of love, Old Dhaka.

Wasif prefers to photograph his known people, therefore his country Bangladesh, just to start from the inside of a story. He never finds it a problem to be treated as a storyteller of humanistic tradition, classical in photographic approach, as long as it shows compassion and his emotional experience for the people he photographed. With an outlook of a traditional narrative style, he starts from the opposite of clichés, when he looses his control from one direction of a story, and allows himself to grow in different directions, like branches on a tree, yet with the same root of humanistic approach.

Wasif won ‘City of Perpignan Young Reporter’s Award’ (2008) at Visa pour l’image. Prixpictet commission (2009), F25 award for concerned photography from Fabrica (2008), Joop Swart Masterclass (2007). His photographs have been published in Le Monde, Sunday Times Magazine, Geo, Guardian, Politiken, Mare, Du, Days Japan, L’espresso, Libération, Wall Street Journal and many others. He had exhibitions worldwide including, Musee de elysee & Fotomuseam Winterthur in Switzerland, Kunsthal museum & Noordelicht festival in Netherlands, Angkor Photo festival & Photo Phonm Phen in Cambodia, Whitechappel Gallery in England, Palais de Tokyo & Visa pour l’image in France and Chobimela in Bangladesh.

Since 2008, he is represented by Agence Vu in Paris. He was one of the curators of Chobimela VII, International Festival of Photography. Currently he is working on his upcoming book on Old Dhaka, which will be published from France in September 2013. Currently he is teaching documentary photography in Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, Dhaka.

www.munemwasif.com

Munem Wasif interviews Shahidul Alam on Chobi Mela VII

Chobi Mela VII Preparation ©Ranak Martin


Complete article with more photographs at Le Journal De La Photographie

Festival Director Shahidul Alam talks about the challenges and expectations one faces when running a festival such as Chobi Mela and points out the festival’s uniqueness and beauty.

There’s only few days left before the beginning of Chobi Mela VII and there are still a thousand things to be done and we are awaiting many guests from all over the world. So tell me, how is this Chobi Mela different from previous editions of the festival? What is special this time round? 
S. Alam : 
Firstly, it’s actually an extension of previous ones, What we’ve always done in Chobi Mela is to ensure that it’s a very inclusive festival, there are people from all the continents, there is a very diverse range of work in terms of photographic practices, but also in terms of the ideas behind it. Of course we have some artists who are here for very first time, I mean Graciela Iturbide will be here for the first time, Max Pam will be here for the first time, we are not sure yet if Eugene Richards is able to make it, they have very tight schedules but their work is already here. So yes! Very exciting work.

I think it’s also very different in the sense that this time we have a much broader curatorial team, different styles, there’s been a far stronger curatorial input on this festival than there has been previously and of course new venues even within Shilpakala (National Art Gallery), it allows us to do things in a very different way.

I think it’s also different because there is much much more Bangladeshi involvement in this festival then there’s ever been. So in a sense while Chobi Mela is something we have been doing over so many years, its only now that the Bangladeshi public is waking up… What a fantastic event it is. And I think this will certainly be an event to remember.

Usually we go to festivals in France and in the US. The festivals there are usually supported by government funds or by funds from local institutions so the allocated budget they have is quite high. They have the opportunity to invite artists, create spaces and do lot of different things. How have you managed to run Chobi Mela over the past years without such financial support? What is the secret?

