February 21, 2010

Announcement – Rohingya Photo Story by Sheikh Rajibul Islam Rajib.

Photo is copyright of Sheikh Rajibul Islam Rajib

The Rohingya issue still continues leaving these people stateless and homeless. Although they are not Bangladeshi citizens, as fellow human beings don’t we have a responsibility towards them? Doesn’t the child above deserve to go to school?

Photographer SHEIKH RAJIBUL ISLAM RAJIB has a photo story of the Rohingyas at the SocialDocumentary website. To see his extremely well-photographed photostory, please visit here.

Rajib’s Photographer Statement which accompanies the photo story:

‘When I first visited the camp in Kutupalong, I saw that the area where they are living, making a small slum, is so dirty that no human being can live in that place. In a 8′ X 6′ house  more than five people are sleeping and there is no sanitary toilet there. Hundreds of people are waiting to go to their work. But they can’t because the Police and BDR (Border military) are arresting the unregistered people. And they are pushing them back to the Myanmar side. But the Myanmar military (NASAKA) shoot if they find any people crossing the border. These people have nowhere to go. They have no food, no land and no identity.’  – Sheikh Rajibul Islam Rajib

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August 23, 2009

I’m a self-taught photographer living in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I love shooting people and I shoot what I like. I prefer natural light source and natural elements in my subjects. My favorite color is black. Old vintage black & white photography attracts me a lot. Monet’s ‘Impression Sunrise’ and Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ are two works of art that I find very captivating.

Bangladesh is a heaven for photography. You will find a diversity of subjects packed in a small area. It’s easy to run out of memory cards than subjects. Best part of Bangladesh is, no one minds getting their picture taken. People are friendly in front of the camera no matter who they are and what situation they are in. But discovering Bangladesh is a challenge rather than a pleasure trip.

-SHABBIR FERDOUS, 2009

All photographs are copyright of SHABBIR FERDOUS.
Accompanying text provided by photographer. 
His photographs are available for purchase at gettyimages.
To view more of SHABBIR FERDOUS’ photographs, visit his Flickr Photostream here.

This image was inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F major. It’s known as the Pastoral Symphony and was completed in 1808. One of Beethoven’s few works of program music, the symphony was labeled at its first performance with the title “Recollections of Country Life”.

GPS coordinate for this picture is 24°58’1.50″N, 91° 7’49.90″E

Tangor Hawor is a place where its gets flooded during monsoon creating a huge lake formation. Its size is enormous and makes interesting landscape since its floods. You will see trees standing middle of ocean like lake or electric poles … or a figure of a bridge or tiny island of houses. Communication is only possible by boats and people enjoy fishing at this time. After the rainy season, water level drops and people do agriculture on the fertile land turning this massive area into a green agro zone.

About this picture, we were camped in a small island; there was a tiny bazaar (market) there. It was very hot, there wasn’t any wind, I was sitting near the lake side and listening to music. I saw these people fishing. Their net was extended and covered a huge area. They were fairly close to me and it wasn’t possible to shoot them without wide angle lens. Presence of me also attracted a crowd, they all wanted to be photographed.

It took them an hour to close the net by slowly pulling it. The guy in the water was making sure the net closes properly. They were so concentrated at their work that they forgot about the rest of the world. The fading sun came out one last time for the day and I took this picture with the music of Beethoven in my headphone.

Lens: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: Tangor Hawor, Sylhet, Bangladesh
 

Under the beautiful sky…. old shot from my Tangor Hawor series.

Lens: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: Tangor Hawor, Sylhet, Bangladesh 

Shifting DUNES….. imagine there were people to takeaway our memories.

Lens: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: Sunamganj, Sylhet, Bangladesh

There weren’t any tall trees for miles, only those three standing in grand
style. The cows are chilling nearby and faraway you can see the Indian
mountains. I saw this in the riverside from my boat. This is a single raw
file HDR with 4 different textures.

