Why Biman Fails

The long queue outside is nowadays usual. But I was unperturbed. I had come in early and there were the Hajj passengers to photograph. The cat strolling through the airport was somewhat amusing. A man, who could have been Chinese, gave it some food. The cat knew his way around the place. I had found cat pooh on several occasions before, but now I had the source file!
Alarm bells should have rung when I found no notice of the flight on the electronic board. The lack of people at the Biman counter was a bigger case for alarm. My friend Porimol, a journalist from the Daily Star, who was also going to Kathmandu was in the queue. At least I was in the right place! It could have just been “Biman Time” I convinced myself. When no one had turned up by 10:00 am, we all went off to the Biman Sales counter. At least there was a Biman employee there. “We have had nothing official” they said, but hear that the flight might be cancelled. They had no arrangements for rerouting, or any other arrangement. Their excuse for not letting passengers know had some logic. Since they themselves hadn’t been told, what could they tell us?

No attempt to inform passengers that flight BG701 to #Kathmandu cancelled #whybimanfails #eavig #Biman #bangladesh

A photo posted by Shahidul Alam (@shahidul001) on

Continue reading “Why Biman Fails”

Positive Light book preview

Want to take a sneak preview of the contents of Positive Light? This preview shows the introduction plus the first five spreads of each section of the book. The original contest was broken down into Culture, History, Place and People.
DO NOT BUY THE BLURB COPY from the link above! We are only using Blurb for preview purposes.
Pledge to buy a copy (or copies!) of Positive Light

Don’t forget, up until 31 March 2013 you can pledge to purchase Positive Light at our pre-sales crowdfunding campaign at this link. Every little bit helps — and more importantly this campaign will help Drik continue its work in social justice in Bangladesh.

Positive Light: Bangladesh by Bangladeshis

This lovely book is now available at Drik

Visit our crowdfunding site — your support will help this fledgling project get off the ground.

Photography is many things. It’s a tool of fine art, an expression of scientific innovation and a vehicle of creativity. But ultimately, it is storytelling where photography harnesses its full potential. Because it is so powerful, it has also been used to stereotype people and meet certain agendas.

In our work at Drik, we are extremely sensitive to the way photography of Bangladesh has been used to propagate a western imperialist and colonial view of the world and more recently the developmental paradigm. But such perceptions actually represent a very narrow view of Bangladesh. The fact that it is a country rich in culture, art and heritage is something rarely heard of in the outside world. At Drik, we believe this perception stems from the monopoly on storytelling of the South that the West has had for so long. And it is local photographers who will challenge that most effectively.

This monopoly has led to many things. Bangladesh has a lot of NGOs and as a result the country is utterly steeped in a story of development. There is no way out of this, because a story of poverty fuels the need for welfare. One reinforces the other; perhaps one was made necessary for the other. We have been relegated to being an aid recipient, creating a patron-client relationship that is extremely worrying.

It has affected our work ethos and our attitude toward donors. While there is talk about ‘partnership,’ there are still a large amount of people in Bangladesh who shape things according to the development agenda without questioning the validity of it and whether or not it actually meets the needs of Bangladeshi people. Patronising storytelling has been damaging to the psyche and the economy.

There is an African saying that goes ‘Until the lions find their storytellers, stories about hunting will always glorify the hunter.’ And so I would like to remind our photographers: We have to be our own storytellers. We have to ensure we are sensitive and respectful of our subjects.

Those are the cardinal principles of the photographic process and at each stage we need to go back to those core principles and ensure there is humanity in the work we produce. Photographers need to be in control of the rest of process, including dissemination of those images. That is where Drik has made a central difference, not merely in terms of our pictures, but in terms of our politics, our activism and our social agenda.

