Liberating the Liberator

They say photography liberated painting from the need to be representational, freeing it of the task to show things as they are. Less than two centuries from the birth of photography, we need to consider whether photography needs to be liberated from itself. What photography excels at, its phenomenal ability to record the visible, is perhaps its Achilles heel. Not for doing it badly, as many practitioners do it phenomenally well, but because of the weight that bears down upon its shoulders. The burden of trust, rather than the erosion of it, lies at the centre of the drama, for drama is what it is. If the world is a stage then the photographer is the scribe, the choreographer, and sometimes the script writer, but rarely the one directing the play.

Bird in stormy sky 1998

Ironically, it is the entity that is blamed for the demise of truthful photography, the digital sleight of hand, which is perhaps the true liberator. What photography did for painting, the computer has done for photography. Not by replacing it, but by removing the mask. Photography, like any other medium, is what its proponent makes it to be. Its fidelity makes it neither more honest nor more ethical. Those attributes continue to reside with the author, both the one with the camera and the other author, the one who sits at the editorial table. The photographer selects the frame, the editor selects the frame within which this inner frame exists. The selection of the image, the cropping, the juxtaposition with text or graphic or advert or headline, the sequencing, the timing and the hierarchy within the news pyramid, makes the photographic image the putty with which the truth is massaged. Its unintended veracity, the very tool, which others in the news-chain exploit with abandon. Continue reading “Liberating the Liberator”

Contemporary art and cultural clashes in kathmandu.

by Satish Sharma: Rotigraphy


“Artist advised to paint works that are pleasing …not satirical…socio political works can only be exhibited during gai jatra..?
Artist’s paintings should be self explanatory? “a picture should speak a 1000 words”.
Artists need to follow traditional parameters while painting religious iconography….modern interpretations will be considered blasphemous
The state can take action against artists if these guidelines are not observed”
Sangeeta Thapa on ?Facebook?quoting or paraphrasing the?official?’police’ reaction.
Watching the Kathmandu gallery episode unfold on social media is a fascinating eye opener . ?So much to learn ?so ?much to think about. so many spaces to open up. in the ?minds of artists and even their local audiences. Continue reading “Contemporary art and cultural clashes in kathmandu.”


Chobi Mela VII
International Festival of Photography Bangladesh, 2013

Theme: Fragility
Submission Deadline:?31 July, 2012
The sweeping gestures of photography have thrived on extremes. Great things, epic moments, the wretched, the vile, the dispossessed, the celebrated and the trodden, have all found themselves facing the lens. Photography has exalted suffering, celebrated the vain. Quiet moments, reflective spirits, the hesitant step, the furtive glance have rarely made headlines. Perceived as being unworthy of the shutter.
The shutter speed of 125th of a second reserved for momentous slices of time, never slows down enough to listen to the sighs of the silent. Photography therefore is a selective witness. The history it records, a filtered history. It is a filtration different from the dominant narrative of the victor that history has been guilty of. This is more insidious, as it seeps into the very core of our consciousness. I smile for my grandma’s camera. The photojournalist waits for my tear to drop. The moments in between go unrecorded. A staccato history of grand gestures and seminal moments fails to record the nuanced lives we all live. Continue reading “Fragility”

Chronicler of conflicts

Chronicler of conflicts – The Times of India.


Trainers Greg Marinovich (South Africa), Per Anders (Norway) and Munem Wasif (Bangladesh) in workshop in Kolkata organised by Pathshala (Bangladesh) and Oslo University College (Norway), with students in Kolkata. The local organisers were Drik India

Greg Marinovich in classroom in Kolkata

Greg Sebastian Marinovich is the only one of the ‘Bang Bang Club’s’ four members to be standing on his feet today. Two are dead and the third’s legs have been amputated. Between them, they share two Pulitzers and a host of other prestigious awards from all over the world. Greg, 50, co-authored a book on the ‘club’ that was made into a film two years ago. And what a film it was: a visual narrative on the lives of four ‘conflict photographers’–all white South Africans who grew up in the apartheid regime, opposed it and exposed the apartheid regime-sponsored violence to the world-whose lives intertwined and took them to many parts of the world to record telling images of war and strife.
Greg, who was in Kolkata to conduct a workshop for photographers from India, Nepal and?Bangladesh?(Editor’s note: organised by Pathshala in Bangladesh and Oslo University College in Norway), told TOI about his work and experiences. Continue reading “Chronicler of conflicts”