Lens: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: Tangor Hawor, Sylhet, Bangladesh 

Beach ANGEL  – she was saying “you can’t shoot me, I am running away”. We all laughed as she ran passed in front of me. Original picture came out tad dark as the sun was behind her, so in the preview she was a dark figure. She said I have a bad camera which made her look even darker. We all laughed again.

She had the most beautiful smile ever; any toothpaste company can hire her as their model without any need of digital enhancement in post process.

Lens: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: St.Martin Island, Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula, Bangladesh 

Beach BOYS – they came to me and asked if I could take a picture of them. I didn’t have to ask them to be informal while posing, they animated themselves into one of the best smiles ever. I couldn’t ask for more. I promised them when I come back again (most certainly I will), I will give them a copy. They showed me where they lived, the island is small and, hopefully, it won’t be a problem to find them again.

I asked them what they want to be when they grow up, one of the little one replied he wants to be a photographer just like me!

Lens: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: St.Martin Island, Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula, Bangladesh 

A Brand NEW DAY – it’s the only coral island in Bangladesh and this is the last end of the south-east corner of Bangladesh.

It was my first time in that island and it impressed me with blue colour. The day was sunny and warm; the beach water felt very soothing if you decided for a dip. I was hanging around the dock area in the afternoon and was surrounded by curious kids. It was an awesome day for photography and one of my favorite ways of time pass which is taking portraits.

The island is tiny and lacks most modern items; it will give you a feel of a ship wrecked island.

Lens: EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: St.Martin Island, Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula, Bangladesh 

The JUMPING CANVAS – don’t feel depressed, these boys are still having fun even though they are dead poor compared to you and me. Celebrate life like there is no tomorrow.

Lens: EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: St.Martin Island, Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula, Bangladesh 

BANGLA NEW YEAR 1416 – another year has passed and this is 1416 in Bangla calendar. This year I have celebrated it in Paril Village in Manikgonj instead of Dhaka. In the capital city, Bangla New Year is observed with great festivity and enthusiasm along with rest of the country. Apart from the very hot summer day, everything went perfectly planned.

Two days long activities started with releasing Fanush (Lantern Balloon) the last night of year 1415 and welcoming the new year of 1416 wishing for peace, prosperity and unity among the people of the world.

Lens: EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Location: Paril Village, Manikganj, Bangladesh  

A Mro tribal woman from the remotest part of Bandarbans showing me her tongue instead of her smile when my translator asked her. Her son was so shy in front of me that his mom couldn’t take his hand off from his face for a picture. They are very amazing people with a friendly smile.

Lens: EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: Bompara Tribal Village, Bandarbans, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh  

The HOUSE I really belong too…. a tiny island and an outpost of heaven.

Lens: EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Filter: B+W 67mm Top Polarizer (Linear) (MRC) Multi-Resistant Coating Glass Filter
Camera: Canon EOS 40D
Location: Rangamati, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh 

 WALK OF LIFE – we are just a moment in time, a blink of an eye… a dream for the blind.

Lens: EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 40D
Location: Rangamati, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

 

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CREDITS
images: all photographs are copyright of SHABBIR FERDOUS. His photographs are available for purchase at gettyimages.
graphic design & layout: Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh.

August 16, 2009


KUMAR (potter) also known in Bangla as kumbhakar, is a traditional occupational group engaged in clay modelling and making earthenwares and various household items and toys from clay. Kumar is a caste name, which indicates that pottery as a profession was almost exclusively in the hands of Hindus in the past. The innumerable domestic wares prepared by kumars include kalshi (household water vessel), handi (cooking pot), jala (big water jar), shara/dhakna (pot covers), shanki (dish), sharai (jug), plates, cups, badna (water pot) and dhupdani (vessel for scented sulphur). Clay made toys and clay fruits like palm, banana, jackfruit or mango, are popular sale items in traditional Bangladeshi fairs and festivals.  – BANGLAPEDIA

 

POTTERY: The Rhythm of the Hand

by ASHIK MASUD    

Continuously circulating human life is not that easy to explicate through literature. Life goes on in its own way. Motionless life will be mingled up with the clay. Motivation in life enhances the hope to live and breathe for future. Otherwise our life is nothing but a mist of suffocation. The hands working with the clay are the hands also struggling with the nasty rude world. But life goes on! Nothing can stop it. The hands now playing with the clay are actually playing with the eternal lives. Life goes on, life is endless! Life is circulating continuously!