And through that work, we have also been discovering a fuller picture of Bangladesh. There is a success story. Despite the problems, there have been some huge gains. If we look at Bangladesh’s economy, the heroes are the garment workers, the migrant workers and the farmers in the field. They’re the people who have kept the country alive and provided the thrust to the economy. The private sector has also played a good role despite the corruption. And so it is they who should be credited for the economic growth we have seen. Some of the new archaeological discoveries reveal an incredible unknown heritage. Who knew about a branch of the Silk Road running through Bangladesh, or the fact that 7th century BC Mesopotamian coins have been discovered here? This region was one of the cradles of civilisation.

We would like those stories to be told and we would like Bangladeshis to be telling those stories. And I believe this book is an integral part of that process.

The crowdsourcing project Positive Light itself relates to the process of self reliance. By freeing itself from corporate or donor funding, it no longer needs to propagate their agenda. This is a story of Bangladesh, the way Bangladeshis see it.

Shahidul Alam
Dhaka

About Positive Light:

Mikey Leung’s TEDxDhaka talk

Help promote Bangladesh

Join us in this exciting venture. We need your support. Go here. Act now. Bring all your friends.

Drik has announced a new partnership with Crowdsourced Travel, the creation of Mikey Leung, who is the author of Bangladesh: The Bradt Travel Guide.

Drik is supporting the publication of Positive Light, a new coffee table photography book sharing the beauty of Bangladesh with the rest of the world.

Printing Positive Light is a big project for Drik, and due to a sponsor pulling out of the project, we have needed to take a loan in order to support its publication. That’s why we need you to join us in shining a positive light on Bangladesh, by pledging to purchase a copy of this wonderful product.

Visit our crowdfunding site – your support will help this fledgling project get off the ground.

About Positive Light: Mikey Leung’s TEDxDhaka talk

Though with youtube still blocked in Bangladesh you might have problems viewing it.




Travel Writing Scholarship to Beijing

Hello,
I would like to let you know about an exciting scholarship opportunity for your students.
WorldNomads.com in conjunction with Rough Guides is offering the chance to be mentored by Rough Guides travel writer Martin Zatko. The scholarship recipient will work with Martin in Beijing and also have the chance to write for Rough Guides (including a review of the Forbidden City!). The resulting work will be considered for publication in the next edition of The Rough Guide to China.
The winner of the scholarship will also join international travel journalist and Beijing local, Kit Gillet, for a three-day adventure into his backyard to explore the hutong alleyways, the burgeoning Chinese art scene and even spend a night camping on the Great Wall!
For the last leg of the scholarship, they will discover the rich food culture of Beijing with three culinary experiences (think tea tasting and dumpling making classes) from Hias Gourmet.
Applicants for the scholarship must submit a personal travel essay based on one of the following themes: ?Understanding a Culture through Food?, ?Catching a Moment?, ?Sharing Stories – A Glimpse into Another’s Life?, or ?A Local Encounter that Changed my Perspective?. They will also be asked to provide a statement on why they should be awarded the 2013 Travel Writing Scholarship.
All interested students should visit the World Nomads Scholarship page for more information.
The deadline for entrants is April 19, 2013. We would appreciate you forwarding this information on to your students and lecturers, and uploading the information to the appropriate section of your website as this opportunity is open to all students.
You may also download a poster to put up around your school;
A4 size
A3 size
US letter size?
Please let me know if you would like more information regarding this exciting travel writing scholarship!
Kind Regards,
Alicia Smith
PROGRAMS MARKETING MANAGER

Airport blues

The hartal (general strike) today put a spoke in the works. Our driver Joshim needed to drop me off at the airport and be back at base before sunrise. The young tailor Biswajit Das having been brutally murdered in full view of the police and the media, meant we could take no chances. Joshim had been sleeping downstairs in order to be at ours at such a ridiculous hour. Rahnuma rang him at 4:00 am, and soon a groggy Joshim, Rahnuma and I were off to the airport. Rahnuma and I have never had the luxury of seeing each other off, but it didn’t feel safe for Joshim to be heading home on his own. So Rahnuma volunteered to be body guard on the return trip.

Passengers walking to the Shahjalal International Airport. Early morning, Tuesday the 11th December 2012. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

There was no traffic. At least none that we could see through the incredibly dense fog. The headlights made things worse with the fog itself being lit up by the headlight and shining the light right back at us. Without the headlights, once could at least barely make out the edges of the road. The risk of being beaten up by thugs in the street, had been replaced by the risk of getting run over by a fog blinded truck. At least we had a vehicle of our own and the option of travelling as we pleased. Continue reading “Airport blues”

The spy who came in from Dhaka

It has been six years and Kabul has changed. My luggage was through booked from Bonn, via Munich and Dubai. Three flights in three different airlines with the tickets bought separately. Miraculously it arrived safely.
The banks at the airport were closed on Friday morning when I arrived. Maybe they?ll open tomorrow or the day after, they said. But things worked out. A SIM card was easy to get. It provided roaming Internet, but with a minimum charge for one month, I decided I?d stick to the Aina office where I was staying, for browsing. The SIM card man was going to change money for me as well. I suspected the rates weren?t the best, but at that stage, I wasn?t going to argue. More negotiations led to the bus to the parking lot and then the taxi.
The photographers at Aina had done well. The last time I?d seen Farzana Wahidy was at the All Roads Award Ceremony at National Geographic. I?d met Massoud Hossaini more recently at the World Press Award Ceremony in Amsterdam. He had just won the Pulitzer and it felt good to see how they?d progressed from the days I?d shared stories with the young and bright eyed youngsters in the grounds of Aina. But the office had moved. Luckily Farzana was able to direct the driver to the new location.
The new office was getting a fresh coat of paint and I made my way through stepladders to the TV room where the billiard table was stacked up with things temporarily relocated for the painters. But there were still people around and Aina looked like a busy place.
Farzana and Massoud soon came and we chatted about old times. I was to meet the other photographers on Sunday (today). That left me the rest of the day and Saturday to do other things. I had only seen the imported form of Buzkashi in Balochistan. But it was too hot for the sport in June and the other games were played early in the morning on Fridays, so I?d already missed them. But I did have other plans.
My main task was to identify work for a show I was curating for the Mus?e du quai Branly in Paris for 2013. Afghanistan was one of the eight countries I was covering. The trips to Nepal and Myanmar had gone well and I was looking forward to seeing fresh work from Afghanistan. I was also piggy backing for a story I was doing for Saudi Aramco World. Salma Hasan Ali, who was working with me on the story, had set up an appointment at what sounded like a wonderful school set up by Sadiqa Basiri Saleem.
I thought I?d also take pot luck in tracing an old friend. I?d met Aga Ghul in my last visit in 2006. Only then, I?d thought his name was Abdul Karim (my nonexistent Pashto and broken Urdu had obviously not served me well enough). The only clue I had was a photograph of Aga Ghul and his family, in their home and a vague landmark atop a hill. I didn?t know at that time, that I had the wrong name. We might well run this story on Saudi Aramco World, so I won?t give too much away at this stage. Anyway, there is plenty more to tell.

My friends Aga Ghul and his daughter Mahjebin at their home in?Kulula Pushta. Kabul. Afghanistan. 30th June 2012. ??Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Continue reading “The spy who came in from Dhaka”

In between book launches

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Girl in Bamako dressing up for Eid. 6th November 2011. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Grandfather overseeing Eid preparations in Bamako. 6th November 2011. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Woman praying on grounds of church opposite Bishaal Hotel in Addis Ababa. 8th November 2011. Ethiopia. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Priests on grounds of church opposite Bishaal Hotel in Addis Ababa. 8th November 2011. Ethiopia. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

At Salma's in Potomac. 11th November 2011. USA. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Late afternoon at Salma's garden. 11th November 2011. USA. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Signs at "Occupy DC". Washington DC. USA. 12th November 2011. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Tents at "Occupy DC". Washington DC. USA. 12th November 2011. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Saanya and Zaid toasting marshmallows. Washington DC. USA. 12th November 2011. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