S.A : Usually we change the rules of physics, gravity does not work in Bangladesh. And the normal rules of physics would mean that we would need huge amounts of money that we simply don’t have. We hustle basically; we try and do a whole lot of things by barter, we try get people to support us in ways which save us money, without actually giving us things. And there’s so much goodwill from people, from volunteers like yourselves and other people who been very very generous with their time and effort. But we also have a lot of capability in-house, which means we can print the book, we do the posters, we have a couple of galleries of our own, so much of the work is being done in-house, we are able to do it at a fraction of the cost that any conventional organisation would need. But having said that I think it is important that we have much stronger government involvement. A festival of this sort, which would cost millions of dollars anywhere else, is impossible run on your own in the long run…

Festivals or big events such as this one tend to mostly take place in the west. Chobi Mela started 11 to 12 years ago. Do you think it made an impact on the younger generation here, because they can finally really see great work, meet amazing artists directly in Dhaka and get inspired and move from there? Then we also have Pathshala, where we have already hosted more than 100 international workshops… 
S.A : Of course. Rather then taking photographers to the rest of the world, we bring the rest of the world to the photographers. It changes the whole thing around. But it’s also different in a sense that this is our festival, so it’s not simply a question of a young photographer going to a festival it’s a question of young photographers taking ownership of a festival that they can truly call their own. But I think there are other things that happen because the festival happening here also allows people to look at the process, how it builds up what happens during, afterwards and the continuity. So in a sense the festival is a teaching laboratory within which photographers, students, whatever, can get involved. Just by visiting a festival you can never get that sense. Here it’s a living-breathing event.

Running a successful festival involves lots of logistics. Sometimes we can’t get the artists’ prints because of problems at customs. Other times, the artists themselves encounter difficulties coming here. I just got an e-mail from an artist from Vietnam, Maika Elan. She is applying for a visa at the Bangladeshi embassy in Vietnam and the ambassador looked at her exhibition ‘The Pink Choice’ and his reaction was quite out of proportions, saying he can’t accept these photographs, which might prevent her from getting a visa. We face these problems going to other countries and people are facing similar issues to come to our country. So how do you handle such matters? 
S.A : Well bureaucracy has its own grammar. And I think bureaucrats world over are solidarity group that behave in a particular way, our government is no different sadly but to be fair we have actually been able to negotiate with the ministry of foreign affairs. Many of the artists are coming from countries which do not have Bangladeshi embassies. Graciela is arriving this afternoon in a few hours. Mexico does not have a Bangladeshi embassy so we have arranged for her to get a visa on arrival. We have informed pretty much all the relevant embassies giving them a list of the people they’re likely to expect. But as you rightly say some local guy somewhere will get up on his high horse and take a moralistic stand and decide he is the authority on what needs to come Bangladesh. There is much we live without but we have also been able to overcome many of these things. I agree that, government involvement is very necessary certainly at a financial level, logistic level. But on the other hand the fact that we don’t have it, does give us a lot of freedom that we would otherwise not have had.

Talking about the local community, there are different kinds of biennial art happening in the country where photography is not included. Yet just this year one of the grand prizes at the Asian Art Biennale was given to an artist from Lebanon who used photography in the winning work. Sad and contradictory! Chobi Mela is a photography festival but have you tried to engage people or artists from different parts of Bangladesh to engage ina broader range of artististic and performance presentation? How do you look at these things? 
S.A : Firstly there is question about whether photography is art. It’s such a ridicules question in the first place. I don’t think we need to waste time discussing it. The problem with the Asian biennale and things like that, is that it is run by fossils. People who have no clue and live 50 years back in time and haven’t realised the world has moved on. What is sad is that their entry rules prevent Bangladeshi photographers and people working in the plastic arts from submitting work. Foreign artist naturally have never assumed there will be such ridicules rules… they submit work and it is judged for what it is. I think there needs to be a huge shift, a shake up in that structure altogether. But in terms of what we do, I personally think pretty much all the arts benefit from people who work in the periphery, in the edges. I think photography has lot to gain from people outside the field of photography, in terms of what they have to offer, how they can contribute to the medium and Chobi Mela always encourages that interaction. It’s been a very fluid border in movement and direction. I think certainly the fact that this is a festival where fine art photography, conceptual work, documentary work, 3D work, whatever, gets space is one of the things that makes it so rich. It’s not so predictable. Every year it is different. And I think every year it is evolving.