I visited Paul Para, Shimulia, Savar twice. The first time was on 31 January 2009 with some of my photographer friends and then again on  4th of April, 2009 by myself. These photographs were taken there while the potters were making clay-pots with the creative touch of their experienced hands to uphold their forefather’s culture.

In our everyday life we use many of the household items which are made by these potters. But we never take the time to appreciate their hard work or even to think how they are making these things day after day for us. They make most of these pots with their bare hands. They also take the help of a revolving wheel,  which is made of wood or metal, to make these pots into different shapes and designs. The potter throws the kneaded clay into the center of the wheel rounding it off, and then spins the wheel. As the whirling gathers momentum, the potter begins to shape the clay. When it is over he severs the shaped clay from the rest.

About Me   Being a photographer was a dream I kept inside me for many years. While travelling to many places throughout my life and experiencing other cultures and meeting people from different communities, places and coutries, the desire to be a photographer grew inside me day by day. I started taking pictures from about a year back and have so far successfully established my name in the photography arena of Bangladesh by meeting with some great photographic societies. I feel the places of Bangladesh and the faces of Bangladeshi people forced out my inner craving to become a photographer. All the people I have met, smiling through my viewfinder, always gave me the feeling of satisfaction and inspired me to go on and on in this field. 

My first love is people’s lives. People are very difficult to photograph. I have a hard time taking candid shots of people, but I try my best to build up the courage from time to time. I try to capture human emotions and human spirits. I also enjoy traveling, so that I can take pictures of other locations. Basically, I’m a self-taught photographer living in Dhaka, Bangladesh. By profession I am a web developer and, besides being a photographer, I also love music and in my leasure time I love to play the guitar. 

All photographs are copyright of ASHIK MASUD.
To view more of ASHIK MASUD‘s photographs, visit his Flickr Photostream here.

 

 

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CREDITS
images: all photographs are copyright of ASHIK MASUD.
text: Ashik Masud for creativeBangladesh.
graphic design & layout: Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh.

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July 12, 2009

I’m a self-taught photographer living in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I love shooting people and I shoot what I like. I prefer natural light source and natural elements in my subjects. My favorite color is black. Old vintage black & white photography attracts me a lot. Monet’s ‘Impression Sunrise’ and Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ are two works of art that I find very captivating.

Bangladesh is a heaven for photography. You will find a diversity of subjects packed in a small area. It’s easy to run out of memory cards than subjects. Best part of Bangladesh is, no one minds getting their picture taken. People are friendly in front of the camera no matter who they are and what situation they are in. But discovering Bangladesh is a challenge rather than a pleasure trip.

– SHABBIR FERDOUS, 2009

[images: all photographs are copyright of SHABBIR FERDOUS]

NIRVANA – this is one of the rarest sights of my life. Lord Buddha was passing through the tiny channels between islands in Rangamati Lake. His procession was musical with sounds of boats splashing water. Passing wind bringing the hint of rain and in the distance the black pile of falling clouds carried the imminent sign of it. There was a glow in the sky; there was a glow on the river. I was watching it from the edge of a small hill. The golden statue of Lord Buddha sitting in front of the procession led the way. Devotees were excitedly following the Buddha’s boat as he will be placed in a newly built temple.

Lens: EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 40D
Location: Rangamati, Chittagong, Bangladesh

Kalir Char was named after the hindu goddess KALI, she is a popular goddess for those who are more into the darker side. This area was famous for the pirates and they used to sacrifice humans to Ma Kali. This range gave me the creeps. It had a horror look to it and it was surrounded by a jungle which was an ideal place for the tigers to hide. The forest guards lock their guard house after sunset on a regular basis. There is a pond at the back of their house for drinking water and washing clothes. That pond also attract tigers to come and drink sweet water from it.  We had arrived late, almost at sundown. We had to refill our water supply and use their toilets before hurriedly getting back to the boat. Later that night, we had some excitements and panic related to tiger watching.