Children's Art and Children's Rights

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Published on Saturday, September 24, 2011 by

by Claudia Lefko

We?ve been here before, confronting this question of children?s art, and why it creates such a stir. I wrote about it in May 2006 when Brandeis University cancelled an exhibit of Palestinian children?s art. This cancellation seems even more egregious because the museum in question is specifically a children?s museum.
Who objects to children?s art in a children?s art museum? And, what should we make of a children?s museum that allows the concerns of those constituents to censor the views of children, denying their right to expression? I?m talking about the Oakland Children?s Museum (MOCHA) and its decision to cancel the exhibit A Child?s View of Gaza, which was to have opened there this week, on September 24.
One can only conclude that those who have objected to this exhibit are troubled by the content. For whatever reason they want it buried, out of site and out of mind. They must be a powerful group. They succeeded in convincing the museum?s board to ignore its stated goal of ?…advocating for the arts as an essential part of a strong, vital and diverse community?. And, they have put the museum in the uncomfortable position of denying Palestinian children their rights as guaranteed by Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): the right of every child to express his or her views and to have those views given due consideration.
?The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.? said the artist Robert Rauschenberg, and so it is with our young artists. Seeing, as we know, comes before words. A child looks and recognizes people, places and things before she or he can speak; ?views? are developing from the moment of birth. So, imagine the views taken in during the long, wide-eyed hours of childhood in Palestine or in Baghdad on in Afghanistan. Imagine the tension, worry and preoccupation on the faces of the adults; imagine the looks on the faces of the of soldiers as they patrol the streets, or search homes. Imagine the hundreds upon hundreds of violent scenes that could and do play out in front of children living in war zones. This is their world. It surrounds them day in and day out. And oftentimes, they have not only no words, but no opportunity to tell us what they think and feel about this.
Taking crayon or pencil in hand, a child speaks out on his or her own behalf: this is me, my situation, this is what my life looks like. It isn?t easy for adults to bare witness to these stories. I?ve seen exhibits of children?s art from Hiroshima, from Spain during the Civil War, from Viet Nam, from Darfur, from the concentration camps in WWII and from Iraqi children. What we see in some of this art is the human cost of war, the terror and agony of being a child in an unpredictable, dangerous and violent world, a world gone inexplicably mad. A world where you are not safe, where even your parents cannot protect you.
This art is not about politics, it is about the human condition. If we cannot look at it, if it is too painful, it is because the world we have created, full of violence and conflict, is not one that is good for children. The famous 60?s poster with one giant flower said it all: War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.
We have a legal as well as a moral obligation to let Palestinian children, and all children express their views freely and to give those views our due consideration. If we are disturbed by children?s images from war zones, we should work on their behalf to create a better, more just and peaceful world , a world where children are truly valued and where their care, protection and overall well being is a social, economic and political priority. To do anything less is to deny the significance of children as the future of our planet.
Aldous Huxley wrote this, in his introduction to ?They Still Draw Pictures! A collection of 60 drawings made by Spanish children during the war? (1938): The most that individual men and women of good will can do is to work on behalf of some general solution of the problem of large-scale violence and, meanwhile to succour those who, like the child artists of this exhibition, have been made the victims of the worlds collective crime and madness.
The museum, in canceling the exhibit has dealt yet another blow to children and their rights; surely a children?s museum, of all institutions, can do better than this.
To see examples from this exhibit:
Claudia Lefko is the founding director (2001) of The Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange in Northampton MA. She is a long-time educator, activist and advocate for children.

The foibles of the world

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Martin Parr reveals the secret of taking photographs that tell the unvarnished truth

