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

Taslima Akhter's photo in Time top 10 of 2013

Taslima Akhter
Taslima Akhter. Savar Dhaka, Bangladesh. April 24, 2013.

April 24, 2013, still remains fresh in my memory. At 9 AM when I got the news, I rushed to Rana Plaza. That morning I did not understand what a brutal thing had happened, but within hours I grasped the enormity and horror of it. The day passed with many people helping survivors and taking photos. At midnight there were still many people. I saw the frightened eyes of the relatives. Some were crying. Some were looking for their loved ones.

Around 2 AM among the many dead bodies inside the collapse, I found a couple at the back of the building, embracing each other in the rubble. The lower parts of their bodies were stuck under the concrete. A drop of blood from the man’s eye ran like a tear. Since then, this couple remains firmly in my heart. So many questions rose in my mind. What were they thinking at the last moment of their lives? Did they remember their family members? Did they to try to save themselves?

I keep asking myself whether the dreams of these people do not matter at all. Are they not worthy of our attention because they are the cheapest labor in the world? I have received many letters from different corners of the world, expressing solidarity with the workers. Those letters inspired me so much, while this incident raised questions about my responsibility as a photographer. My photography is my protest.

More than ever, photography has become the predominant means for us to communicate. An absolutely astounding number of pictures are shared every single day — half a billion, and rising. And yet somehow, even amid this colossal torrent of imagery, the best pictures rise to the top.

Our top ten photographs of 2013 celebrate a variety of images from a multitude of photographers, including seasoned photojournalists Tyler Hicks (the Westgate Mall Massacre in Nairobi), Philippe Lopez, (Super Typhoon Haiyan’s destructive wrath upon the Philippines), and John Tlumacki, for his extraordinary coverage of the terror bombing at the Boston Marathon.

The news has introduced to us several emerging photographers this year, including Mosa’ab Elshamy who documented the bloody demonstrations in Cairo’s Rabaa Square, and Daniel Etter, who made an iconic photograph during the Turkish uprising. In late April, activist and photographer Taslima Akhter made the single most haunting photograph of the fire that killed more than 1000 in a Bangladeshi garment factory: a final embrace. Although she has spent months trying to learn the names of the victims shown in that unsettling, moving picture, Akhter has been unable to identify them.

In September, TIME published a set of images recording a brutal execution in Syria; at the time, we withheld the photographer’s name for security reasons. Now, he has decided to come forward for the first time. He is Emin Özmen, a Turkish photographer awarded a World Press Photo prize in 2012 for his images of torture in Aleppo. The execution pictures he made over the course of one day in the midst of the Syrian cataclysm bear witness to that war’s unspeakable, and ongoing, atrocities.

Photographer Peter van Agtmael has spent many years documenting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their aftermath. In June, he made a touching portrait of an Iraqi war veteran-turned stand-up comedian, Bobby Henline, as part of a photo essay and documentary film for TIME.

David Jenkins captures an astounding photograph of a great white shark near Seal Island, South Africa whose prey, the great fur seal, looks to have gotten away. You’ll have to read his account to find out.

Early in the year, Tim Holmes, his wife and five grandchildren took refuge in the sea bordering their property when a wild brush fire swept through their Australian coastal town. Holmes took a harrowing picture with his mobile phone to send to his daughter as proof that they were all okay. While Holmes is not a news photographer, his picture is testament to the power of the mobile phone and the fact that some of the most newsworthy and emotional pictures can be made by normal citizens in the midst of a breaking story.

We spoke to each of the 10 photographers about the image that he or she shot; their words provide the captions accompanying the photos in the gallery above.

In the next few weeks, TIME.com will roll out our year-end photo specials. For the third year in a row, we’ll present our annual “365: Year in Pictures” gallery — a comprehensive look at the strongest picture from each and every day of 2013; the Most Surprising Pictures of the Year; TIME’s best photojournalism and portraiture from 2013 and TIME’s choice for the Wire Photographer of the Year. TIME’s Senior Photo Editor, Phil Bicker, is curating many of these galleries with help from the photo team at TIME. Bicker’s discerning and nuanced eye is responsible for the curation of TIME’s Pictures of the Week  — galleries that present surprising and occasionally offbeat photographs from around the globe. We hope you will enjoy the selections and keep watching for updates through the end of 2013. Think we missed something? Tell us your favorite photo of 2013 using #TIME2013.

Finally, I’m especially proud to announce that our upcoming Dec. 23rd issue of TIME will be dedicated fully to the art and power of the photograph in 2013. Stay tuned…


Kira Pollack is TIME’s Director of Photography. Follow her on Twitter @kirapollack.

Fighting Hopelessness Amid Ashes

by James Estrin New York Lens Blog

“Pardon me, my dear, I am going to die,” Jelekha Begum’s husband said in a last phone call from the burning factory he was trapped in on Saturday. The fire, at Tazreen Fashions factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed more than 100 workers. ??Taslima Akhter

Taslima Akhter was overcome with emotion when she arrived at the Tazreen Fashions garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Sunday evening, four hours after?fire tore through the building. She watched firefighters battle the blaze ? which killed at least 112 people?? as throngs of workers and family members waited to see if their loved ones?had survived. Continue reading “Fighting Hopelessness Amid Ashes”

Human Rights Through Visual Storytelling

Pathshala alumni Taslima Akhter shortlisted in AnthropoGraphia

Najma Akhter, 23, a garment worker, is sleeping with entire family - her children, her parents and her siblings. Altogether, 11 family members share this one room. Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Taslima Akhter

Continue reading “Human Rights Through Visual Storytelling”

A Struggle From Dawn to Dusk

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By?ANDREA RICE

Photographs by Taslima Akhter


Lens - Photography, Video, and Visual Journalism

The garment industry is one of the?largest industrial sectors in Bangladesh. It accounts for a good portion of the country?s exports and employs more than three million workers. Most of them are women.
?Workers toil from dawn to dusk on minimum wage,? said?Taslima Akhter, a Bangladeshi photographer who has spent more than four years capturing the workers? movement for ?The Life and Struggle of Garment Workers.?
Ms. Akhter, 37, was compelled to bring to light some of the industry?s darker aspects, like dangerous working conditions and low salaries. As an activist, a photographer and a resident of Bangladesh, she sees the ongoing project as both a personal agenda and a civic duty.
Ms. Akhter said she believed that the struggle of garment workers ? particularly women ? was one of the country?s most pressing issues. A transition to democracy in Bangladesh would raise questions about women?s rights, she said, expressing hope that her project could help speed the country toward that goal? ? and inspire the workers to make their own voices be heard.
In 2006, garment workers in Bangladesh made less than $25 per month, Ms. Akhter said. Following a tremendous protest in 2010, their wages increased to just under $45 monthly ? still not a living wage.
That strike ? and the number of women who participated ? drove Ms. Akhter to continue her work on the project, most of which she photographed in and around her hometown, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. (Outside Dhaka, she shot in Gazipur, to the north, and Narayanganj, to the east.) Ms. Akhter studied photojournalism at the?Pathshala South Asian Media Academy in Dhaka in 2007. She completed a master?s degree in philosophy from theUniversity of Dhaka. She just completed a six-week course on photography and human rights at New York University?s?Tisch School of the Arts as part of a?Magnum Foundation scholarship she was awarded in 2010.