Lens: EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: Kalir Char Range, Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Found this tiger foot print in the jungle; the guide told me it is very fresh. Tigers are mysterious, especially in the Sundarbans. Every tiger is a possible man eater. Nowhere else in this planet do the tigers behave like this. The mud you see in this picture is very sticky. The more you stand on it, the more you will sink. It’s extremely difficult to walk on it. Only way you can walk is to walk or run as fast as you can. Judging the pugmark on the mud, you can guess how fast the tiger walked, distributing its weight evenly.

Lens: EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2.0x
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: South Talpatti Island, Sundarbans, Bangladesh

This is one of the favorite places I would love to visit more often, a terracotta Hindu temple from the northern part of Bangladesh. This lady was with her family; all were with her the 1st couple of mins. The people who built this temple were Muslims. In appreciation, the Hindu king made them a mosque with similar design which still stands near the temple. However, I have never been to that mosque. The surface of the temple is exquisitely embellished with terracotta plaques which depict flora and fauna, geometric motifs, mythological scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, contemporary social scenes and favorite pastimes. The idol of Kantaji is kept in the temple’s ground floor. It takes 7 hours bus journey to reach there from the capital city of Dhaka. However, there are a few village roads nearby for a nice hike through Bangladeshi rural life which makes this journey even more interesting.

Lens: EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Location: Kantanagar Temple, Dinajpur, Bangladesh

Dreams can be contagious! Inspired by MINT ICETEA’s Dreams Set.

Lens: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Location: St.Martin Island, Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula, Bangladesh

These were Chakma kids who actually took me to this place by the lake. Without them I wouldn’t have had any clue about that amazing place.

Lens: EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 40D
Location: Rangamati, Chittagong, Bangladesh

This picture made me laugh and think at the same time. French photographer Erwan and I  had stopped at a tea garden for the usual lookouts (for subjects ofcourse!) and this old man came out from the house and stood like that. In a flash I took this shot while Erwan took mine. Though Frenchman apologized for being behind the subject, I think his presence made a big difference in this composition.

Lens: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Location: Srimongal, Moulovibazar, Sylhet, Bangladesh

During the fading sunlight, I asked him if I could take a picture of him. He nodded, and I took this shot. This old man sells papar with his family (you can see his daughter making papar in the background) in front of the Dinajpur Raj-Bari Mandir (King’s Temple) to the local visitors. He doesn’t make much money, hardly $10 or $20 per day, and I doubt he has any formal education either. But the real life discussion he had with me gave a glimpse of the wisdom he had acquired in his life, which is no less valuable.  I was discussing with him the Hindu Muslim relations in the area. His answer was “Hindu Muslim bhai bhai”, which means Hindu & Muslims are brothers. This is a common slogan in Bangladesh regarding Hindu Muslim relations; so far we don’t have any extreme religious clash unlike some parts of the world. I, myself, grew up in a Hindu surrounding and it deeply impacted my views towards religion. None of the majority religions of the world instruct anyone to suffer in life and make others suffer. They guide human beings on how to live a life according to the wishes of its creator and find peace both here & in after-life.

Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel XTi
Location: Rajbari, Dinajpur, Bangladesh

Portrait: When Love Dies…….darkness prevails! A tree stump turned rock solid & white. It’s not fun watching dead trees, especially when global warming is breathing on our neck. Ninety percent of Bangladeshi forests have been lost and the rest of the survivors won’t see sunshine for long. Absence of greenery can change the surroundings dramatically and I tried stitching all sorts of chaos in this photograph. We love the forest, when the forest is gone, we will have to march along with it to the darkness too…..

Lens: EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Camera: Canon EOS 40D
Location: Rangamati, Chittagong, Bangladesh

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Part 2 of travelBangladesh with SHABBIR FERDOUS will be posted in the coming weeks, so stay TUNED for more gorgeous photographs of Bangladesh!

