Trodding untrodden paths

Foreword to the book Ellipsis by 2012 graduating photography students of Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, by Shahidul Alam

Deputy Director David Lloyd (foreground) and other guests at the 2012 graduating photography students exhibition opening. 15th November 2012. Brisbane. Australia. ??Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

It is an unusual rite of passage. Any thinking person would aspire to a life of continuous learning, to the assimilation of knowledge. Even while learning continues, the application of knowledge to real life situations represents a major turning point, with its charm as well as its inherent dangers. It is here that we chart our path in search of a meaningful journey, leaving behind lasting footprints.
Putting to use the knowledge one has gained can be immensely satisfying. There is the clearly important need to make a living, but that does not in any way separate us from any other living species. We are born, we mature, we beget, we acquire, we die. If that be the sum total of our lives, then it is a pretty nondescript existence. They represent functions that the most basic unicellular living being is capable of. No way does it reflect our claim of being a wiser species, of having higher thoughts, of our lives having a greater purpose. Nor does it denote a life of fulfillment. It is only when we do beyond those basic functionalities that we begin to live. That the footprint we leave behind leads to a meaningful path. Whether one has left behind a world in some way better than it might otherwise have been, determines in the real sense, whether we have lived at all.
As photographers we are essentially storytellers, regardless of the genre of photography we practice. We are witnesses of our time, conveyers of our heritage, pall-bearers of our history and culture. But history is embedded in the present and as students and photographers you are both witnesses and creators of history.?
The photographs in this collection reflect a diversity of visual approach and a sense of exploration that is inherent in a historian. Concern for the social condition reflects the duty to bear witness. The maturity of the work, as in any collection of student work, does vary; but what holds this collection together is the curiosity that one hopes youth will cling to.
For in those material pursuits that become the baggage of building a career, in the posturing of form over content, in our attempt to become what we perceive others need us to be, we often lose the courage to make mistakes, to trod untrodden paths, to breathe in life to its full. It is in that crisp cool air of discovery, in those unsure footsteps in our moments of hesitation, that life is most receptive and what we give of ourselves will shape what we get back from life.
It is a fleeting moment. Both the promise that it bears, and the burden that it places require us to look beyond the immediate, to think beyond the obvious, and map out beyond paths that are known. It is time to take on that burden with pride, to follow dreams with abandon. It is of you the Hopi elders had said, ?we are the ones we have been waiting for.?
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Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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