By Benjamin Secher
27 Aug 2011

Girls at the Badminton horse trials in 1988

Girls at the Badminton horse trials in 1988
A game of bowls in Bristol in 2000

A game of bowls in Bristol in 2000
Couple outside prefab house

Couple outside prefab house

‘Most of the photographs in your paper, unless they are hard news, are lies,? says Martin Parr. ?Fashion pictures show people looking glamorous. Travel pictures show a place looking at its best, nothing to do with the reality. In the cookery pages, the food always looks amazing, right? Most of the pictures we consume are propaganda.?
Parr, 59 years old and perhaps Britain?s best known photographic chronicler of modern life, is sitting in the kitchen of his beautiful Georgian house in Clifton, Bristol. He has served me tea from a fine china pot and ?posh biscuits? bought from the deli up the hill. Susie, his wife of 30 years, is stirring something on the hob. Everything looks rather lovely.
Everything, that is, except the appalled expression on Parr?s face when I suggest that sometimes, regardless of their truthfulness, pictures of things looking their best might be exactly what people want to see. ?Of course,? he says, ?but what people want?? He hits that last word with the force of a punch, then lapses into silence, as if the very thought of taking a photograph that perpetuates a fantasy disgusts him beyond words.
?If you go to the supermarket and buy a package of food and look at the photo on the front, the food never looks like that inside, does it? That is a fundamental lie we are sold every day. Part of the role of photography is to exaggerate, and that is an aspect that I have to puncture. I do that by showing the world as I really find it.?
A new exhibition, Martin Parr: Bristol and West, opening in the city next week, reminds us quite what a ridiculous, contradictory, dysfunctional and occasionally wonderful place Parr finds the world to be. Focusing on the part of the world that he has called home for the past 25 years, its 60 images, both old and new, suggest that whatever else has changed about photography over the intervening decades ? the advent of digital cameras, the death of film ? Parr?s gaze remains as acute and unsentimental as ever.
Has anybody ever looked their best in a Martin Parr photograph? Certainly not the mustachioed yacht salesman shot at Bristol regatta in 1989, his face, as he courts a couple of would-be buyers, frozen in a rictus of obsequiousness. Nor the group of girls Parr stumbled upon at Badminton horse trials, as much a product of good breeding and aggressive grooming as the fillies they have gathered to watch.
That picture finds its echo in another shot in the show, taken 20 years later, of a different quartet of girls of a similar age ? smoking, teetering on a lamplit pavement on a night out in 2009, off-guard, half-cut, mouths open, eyes closed. Parr?s images frequently raise a smile by exposing the gap between the public faces we wear and the private motives and insecurities that, if you know when and where to point a camera, can be seen seeping out from beneath. But if there is a joke here, nobody has let his subjects in on it.
When he is taking a photograph, Parr says, his prime responsibility isn?t towards the people in shot, but to his viewer and to his own sense of the truth of the scene. ?When someone says to you, ‘Oh, I don?t take a good picture,? what they mean is they haven?t come to terms with how they look,? he says. ?They take a fine picture, it?s just that their image of how they think they look is not in touch with the reality.?
I had always wondered how Parr got himself into such intimate proximity with the subjects of his photographs, who so often appear blissfully unaware of the critical lens loitering only inches from their faces. I suppose I?d imagined him to be a flatterer, or else a man of such discretion that people simply forget he is there and let down their guard.
In person, it quickly becomes clear that his chief weapon is not charm but directness. He shoots as he talks, with unflinching certainty and not a hint of self doubt. When I ask if he ever seeks a person?s permission before photographing them, that pained expression reappears. ?You would never get anything done if you did that,? he says. ?And besides, you still have the legal and moral right in this country to photograph anyone in a public place and do what you like with it.? So there.
Parr, who has been a member of the renowned Magnum picture agency since 1994, estimates he takes ?tens upon thousands? of photographs a year. Unusually in this digital age, he prints out ?maybe 15,000 of them? and, he adds, ?If there are 10 good ones, it would be a good year.? Themes recur ? ?tourism, consumerism, the Americanisation of the world? ? but his scope is dizzyingly broad: ?I am interested in people and what they do,? he says, ?the foibles of the world.?
As he approaches 60, Parr?s passion for his medium grips him as firmly as it did when his grandfather, an amateur photographer, first gave him a camera as a boy. ?I can?t imagine a time when I wouldn?t want to take photos,? he says. ?Photography for me is not work, it?s a calling.?

Martin Parr was one of the early photography trainers at Drik. His exhibition “Home and Abroad” was shown at Drik Gallery. Parr also gave a talk at the British Council, Dhaka.