[images: all photographs are copyright of SHABBIR FERDOUS]

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July 1, 2009

Shehzad Noorani has worked as a freelance documentary photographer since 1987. His special focus is people who live on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder. He has covered major crises resulting from wars and natural calamities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Iran and Bangladesh. Other assignments for agencies such as UNICEF have taken him to more than thirty countries. Noorani has also edited photographs for numerous publications. His work has appeared in Geo, Newsweek, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian and The British Journal of Photography and has been exhibited widely around the world. For Daughters of Darkness, his project on the lives of commercial sex workers, he received the Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography Award in 2000. His project, Children of Black Dust, was featured in the book ‘What Matters’ by David Elliot Cohen.

[image: all photographs are copyright of SHEHZAD NOORANI]

cB:  Welcome back! Today we are continuing our conversation with Shehzad Noorani. Shehzad Bhai – reading the stories behind some of your photographs made me very emotional, like the story of child labors in ‘Children of Black Dust’ – how do you control your emotions at such times? While on assignment, do you get very upset, depressed at the unfairness of why so many people live in poverty when there is all this wealth in this world or do you keep your mind very focused on the job, as it needs to get done and not allow for distractions.

SN:  Both at the same time. Sometimes I do get upset. I guess if I didn’t get emotional, I would not be shooting what I shoot. However,  usually I am not trying to show injustice and have ‘lets change the world’ attitude. It’s difficult to express what I feel in words. Let me try. I have been poor myself, a street child, and worked as a child labour when I was young. Odd as it may sound, I remember that experience fondly and I think those experiences have greatly contributed to make me whoever I may be today. Depending on the degree of poverty, may be it’s not all that bad to be poor. It’s a relative term. I think everyone in the world should some how be able to at least get enough food to survive, some shelter, cover and medical assistance if and when they need. I do believe it’s terrible when your child has to go to sleep hungry and you are not able to do anything about it. Rich or poor, it really hurts deep inside when your child is sick and worst when you are not even able to take your child to a doctor or provide any kind of medication. Some of these things are supposed to be ensured by the governments, and in developed countries they do. In developing countries, our politicians are so bloody corrupt, they treat their limited time on power seats as a last opportunity to make money and never do anything for their people. I feel helpless and also feel responsible at the same time to somehow share with the haves, more privileged, people just like myself, what I see. If not to change anything, at least to make them realize that often the luxuries we have are at the expense of thousands of people we sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly exploit. I cannot reach the damn politicians, but I often make it to their children. I don’t mind those corrupt politicians not seeing it. It would not make any difference anyway. They don’t care. But I believe their children would.

Having said all this, I must admit, this is just my anger. When I am shooting, I may feel angry, but at that time my mind is simply focused on what is going on in front of my eyes. I am not shocked with poverty or poor people. I think being one of them at one point in my life and later witnessing it all the time as part of my work, almost daily, has taken away the shock value. Just like a surgeon who does not get shocked to see blood and continues to operate, I shoot, knowing exactly what is wrong and not in place. Difference between me and that surgeon is I guess that I just don’t know how to fix it.

[top image: Children of Black Dust, an infant sleeps on a jute bag in a factory where his mother works. bottom image: Children of Black Dust, Hajira laughs standing on the door of a workshop, where she works, with her 3 year old sister Mumtaz in her arms.]

cB:  Have you been able to keep in touch with your subjects? When you visit Bangladesh, do you get a chance to see them? For example, Munni and Noorun Nahar from ‘The River Bleeds Black’ – I wonder where are they now.

SN:  I do. Often I go back, meet them, talk to them and give them their pictures, like with Noorun Nihar whom I met several times. Sometimes they are simply lost, like Munni. I went back to the slum she used to live and looked for her for days, but just could not find her. Recently I have raised some funds to try to help some of these children I photographed including those in ‘Children of Black Dust. Just a couple of days ago I sent my younger brother, who now lives in Dhaka, to try to locate her, but even he could not find her. I will not be surprised if I find her in a brothel somewhere in Bangladesh or even in India. Life sucks.