What are you working on right now? I saw you working with some prints of Eugene Richards. Tell us little bit about that. 
S.A : Well there are two shows I’m directly involved with. One is WAR IS PERSONAL by Eugene Richards. As a photographer he is someone I have huge respect for. I think the work is very strong and powerful. It is also very personal, very sensitive, very moving. Its does not translate too easily because this work is done in a cultural space where those images will be read in a particular way. Here in Bangladesh even by other people (from other cultures) the same readings might not take place. So one of the things I’m working on is how to ensure that the physical space exudes the sensitivity and the emotions that Eugene tried to capture in his original work. So we are doing it through artefacts, we are actually using incense to make it more culturally specific because it gives the sense of sobriety, you also get a sense of loss which comes from the way we use incense. That with the gallery space creates the linkage. There are other artefacts we are using within it.

With Ojeikere’s work, its very interesting work. Very significant in African terms. Of Africans recognising their own style and taking pride in their own traditions. Ojeikere himself is a pathfinder in his own country, own region. But the problem we had was elsewhere… technical problems. We got one set of pictures that were 8000 pixels another set of pictures 2800 pixels. And I particularly wanted really big blow-ups. The 2800 files aren’t big enough for that. Now I’m downloading software, which allows us to make larger print without losing quality. I hope. Because I wanted to create a particular physical presence in that space which those images would make. Now I might have to rearrange the whole thing, but that’s the reality.

OK, one final question: Give us three reasons why people should visit Chobi Mela this year? 
S.A : It’s fun! It’s specular! And it’s wonderfully different!

Thank you so much!

The interview was conducted by Munem Wasif

Chobi Mela – International Festival of Photography
January 25 to February 7, 2013
House 58, Road 15A (New),
Dhanmondi, Dhaka 1209
Bangladesh

LINKS

http://www.chobimela.org/
http://www.shahidulnews.com/
http://www.munemwasif.com/

CONTRIBUTORS

?It?s fun! It?s specular! And it?s wonderfully different!?

The traditional Chobi Mela rally at the start of each festival

There’s only few days left before the beginning of Chobi Mela VII and there are  still a thousand things to be done and we are awaiting many guests from all over the world. So tell me, how is this Chobi Mela different from previous editions of the festvial? What is special this time round?

Firstly, it’s actually an extension of previous ones, What we’ve always done in Chobi Mela is to ensure that it’s a very inclusive festival, there are people from all the continents, there is a very diverse range of work in terms of photographic practices, but also in terms of the ideas behind it. Of course we have some artists who are here for very first time, I mean Graciela Iturbide will be here for the first time, Max Pam will be here for the first time, we are not sure yet if Eugene Richards is able to make it, they have very tight schedules but their work is already here. So yes! Very exciting work.

I think it’s also very different in the sense that this time we have a much broader curatorial team, different styles, there’s been a far stronger curatorial input on this festival than there has been previously and of course new venues even within Shilpakala (National Art Gallery), it allows us to do things in a very different way.

I think it’s also different because there is much much more Bangladeshi involvement in this festival then there’s ever been. So in a sense while Chobi Mela is something we have been doing over so many years, its only now the Bangladeshi public is  waking up… What a fantastic event it is. And I think this will certainly be an event to remember.

Shahidul-Dancing-in-the-boat@-Shehab Uddin

Continue reading “?It?s fun! It?s specular! And it?s wonderfully different!?”

Ten Photos, Ten Stories: Munem Wasif on GMB Akash

by Naeem Mohaiemen


? GMB Akash. All rights reserved. Photo from Akash’s website: http://www.gmb-akash.com/view_gallery_photos.php?album_id=29

Ten Photographs, Ten Stories[Translated from Bengali by Naeem Mohaiemen]
By then, the inevitable happened. First Shahidul, then Shehzad, Abir, Kiron? one after another, a daring piece of work. All hard core black-and-white, capturing a humane moment. Akash also started out in this mode. There was a unique caring in his photographs. A forgetful rider on an exhausted horse at the beach. Or, an intimate scene of Akash’s mother bathing his grandfather. These early black and white photographs carry the shadows of that established style. In any case, there was tremendous pressure on the younger photographers. Difficult to stand with your head held high. Not easy to brush off the weight of that established structure. If there is no new language, new stories cannot be told. Then even breathing became difficult. Continue reading “Ten Photos, Ten Stories: Munem Wasif on GMB Akash”

Flashback 02: Sohrab Hura

Sohrab Hura Photo by Munem Wasif

Yumi Goto on Chobi Mela

Pictured in the middle: Yumi Goto Photo by Maika Elan
Pictured in the middle: Yumi Goto Photo by Maika Elan

Flashback 01: Yumi Goto

Over the next two weeks we will be featuring a series of interviews called Flashbacks where artists and particpiants talk about what they took away from the Chobi Mela experience. We will have around 6 people give their views on the festival, so stay tuned! Continue reading “Yumi Goto on Chobi Mela”

Kamra Publishes Kamra Edition- 2

Kamra?is excited to announce Kamra?Edition 2 with the co-publisher, Nokta.

Kamra is a bangla book on photography which published its first edition on 26th January, 2012. After getting overwhelming response with edition 1, Kamra edition 2 comes with more text and photographs. Keeping documentary photography in mind, Kamra edition 2 includes a wide range of documentary practice with unique and different views. Starting from classic documentary to today?s contemporary practice, the book includes text on Nan Goldin, Eugene Smith, Martin Parr, Josef Koudelka etc. This edition also translates two important texts on critiques and theoretical views on documentary photography with the tittle- Documentary, Pramanikota o Bibidhartho by Martha Rosler and Pramanno Alokchitrer bhetor, bahir o otopor by Olivier Lagun.
Kamra 2nd Edition_Web01 Continue reading “Kamra Publishes Kamra Edition- 2”

Bijon Sarker died today?

By Munem Wasif


Bijon Sarker died today.
When I heard he had an accident, I was at Pathshala. Suddenly I didn?t know what to do, whom to call. I though of calling Popi da his son, but we weren’t on good terms since Bijon da?s interview in Kamra. It was hard for me.

@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding
Came back home and found scroll news on tv screens that Bijon Sarker is severely injured. I called Chandan bhai, he was on his way to the hospital. We realized he would need lot of money for his treatment. I tried raising little money from students, friends, collogues, from Drik, from Pathshala. It was hard but we managed to raise a little money. Of course that was not enough. I went to hospital few times, there was nothing we could do. He was in ICU, alone.

@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding
Next day I had to fly to Cambodia. Saw the beautiful festival in Siem Reap, biked with friends in the countryside, had wonderful food in the streets. I came back after few weeks and got involved with so many things. Called Munni apa and Chandan bhai to get his update. But nothing much, Bijon da was still lying in his bed senseless.
Bijon da was one of the few photographers of his time who pushed the boundary of images while everybody else was busy making pretty photographs. He experimented in the darkroom and created images that we had never seen. He was concerned about the Bangladesh Photography Society. He missed Beg Shaheb as his companion. He was sad he didn?t manage to inspire the next generation of photographers to experiment and to learn to see the unseen. He was a poet who walked alone in the narrow streets of Old Dhaka. No body has written a feature about him in a newspaper, there was no book by him; his negatives have been eaten by ghun poka.

@ Bijon Sarker/ From BPS catalogue

@ Bijon Sarker/ From BPS catalogue
I promised him I would arrange a darkroom, papers and chemical, so he could start making photographs without a camera. He told me nobody must go to the darkroom; nobody could see his images before he had finished. Yes Bijon da I promised. I failed.

@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding
Bijon da died today; there were only a few people in Shahid Minar. We couldn?t manage a little more space for this artist to work. He was the?Man Ray?of Bengal.
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