Principles for Interpreting Photographs

Does a photograph speak for itself ? A photograph is different from an ordinary object because it is about something. Because it is about something, it requires interpretation to function as a photograph or as an artwork. One of the best ways to appreciate an image is to observe, think and talk about it. Interpretation is central to looking at all images, historical and contemporary, those we call ‘fine art’ as well as those daily seen in visual culture. Photographs provide insight, information and knowledge only if we interpret them.
5 PM – 7 PM
Thursday, 11th August 2011
The Bakery Cafe, Sundhara
About Hasib Zakaria
Hasib Zakaria is a Bangladeshi photographer who graduated from Pathshala, South Asian Media Academy in 2003. Since then, he has been lecturing at Pathshala, and is now the new vice principal. Hasib is currently a PhD candidate at Vrije University Brussels.
NayanTara Gurung

At the precipe of motion

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Apni kisher chobi tolen? Just what is it that you?re taking a picture of? It?s a question a photographer is commonly asked. It happens particularly when a lens is pointed at nothing in particular. At least nothing that one considers significant, or photographically meaningful. That a photographer might find joy in capturing the fleeting, the ephemeral and the insignificant is difficult enough to explain. When one photographs ?something? that does not necessarily have a material presence, or is visible in some tangible form, then explaining it becomes more difficult still. I am not even getting into the ?why are you doing it? syndrome. What you are doing, is difficult enough to get across. This is a dilemma in a profession where one is seen as a communicator. Reaching out to an audience is part of what a photographer is generally meant to be doing. In a medium known as the most ubiquitous art form, which prides itself in being the most accessible to the person in the street, part of the exercise is in people being able to ?get it?.

Jean-Philippe PERNOT however, rejects the notion of the photographic truthsayer.? Neither does he attempt to search for the decisive moment. It is ambiguity that he thrives in, the most tangible part of his work being the metaphor. Even while depicting the female nude, he stays away from a classical representation of beauty, rejecting form for energy. Playing with space, bending time. His finished frame is always work in progress. Is his work beautiful? It is the wrong question to be asking. For in this work, one never arrives. These are still images depicting perpetual motion. Slices of time layered as an onion. A silent scream, tethered down anger. A violence that is sometimes quiet, and always disconcerting. For it is not the ?what? of the photograph but the ?why? that leaps out of every frame. A muffled scream that struggles to free itself from its binds. A coiled rage that seeks neither solace nor release, staying forever in a state of flux.

PERNOT walks at the precipe between the still image and cinematic motion, blurring the edges, blending one with the other. His photographs may be painted with light, but the hues in his canvas are from a palette of raw emotions. It is not the content of his frame that moves me, but what his images aspire to that fire my imagination.
Shahidul Alam
The exhibition is open at the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts till the 2nd September. 12pm – 8 pm
House 275/F, Road 16 (new), Dhanmondi. (stone’s throw from Drik)

Emerging from the Shadows

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The first Friday of every month, we would clear out the furniture of Bijon Da?s ?Boithok Khana? (drawing room), move some of the chairs out to the verandah, and set up a table for the speakers. People would invariably arrive in dribs and drabs, but pretty soon, the rickety chairs would get filled up and the crowd would spill over into the verandah. This was where Manzoor Alam Beg held court.
Cowboy by Manzoor Alam Beg
Young photographers with their first black and white prints, would mingle with the likes of Rashid Talukder and Anwar Hossain. The ever young Dr. Ansaruddin Ahmed would hand out his pristine prints. The crowd would wait in expectant silence for the results of the monthly photo contest. The monthly photographic newsletter, then without pictures, would be distributed. Invariably, there would be a speech or two. It was a camera club, trade union and a hangout joint, all rolled into one. Despite the mix, the salon smell hung in the air. Much was made of acceptances in salons. A gold medal, a bronze, or even an honourable mention, was celebrated. Winners were generously applauded. Outside of the salon circuit we knew little of what was going on elsewhere, but if it was a well we were living in, it was a nice well. That monthly meeting meant a lot to all of us.
boat by Naibuddin Ahmed
There were few who remained from the old school. The recent split from Pakistan meant that the established studios like Zaidi?s had gone. But the war of liberation changed the Bangladeshi psyche. 1947, while of immense significance to South Asia, meant little to Bangladeshis. History books barely touched upon it. There were few references to it in literature. 1971 on the other hand was a lived experience. Unsurprisingly therefore, apart from the early photographs of Golam Kasem Daddy, dating back to 1918, there are few early photographs from Bangladesh.? There followed a romantic period where photographers like Amanul Haque and Naibuddin Ahmed produced stylized landscapes and carefully set up idyllic images of people. Nawazesh Ahmed and later Anwar Hossain, began to adopt a more contemporary feel to their images. Bijon Sarker and Manzoor Alam Beg, combined elements of classical pictorialism with the curiosity of an experimentalist. Sayeda Khanam was the lone woman of that era. Doggedly pursuing an almost entirely male profession.

Sayeda Khanom
??Sayeda Khanom/Drik/Majority World

1971 was a turning point. Rashid Talukder?s nose for a picture and his journalistic instinct, ensured that he was at the right place at the right time throughout Bangladesh?s turbulent history. Having had no formal education in photography, Talukder was freed of the compositional binds that many contemporary image makers were trapped within. The 2 ? square had its own aesthetic, but Talukder and other photojournalists used the balanced frame to capture some of the most disturbing images of the 20th century.
Dismembered head at killing fields of Rayerbazaar. Photo: Rashid Talukder
Dismembered head at killing fields of Rayerbazaar. Photo: Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World

Talukder?s dismembered head of a slain intellectual, framed by bricks and their sharp shadows, being perhaps one of the most powerful images of the 20th century. Talukder, Mohammad Shafi, Jalaluddin Haider, Aftab Ahmed were amongst the press photographers who documented some of the everyday events of 1971. But Talukder?s picture of the bayoneting of Biharis, had been hidden from public sight until Drik published it in 1993. Kader Siddiqui, the man responsible for the killings, was too powerful a man to antagonize, and until then, no publication had been prepared to take the risk. A similar frame by Michel Laurent, had meanwhile won a Pulitzer. Talukder?s dismembered head too, had been passed by the the authors of the Century Book. Others, had recorded 1971 in their own way. Taking great risks as amateurs, preserving a history of our birth pangs, knowing it could signal death.

Purple backed sunbird by Shehab Uddin? Shehab Uddin

Photographers then started specializing. S S Barua, and Nawab became the bird specialists, to be later followed by Enamul Huque and Shehab Uddin. Consumerism had approached, and photographers in the new nation were turning to fashion. Shamsul Islam Al Maji brought a modern touch to glamour, but Amanul Haque in his classical style also painted a rural Bangladesh, complete with the beautiful farmer?s wife, her red sari provided by the photographer, her gourd plant, planted by him a year ago, so it would be the right height at the right time of the year.
Moon and cow by Mohammad Ali Salim
Then came the salon era. Mohammad Ali Selim, Kazi Mizanur Rahman, Kashi Nath Nandy, Abdul Malek Babul, Debabrata Chowdhury were all fine photographers, but their arena was the camera club contest. The rule of thirds, the well placed diagonal, the balanced image, was what everyone was making. They entered contests, won prizes, vied for medals and certificates. This was a world in itself. The Bangladesh Photographic Society became the launchpad for the contest winning photographers. The stickers at the back of the prints were often more important than the images themselves. The society newsletter proudly boasted of salon acceptances. Strategies for winning contests were hotly debated at the monthly meetings. Stardom was based on number of medals and not on quality of content. Pretty pictures ruled.

woman in ballot booth

Woman voting at a ballot both. Election 1991 ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

While photojournalists had recorded street life and political strife, and a few photographers had addressed poverty, there was no culture of documentary practice. No personal projects. Photography was still seen as an illustration, meant to fit in with a predetermined caption. The movement against General Ershad changed all that. Resistance had been building, and the iconic image of Noor Hossain, with ?Let Democracy be Freed? painted on his back, was a turning point. In 1971, the photographs were taken surreptitiously, under fear of death. In the new movement, the photographers were in the fore. They were the witnesses of the people and empowered by people?s will. Ershad clamped down on the media, enforcing censorship. The media responded en-masse, stopping publication in protest, but the photographers continued to work, and when the general fell, and an impromptu exhibition was organized of pictures of the movement, the queue outside Zainul Gallery was nearly a mile long. There were near riots as people stormed the gallery to get a glimpse of their hard earned victory.