[top image: River Bleeds Black, 9 year old Munni searches for metal in a pile of garbage on the Buriganga banks. bottom image: River Bleeds Black, Munni has 3 sisters and one brother. Her father passed away and her mother struggles to keep the family going. She says, ‘Only I know how I manage to feed my children. School? Education is not for poor people like us.]

cB:  Your assignments have taken you all over the world, over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, Middle East [and, I am supremely jealous of all your travels!]. Which country has the fondest memory and which country was the most photogenic [of course, besides Bangladesh – we all agree it is the most beautiful place on earth!].

SN:  I think Myanmar, Syria, Afghanistan, Nepal, India and Pakistan have to be on the top, that is of course after Bangladesh. It would be extremely difficult, but if I have to pick one country to live, I think I would choose Myanmar. Perhaps because Myanmar truly sandwiched between South Asia and South East Asia have cultures from both to offer in one single country. Also, I think due to the fact that it has been sort of closed from rest of the world because of the military regime there, parts of Myanmar still remains sort of unpolluted in terms of the affects of globalization and makes you feel as if you are somewhere on the planet earth at least a century ago. Burmese people are truly beautiful, physically, culturally, and spiritually.

[top image: Children of Black Dust, Noorun Nahar, 15 years old, is breaking old batteries.  She had to quit school to work and help the family. bottom image: Children of Black Dust, a woman holds her child blackened by carbon dust. His nose bleeds due to infections caused by exposure to dust and pollution.] 

cB:  One lesson that Bangladesh has taught you or, one memory of Bangladesh that you always carry with you.

SN:  That one can survive with so little and still be grateful and happy. No matter what happens, flood, erosion, cyclones, one can always bounce back and try again.

cB:  Though you spent part of your growing-up years in Karachi, you are very much a Bangladeshi at heart and you are very connected to Bangladesh, as your work shows.  How did that evolve, develop? Did you always feel Bangladeshi, even while living in Karachi?                    

SN:  I am an Ismaili Muslim and for most Ismailis around the world, their spiritual identity comes first even before their race or country. I’d be honest to admit that it was the same for me for many years. Now, I know that I am Bangladeshi and I am proud of it. Having said that, I also know that by race, I am not Bengali and sometimes when I am back in Bangladesh and get treated like a foreigner, I feel very hurt. My family always migrated, first from India to East Pakistan soon after the Independence in 1947, then again I think in 1974 to Pakistan from Bangladesh when I was only eight years old, and then again in 1988 from Pakistan to Bangladesh, when my father just could not take the degree of violence Pakistan was affected with and wanted to come back to his peaceful Bangladesh. I remember that when I was leaving for Bangladesh, my best friend told me not to go and that “it’s a poor country and you will die hungry”. I told him that it may be a poor country, but if you have not seen it, you will never understand its beauty. The soil in Bangladesh is black (meaning wet and fertile) and if you throw a mango pit (core or seed) outside your window,  in a few days you will see it becoming a plant on its own.

I had such beautiful memories of Bangladesh from my childhood and although I lived in Pakistan for about 14 years, I never felt I am anything but a Bangladeshi. Sitting outside our house in Rangpur shinning coins with soil before I hand them out to beggars who used to pass by, or digging for black wet soil to mold toys and climbing big piles of jute fibers behind our house on Station Road are treasured memories. When my father was dying from cancer in USA in 1998 and he knew he had very little time in hand, it was his last wish to go back to Bangladesh, the place he was at home, to die. I think that’s why I always felt hurt when people treated me as a foreigner. At heart I never felt like one but obviously I did look like one physically.

cB:  Thank you very much Shehzad Bhai for taking the time to talk to us about your photography and life experiences. I really enjoyed our adda [Bengali discussion] and hope to see more of your work in the future!

* To view more of SHEHZAD NOORANI’s photographs, you can visit his Flickr Photostream here.

** For an audio slideshow of ‘Children of Black Dust’ narrated by SHEHZAD NOORANI and which was featured in the book, ‘What Matters’, please visit the CNN site here.

