Yumi Goto on Chobi Mela

Pictured in the middle: Yumi Goto Photo by Maika Elan
Pictured in the middle: Yumi Goto Photo by Maika Elan

Flashback 01: Yumi Goto

Over the next two weeks we will be featuring a series of interviews called Flashbacks where artists and particpiants talk about what they took away from the Chobi Mela experience. We will have around 6 people give their views on the festival, so stay tuned!
First up, Japanese curator and researcher Yumi Goto who shares with us her opinion on the festival, photography in Bangladesh, and Dhaka in general.
1) What drew you to Chobi Mela? What are your strongest memories?
I remember it being a difficult time, for a moment I wondered if the festival would actually happen. But everything went just as planned, and I got to experience how photography doesn?t always have to be pushed around by politics. Before my departure I heard the roads leading to the airport would be closed the next day, so I left at dawn. Friends at Chobi Mela helped me out and I got home safely.
It was an exciting festival overall. I got to meet a lot of interesting people and a brief encounter with Bangladeshi photographer Munem Wasif just before heading home led us to working together later on. I think the festival really helps build a bridge to the Bangladeshi photo community.
2) What separates Chobi Mela from other festivals?
The local community was so much more involved. I hadn?t seen that level of enthusiasm in any other photo community in Asia. You were able to soak up photography all day long. There were lectures and talks, and the audience really took part in them. It wasn?t just a festive atmosphere, but more a place where people who are serious about photography got down to talking about photography.
3) What is it about Dhaka that has made the biggest impression on you?
I was at the festival most of the time, but right at the end, I went to the market to get some souvenirs. On my way home on a rickshaw I dropped my purse without realising it. This kind man ran all the way to catch up with us and gave me my purse back. It?s always the people you remember.
4) If you were to describe Chobi Mela to a friend who had never been to Bangladesh before, how would you do so?
I?d say definitely go if you want to talk photography. It?s not just the first festival of its kind in Asia, but it?s an international photo festival that just happens to be held in Dhaka.
5) Has coming to Chobi Mela changed your perception  Bangladesh?
Oh yes, I had heard Bangladesh was one of the poorest countries in Asia, and yet it holds one of the best international photo festivals in the world every two years. It just goes to show, with dedication and time, it can be done. Not only that, it gets better.
6) What is the one word that best describes Chobi Mela?
Visit Yumi Goto?s website: http://reminders-project.org/

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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