F5 No 91 24 riots at exhibition entrance

Hasan Saifuddin Chandan controllling the crowd at the entrance to Zainul Gallery. 13th December 1991. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The struggle for democracy had an obvious impact on the photographic movement. 1989 was a significant year. 150 years after the birth of photography, the region?s first photo library, Drik, was set up. The Bangladesh Photographic Instititute was set up. After sustained lobbying by photographers a bill was passed in parliament for a department of photography to be set up in Shilpakala Academy, the academy of fine and performing arts. That too was in 1989 though it was never implemented. The workshops at the Bangladesh Photographic Institute and at Drik showed there was another way of working and that photography had more to offer than simply producing pretty images or winning awards. Photography was also trying to move away from the shadows of painters who still ruled supreme. The success of a photograph had always depended on how well it resembled a painting. The medium began to find its own identity, and while photography was still not considered art, photographers were now not so concerned about the label. So photographers found their own solutions. They did what other artists and media professionals had failed to do. They aggregated, and made up for lack of external support by supporting each other. A revolution was in the making.
But there were other pressures too. Most photographers still found it difficult to make a living and the lure of ?bidesh? (foreign lands) was too much for many to withstand. Several of the young photographers who were making the transition away from Salon photography, decided to try their luck overseas. Years later, not one of them has been successful in establishing a career in photography. Nasir Ali Mamoon was an exception in some ways. Portraiture had always been his forte. While others drove taxis, worked in petrol stations, or temped in low paid jobs, Nasir took this opportunity to produce portraits of people he admired. Ginsberg, Gunter Grass and many others filled his album. While unsuccessful commercially, he was able to expand his photographic repertoire and eventually, when he decided to leave the others behind and return to his native land, he was able to establish himself as THE portrait photographer of the era. Fine portraits adorned the newspaper he worked for, and while the post was largely ornamental, he was made the first picture editor of a newspaper.
Der Special Layout-1
There followed a resurgence in the media. With the return of democracy, new newspapers filled the newsstands. There was also another movement taking place. The nation?s first picture library had been set up. While international media had no interest in the democratic struggle in Bangladesh, the cyclone in 1991 that followed was familiar fodder to world media and their appetite was insatiable. There was a difference though. This time the work of local photographers also filled the pages of the New York Times and the Newsweeks of the world. Mostly they were similar images different only in having been taken by locals, but soon the content and the focus also changed. The New York Times published a full page on their Sunday Week in Review on the 1991 cyclone which did not show a single corpse. There were pictures of fishermen rebuilding their boats, farmers replanting seeds, villagers rebuilding their homes. The world began to engage with a new story teller. One with local roots. The first fund raising photo exhibition took place in 1991 and raised over 4000 dollars for cyclone victims.
The newly formed agency Drik, began to bring in photographers from all over the globe to conduct workshops. Its regular calendar became a showpiece for Bangladeshi photography. Well printed postcards and posters, complete with credit lines for photography. Photographers learnt to protest when their pictures got stolen. A movement was taking shape. It crystallised with the formation of? Pathshala. The South Asian Institute of Photography. The setting up of the school represented a clear move away from Salon photography. Documentary photographic practice complete with the engagement it involved became an emerging trend. Soon a few women joined the ranks, and the photo stories ranged from the usual ?subjects? of international photographers like prostitution and floods to the more personal representation of family life, and the search for identity. The students were hungry, and the explosive mix of inspiring teachers and driven students soon created the photographic explosion that was inevitable. Bangladesh emerged in the world of documentary photography as no other nation had. Before 1998, no Bangladeshi photographer had ever won an award at World Press Photo. Shafiqul Alam Kiron?s winning entry on women victims of acid attacks was soon followed by Chobi Mela, the first festival of photography in the region. The heady mix of great photographers walking down the streets of Dhaka. Showcasing work on the same gallery walls with the best of the best, would have to be inspirational. Meanwhile the school continued shaping their craft, pushing them to their limits. Some made it to Masterclass, others were star students of the seminar programmes. Time Magazine, Newsweek, The Guardian, Le Monde, and other leading publications across the globe suddenly woke up to this great wealth of photography in Bangaldesh.

Then things got stuck. Success is a hard act to live with, and the rapid recognition of the star photographers created a flock of clones who followed. Some found their own identity, but many were just following. Again it was Chobi Mela to the rescue. The identity of the festival itself was changing. Drik?s success had given it the overall stamp of documentary practice, but slowly other photographic genre was creeping in. Fine art, conceptual work, the odd installation, began to work its way into the gallery spaces. The level of intellectual engagement drew many others besides photographers. Practitioners from Africa, Latin America and Australia joined the Europeans and North Americans, and of course Asians who regularly joined the festival. Speakers like Noam Chomsky had conversations with regional legends like Mahashweta Devi. This was all the spark that was needed. A resurgent Pathshala, started producing more provocative work, and broached new territory. It was a movement in the making and the rules were being made as one went along.

Chobi Mela in Kathmandu 4122Chobi Mela V tours to Kathmandu

The Bangladesh segment of the exhibition “When Three Dreams Cross” tries to map this journey, through the images that formed the milestones of this movement. There are significant departures from the mapping we had attempted to follow. The irrelevance of 1947, and the huge presence of 1971, has played a role that is to be expected. Other less expected characteristics have been the absence of the physical representation of habitats, artefacts, and mementos that are often a part of vernacular photography. Until recently, even family photographs, weddings and the many other everyday things that always been the visual basis for understanding cultures has largely not been preserved. Waqar Khan, has made an important contribution by collecting old photographs, mostly from aristocratic homes, which documents some aspects of this history. But the warm humid climes of this delta, has led to the erosion of much of our physical heritage. The shifting of the rivers has led to an uprootment of many who no can no longer relate to a homestead they can call their own. This transience and the nomadic existence that follows has perhaps led to the loss of a need to preserve. Very few archives exist. Not only in visual terms, but in music and film and many other art forms. This absence, in a way, documents a mode of thought and a way of life, that perhaps tells more about Bangladesh than the missing photographs might have done.
Not every artist is featured, but every influence is present through what they, or others who were inspired by them, produced. The early work of Golam Kasem and the establishment of the Camera Recreation Club had a distinct influence. Manzoor Alam Beg?s steadfast role as a mentor and an organizer, held the community together for many years. The Ahmed brothers brought out the first book on photography, and Nawazesh Ahmed, an agronomist with a PhD, brought respectability to the medium and at least for him, an acceptance within academia. Anwar Hossain was the enfante terrible who brought immediate attention through his arresting images, his controversial statements, and his maverick lifestyle. Sadly he too lost the edge that was his hallmark and has largely retired into oblivion. Hasan Saifuddin Chandan and the string of fine photographers who produced evocative images in the early nineties, also lost their way, though the Map Agency, set up by Chandan and a few other talented photographers continues and has made a valuable contribution. Sayeda Farhana, Sanjida Shaheed and a few other photographers, mostly women, began to explore the edges of contemporary photography, using their training as social scientists, fine artists, and in other areas of learning to inject into photography, a tertiary value which the more straight laced, mainstream photographers had failed to achieve. But the moment still belongs to the young crop of photojournalists who have recently emerged from Pathshala. Abir Abdullah, GMB Akash, Saiful Huq Omi, Munem Wasif, Khaled Hasan and other emerging photographers, all photojournalists of exceptional talent, made the world sit up. The wealth of exceptional photography emerging from this small nation has taken the photojournalism world by storm. There are those who feel there is a sameness in their approach that they would like to question and Shumon Ahmed and Momena Jalil are amongst the photographers who have ventured outside the tried and tested path to find other modes of expression. But this incomparable strength in photojournalism cannot be denied. Many of these former students are now the new mentors. The traditional forms of apprenticeship might have been lost over the years, but a more classic form of pedagogy has led to a learning environment that will surely take the world by storm.
Shahidul Alam:?Curator
Written for the catalogue of “Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh” 21 January 2010 – 11 April 2010 Galleries 1, 8 & 9 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Photographers Naibuddin Ahmed and his younger brother Nawazesh Ahmed, passed away between the time this article was written and when it was published.

Dhaka Traffic Blues

Politically Correct Eid Greetings

Well, the long holidays are over, and the streets of Dhaka are slowly getting back to their normal frenzy. The horns, the put-put of the baby taxis, the bewildered stare of the taxi driver as he tries to interpret the gyrations of the traffic warden, the gentle smile on the bus driver as he parks the bus in the center lane waiting for the passengers to offload the chicken coops on the rooftop, the suicidal pedestrian who tries to cross the road over to Jahangir Tower in Kawran Bajar, the glee on Asma, the flower girl’s face as she spots me, and skips between two trucks, to my bicycle, knowing she has a sure sale, the babu in the back seat with the newspaper covering his face, the blind beggar coughing through the thick black smoke of the BRTC double-decker are some of the familiar signs that tell me that there is stability in my life and the world has not changed. In this season of greetings, and eco conscious, politically correct messages, I send you a recycled, lead-free wish.

May you find a way to travel
From anywhere to anywhere
In the rush hour
In less than an hour
And when you get there
May you find a parking space
The year has had its usual ups and downs for Drik, but the adrenaline flowing due to the constant crisis management during Chobi Mela has everyone hyped up. The big show on the 10th January looms. The hits in the web site have climbed regularly, and the December total of 105,857 hits is an all time record for us. It’s a credit to you all for having stuck with us for so long.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
May the good light be with you.
Shahidul Alam
Wed Jan 3, 2001