[top image: River Bleeds Black, Nawab Ali washes himself using extremely contaminated water from a concrete tank that is used to melt waste leather full of toxic chemicals. middle image: Children of Black Dust, children break used batteries for recycling. As they spend a good part of the day in polluted factories inhaling harmful gasses and particles, they often remain sick. bottom image: River Bleeds Black, children burning garbage and retrieving metal objects for recycling.]

[image: all photographs are copyright of SHEHZAD NOORANI]

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June 28, 2009

 

Shehzad Noorani has worked as a freelance documentary photographer since 1987. His special focus is people who live on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder. He has covered major crises resulting from wars and natural calamities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Iran and Bangladesh. Other assignments for agencies such as UNICEF have taken him to more than thirty countries. Noorani has also edited photographs for numerous publications. His work has appeared in Geo, Newsweek, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian and The British Journal of Photography and has been exhibited widely around the world. For Daughters of Darkness, his project on the lives of commercial sex workers, he received the Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography Award in 2000.  His project, Children of Black Dust, was featured in the book ‘What Matters’ by David Elliot Cohen.

[image: all photographs are copyright of SHEHZAD NOORANI]

cB:  Thank you Shehzad Bhai for sharing your experiences as a photographer with us today. Why don’t we start at the very beginning – what was ‘that first moment’ when you realized you wanted to be a photographer? How old where you and what was your own reaction to that realization?

SN:  Photography was really a tool to get off poverty. When I was in class 7, about 14/15 years old, one of my teachers asked me to take some photographs at school. He handed me a camera and asked me if I can take photographs. One never said ‘No’ to him and out of habit I said ‘Yes Sir’ even though I had no idea how to operate a camera. A few days later the teacher called me to his office and showed me my photographs. He was amazed at the photographs and told me that I had a natural talent for taking pictures. That incident more or less started my photography career. At that time I was working in a garments factory. To subsidize my income I would rent a camera and take photographs of birthday parties and other events. Gradually my photography business started doing well and I built a reputation for myself. Later on I got my big break when I was hired by UNICEF in Bangladesh to work on their assignments.

[image: River Bleeds Black, boats struggle to navigate through the congested waterways of Buriganga.]

cB:  You work mostly in black and white. I, myself, find black and white photographs to be more poetic. Is b/w your preferred medium? What propels you to shoot in b/w?

SN:  Not true anymore. I did a fair bit of work in b/w during film era, now I mainly shoot in colour digital raw images that can be easily converted to b/w, if need be. For instance, my story on the environment, River Bleeds Black, is shot entirely in digital colour, then, converted carefully using a software called Aperture into b/w. Yes, I like b/w because it takes away colours and, thus, makes it less distracting and people are able to focus more on what is happening in the pictures. It is simple, thus, it often helps in telling a story. Poetic, I would not know about that.  I try not to do art at the expense of poverty and people I shoot are mostly poor.

[top image: River Bleeds Black, Bristi cries after being beaten by her mother. bottom image: Daughters of Darkness, a child of a sex worker with clients in the background.]

cB:  Which ‘one personal experience’ has had the most influence on your photography? And, which photograph of yours have moved you the most and why?

SN:  I don’t think I can pin point one personal experience or pictures that move me most down to a few images. I think it is a process. There are hundreds of experiences and literally thousands of pictures. Also, I usually don’t go back and look at my own images too much and admire them. That would make me feel like I am ‘somebody’ and I know I am not. To me they are images of people, some are great images, because everything including light, moment, frame, accident, came together, while some are not so great, but still they are almost ALWAYS images of people. I find it difficult to choose one image over the other, because as I said, I am not an art photographer and do not do art at the cost of people I shoot. I simply document. Sometimes some images turn out to be great and sometimes not. Although I probably know which one worked, but at the same time, almost as a principal, I find it difficult to choose one image over others as ‘my best’. There is so much more to photography than just ‘I am a great photographer and here is my best picture’. It’s a lifestyle and life itself. I feel I sort of float through it and experience whatever comes my way without having much control over what happens in front of me, and when that happens, I just feel lucky to be there.  

Being a photographer certainly allows me to be in places and meet people that may not be possible for others. Often I get to see east, west, north and south of a country in a matter of couple of weeks that even the residents of those countries don’t get to see in a life time. There is much to learn and much to absorb and I feel very privileged to experience that. When you see how great the world is, and there is so much to understand and learn, it simply makes one feel extremely humble.

[top image: Daughters of Darkness, on Eid day Shilpi lies in the arms of her client-boyfriend Sarwar. bottom image: Daughters of Darkness, women attempt to drag a reluctant man into their ramshackle hut.]

cB:  You are passionate about documenting social issues. Your photography story on ‘Daughters of Darkness’ won the Mother Jones International Award in 2000. When working on these sensitive issues, how do you connect with the people and make them feel comfortable in front of the camera. What is your magic trick in making them feel at ease?

SN:  Yes I am passionate about documenting social issues, but I feel I am documenting my own life rather than ‘them’. I do not see much difference between ‘me’ and ‘them’. You will understand better what I am saying in later paragraphs.

 I don’t think there is either any magic or trick that could make people comfortable with you. The only way people eventually accept you and feel comfortable is when they realize that you are just like them. The key to be at home with people is to have genuine respect for them. It’s true that the people I photograph are often economically disadvantaged compared to me, but since I totally believe that it does not necessarily make me better than them in any respect, eventually it gets communicated to them as well. I don’t try to hide anything about myself or pretend that I am just like them. I am not, at least economically I am often much better off, humanly maybe not. I try to be as honest as I can be and give them honest and true answers when they ask me about myself, my family and my intentions. Once they understand that I am being honest with them, respect them as equals, and have a deep interest in them, they treat me equally as well. 

The whole body of work on the Daughters of Darkness happened due to my complete ignorance and genuine interest in understanding what was happening and unfolding in front of my eyes. The lives of people in the brothels that I visited kept unfolding in front of my eyes and, often, in front of my cameras. People often approached and requested me to take their pictures, so there was no question of them being uncomfortable. I guess another reason that you see depth in those pictures is because of the fact that I spent about 13 years on and off in different brothels all over South Asia to shoot the stories. I had no plan, no story line, no fixed purpose or intention, I was just genuinely interested and shot images whenever I felt I had the opportunity to do so. Since it was not really an assignment, there was no hurry or deadline. I did not even know what and why I was doing whatever I was doing. I was just experiencing life and capturing it as it unfolded. One other thing that also worked for me is the fact that I really and genuinely respected those girls and women in the brothel. It felt to me as they were my sisters and mother, thus, there was no question about trying to show anything gross, reality or not.

* To be continued. Part 2 will be posted on Wednesday.

[top image: emotions run high among women in Kandupatti brothel, Dhaka. middle image: a commercial sex worker kisses another on the cheek, an unusual display of affection. bottom image: a client kisses a reluctant girl. All 3 images are from Daughters of Darkness.]

[image: all photographs are copyright of SHEHZAD NOORANI]

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June 24, 2009

Announcement: GMB AKASH wins prestigious 7th Vevey International Photography Grant

[image: photograph is copyright of GMB AKASH]

I have some fantastic news for you today. GMB AKASH, who recently shared with us his moving photographs of Cyclone Aila, has received the prestigious 7th Vevey International Photography Grant for his project on ‘Child Labor’. The prize includes a $15,000 grant, a solo exhibition in Switzerland, and a book publication by art book publishers, Hatje Cantz. The grant will allow Akash Bhai to continue working on this project and prepare for the solo exhibition in September 2010. If you are planning to be in gorgeous Switzerland around that time, do drop in. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the book and am already thinking of how to pre-order it.

It is a wonderful feeling to see Bangladeshi photographers making a mark on the international stage and helping to raise awareness for Bangladesh. We hope there will be many more moments like this when Bangladeshi talents will be recognized, both at home and abroad, because we truly are a nation with much potential!

Of course, I am also saddened by the photographs in the series, ