Brahmaputra Diary by Shahidul Alam

Lecture no- 340 Series: Nature

Speaker:  Shahidul Alam

Topic:              My Journey As A Witness
Date:                August 26, 2014
Time:               6.30 PM
Venue:             EMK Centre, Midas Centre, 9th floor, Plot: 5, Road 16 (old 27), Dhanmondi, Dhaka
Moderator:      Tughlaq Azad
Ticket:              50 Taka only

The source of the river Brahmaputra in the Chemayungdung mountains in Tibet, China
The source of the river Brahmaputra in the Chemayungdung mountains in Tibet, China © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Older than the mountains, it is a river that forces its way through the towering Himalayas. The Tibetans know it as the Yarlung Tsang Po (the purifier). In India, it is known as Brahmaputra. In Bangladesh, it is also known as the Jamuna, The Padma and finally the Meghna before it opens into the sea.

Photographer Shahidul Alam will share his journey towards Brahmaputra’s origin.

A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. He returned to his hometown Dhaka in 1984, where he photographed the democratic struggle to remove General Ershad. A former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the award winning Drik agency and Pathshala, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Director of the Chobi Mela festival and chairman of Majority World agency, Alam’s work has been exhibited in galleries such as MOMA in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern in London and The Museum of Contemporary Arts in Tehran. He has been a guest curator of the Whitechapel Gallery, the Musee de Quai Branly, Winterthur Museum and the Brussels Biennale. Alam’s numerous photographic awards include the Mother Jones and the Howard Chapnick Awards and the Open Society Institute Audience Engagement Grant. A speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, Alam is a visiting professor of Sunderland University in the UK. He has been a jury member in prestigious international contests, including World Press Photo, which he chaired, as well as Prix Pictet, chaired by Kofi Annan. An Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, Alam is on the advisory board of the National Geographic Society and the Eugene Smith Fund.

Alam’s recognition as a writer, has led to his participation in literary festivals throughout the globe. His recent book “My Journey as a witness” was listed in the “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo. Former picture editor of Life Magazine John Morris considers the book “The most important book ever written by a photographer”

His current landmark work “Eighteen” questions the role of the military in the abduction of the indigenous activist Kalpana Chakma and has been widely acclaimed, both in the fine art field and by human rights activists.

Alam’s work alongside that of his current and former students will be on show at Oxford University in September 2014. He is also a widely acclaimed public speaker and will be speaking at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford as well as in Dubai, Doha, Cologne, Cape Town and Johannesburg in September.

Upcoming events


British Council and Drik India cordially invite you to the launching of the book by Dr. Shahidul Alam ? My Journey As A Witness? followed by lecture presentation of the artist.
Dr. Shahidul Alam is an eminent photographer, writer, activist and the Managing Director of the award winning media agency Drik Bangladesh.
Date: 21 November,2012
Time: 6- 8 pm
Venue: Jamini Roy Gallery, 3rd floor, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), 9A Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Kolkata 700 016 ( Opposite to US Consulate)?? with?Shahidul Alam.
Review of My journey as a witness by John G Morris

Kathmandu International Arts Festival
Novembeer 25 – December 21
ilish fishing 2001.
Brahmaputra Diary | Photography | Variable

While Awami League Fiddles

While the nation mourned for the hundreds killed in the launch disaster. Awami League party members were seen in truck convoys celebrating to band music.

Dozens Dead After Ferry Capsizes in Bangladesh

By NIKHILA GILL and SRUTHI GOTTIPATI

New York Times
Published: March 13, 2012

Photos by Abir Abdullah/EPA
NEW DELHI ? Rescuers were searching for survivors on Tuesday after a ferry carrying as many as 200 passengers capsized in Bangladesh, killing at least 24 people with many more feared dead.

Photo: Abir Abdullah/EPA

Continue reading “While Awami League Fiddles”

Picture Power

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World Press Photo Enter Magazine

The photographs here were chosen by Amirul Rajiv, who has been the photo editor of the Editorial & Forum Magazine of The Daily Star ? Bangladesh?s largest English-language daily newspaper – for the past three years.
Amirul Rajiv

The first image shows fresh water coming in from the Bangshi River, to the left, and shows clearly how murky the water of the Turag River has become. The photo was taken from the Amin Bazar Bridge near Gabtali, in the capital of Bangladesh.
Says Rajivl: ?This picture, taken by Anisur Rahman of The Daily Star on June 4, 2010, was published on the front page of the paper . Bangladesh is land of rivers, an agriculture-based country. The rivers have become seriously polluted due to mismanagement by authorities amid the threat of global warming. We published this standalone picture over five columns. Next day, there was huge debate all over the country and a few weeks later the court gave a special ruling to protect Dhaka?s water line and clean the rivers. I choose the picture because it is bold and gives a complete impression of the river?s current state.?

The second image was taken at Kamrangirchar in Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Anisur Rahman and was published on April 7, 2011 on the front page alongside an article headlined ?None Jailed in 10 Years?. It was about the practice of grabbing land from the river for development.
Says Rajiv ?Everyday, aggressive urbanization brings the people from all over the country to the city areas. The city is grabbing the nature and land outside of the city. The city is growing with an extreme need of food and shelter for its people. By destroying the nature, man is creating a natural disaster. Laws are weak. After the picture was published huge pressure grew on the government to save the rivers and protect them from grabbers’ actions. I like the composition and the environmental view it?s taken from.?
Rajiv is an alumni of Pathshala South Asian Media Academy. World Press Photo Foundation is a partner of Pathshala

River and Life

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They meander and glide. They unfurl with the rage of monsoon fury. Quietly they flow in the misty winter morn. Rivers thread the fabric of our land. Embroider patches of fertile delta. They are the nakshi kantha of our rural folklore. Life giver, destroyer, enchanter, they have inspired the greatest myths, formed the tapestry for the most endearing love songs. Our Bhatiali has been shaped by the lilt of the boatman?s lyrics drifting across the waves.

It is this fluid, amorphous, ephemeral and elusive visual that Kabir tries to hold in his rectangular frame. It is a frame heavy with the burden of its task. The rivers that float like a gossamer across the green delta hold untold stories. Tales of strife and endurance. Of the fullness of life. Of abundance ebbed, and anger unleashed.

Kabir finds the rapidly disappearing sailboat drifting in the late afternoon light. The extinction of this species owes not to the depletion of its habitat, or to the oft-blamed climate change, but the advent of technology. Oil guzzling, deep tube well engines have unseated the wind from its traditional role.? A lone sail, bright red and taut against a blue sky defiantly throws a gauntlet to the mechanized usurper.

Swirling swathes of jute cleanse themselves in the very water that nurtured them in their youth. Wispy traces of boatmen recede into the darkness of dusk. The cool blue light of the evening sky wraps itself round a homebound farmer. Barefoot women, walk home after a day?s work, like a string of pearls along the sandy shores of a receding river. Parched river beds, like a desert amidst the oasis, make horizon-less paths for weary travelers to tread.

Fishermen, silhouetted against a brooding sky, cast their nets more in hope than in expectation. Overfishing of uncared for rivers, bloated with toxic waste, yield little to those who have made the river their home. Indeed it is their ancestral home. A liquid home that knew no government deeds, and obeyed no official maps. But the rules have changed. City folk whose feet walk only on the cool marble of urban dwellings own fishing rights to rivers they may never have seen. The fishermen who were raised in these waters are now outlawed in their own turf.

Still the river gives. Joy and thrill to the racing crews that steer swiftly through the monsoon breeze. Respite to the sun baked skin of naked boys, sari clad maidens and heavy hoofed buffalos. Turgidity to the parched leaves of the newly planted grains of rice. Looming clouds in azure skies to the poet who longs for whispering words. Winding arcs of sinewy lines to the painter?s canvas in search of form.

The great rivers, once bountiful and brimming, have formed the supple spine of our deltaic plains. Choking in silt, poisoned by waste, waterways throttled by land grabbing encroachers, the lifeblood of our deltaic plains weep dry tears as their once glistening bodies writhe in pain. It is a pain city dwellers are deaf to. A pain that short sighted politicians and profit seeking urban planners have no time for. Kabir rejoices in the vigour of the river. Is saddened by its pain. His portrait of the river shows both its wrinkles and its smile.

Photographs: Kabir Hossain
Text: Shahidul Alam
The exhibition “River and Life” by Kabir Hossain will remain open until the 17th July at the Drik Gallery II from 3:00 pm till 8:00 pm

Brahmaputra Diary

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Multimedia version with video and photographs

A gentle trickle
A surging river
A gentle plain
A delta
Four long years
Three thousand kilometres
Cormorants, sea gulls
Sparrows at dusk
A flurry of wings
Moody clouds
La brume matinale
Boats bathed in twilight red
Wild blossoms
In narrow paths
A banyan tree
Tall strong shady
A forlorn reed
In amber garb
Bamboo groves
Reaching for the sky
Arching along the water
Coconut palms
Betwixt the land and the sea
A river rests, a delta speaks
Older than the mountains, it is a river that forces its way across the towering Himalayas. The Tibetans know it as the Yarlung Tsang Po (the purifier). In India it is known as the Brahmaputra. In Bangladesh it is also known as the Jamuna, the Padma and finally the Meghna before it opens into the sea. No one is known to have traversed the entire run of the river. We take you on this journey, across the millenium, across three nations, through Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. From the icy trickle in the glaciers. Along Pei in China, where the river narrows into a rapid-filled gorge reaching phenomenal depths and amazing cascades. Through the crystal clear waters in Arunachal Pradesh. Across the We take you sailing along the Brahmaputra.
The Brahmaputra Diary. An exhibition based on my journey along this majestic Asian river opens at the Sutra Gallery in Kuala Lumpur tonight (Sunday the 7th September) at 8:00 pm.
Shahidul Alam
Sun Sep 7, 2003
Multimedia version with video in Zonezero.com