PopTech 2011 Interview:

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PopTech 2011 Interview: Shahidul Alam on photography for change

Lindsay Borthwick?(?BIO / ??POSTS )??|??Friday, October 21, 2011 UTC
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Shahidul Alam walked on stage on Thursday wearing a marigold-colored salwar kameez, a camera over his left shoulder, and a beltpack slung around his hips. There was no mistaking his calling. The Bangladeshi photographer, activist and social entrepreneur has almost single-handedly rebalanced the world of photojournalism, long dominated by Western photographers and their worldview. He has shifted its lens eastward and southward by training legions of photographers in his homeland, creating an award-winning photo agency to sell their work and founding a prestigious international photography festival to showcase their talent. And this fall, he published a book,?My Journey as a Witness, telling the story of Bangladeshi photography as an instrument of social justice. He serves as an ambassador of this movement, in the words of PopTech?s executive director, Andrew Zolli, ?travelling the world leaving new cultures of art makers in his wake.? We sat down with Alam backstage in Camden, Maine.
PopTech: You founded?Drik, a photo agency, and the?Chobi MelaInternational Festival of Photography. Why did you feel it was important for Bangladeshi photographers, as well as their peers, to have these outlets for their work?
Shahidul Alam: Firstly, it was a question of addressing this very distorted perception people have of what I call the ?majority world? countries. Our poverty is a reality, but that is not the only identity that we have. Secondly, I wanted to challenge a very unidirectional form of storytelling that has — to a large extent — been propagated by the West. The richness and diversity of human life gets lost in a very agenda-led information distribution system. So that was the beginning.
We also wanted to celebrate our own culture. It?s not that I am against white, Western photographers producing work in Bangladesh — I think our ideas need to be challenged just as much. It?s the monopoly of dissemination that I was against. So we wanted to create a space for diversity — for both Western work and our own work. That?s where the Chobi Mela festival came in — to facilitate that cultural infusion.
Continue reading “PopTech 2011 Interview:”

The New Leaf

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?Ah GMG? When to come when to go. Nobody know.? At least the guy had a sense of humour. I?d woken up at a ridiculous hour to get to the airport on time. The flight was scheduled at 6:45 am. Reporting at 4:45. Putting my battered arm in a sling, I had set off in pitch darkness. There were no counters marked GMG at the airport, but asking around they pointed me to row 4.

The monitors showed KU, the code for Kuwait Airways, but there were other passengers waiting for the same flight, so it looked as if I was in the right place despite the empty counter. I was heading to Chennai to train Indian photojournalists in a workshop arranged by the World Association of Newspapers WAN-IFRA. I hadn?t fully recovered from my recent accident, but since the participants were from all over India, and they had also advertised my lecture widely, it would have been awkward for them to change dates. Sadek, my physiotherapist had given me a big list of don?ts. There was no reference to standing at empty airline counters. The Haiku response by the airport official didn?t really help.

Passengers waiting from early morning for non-existent GMG flight.

I did have a close connection and thought I would check. ?No general enquiry counter. Not inside the airport,? explained another airport staff. ?Try the GMG office on the 2nd floor.? The 2nd floor office was also closed. A hand written note in Bangla, gave the number of Mosaddek. A man answered, ?I know nothing about the flight, please try the ground staff. Office in other terminal next to the Gulf office on 4th floor.?
Closed GMG office on 2nd floor. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World


The journey continued. A young Indian man, also a passenger, joined me. The GMG office along the way was closed. ?There is one round the corner,? said a man in the corridor. ?That flight?s been closed for 4-5 months? said Mr. Anwar when we finally found a GMG office that was open. Both he and his colleagues were very helpful. ?We?ll endorse your ticket and make sure you get there,? they said. ?We don?t get passengers. There were a few flights during Durga Puja, but otherwise we don?t operate this route. Please get your ticket and we?ll arrange something.? So with my dud arm in sling and my young friend in tow, off I went.
Continue reading “The New Leaf”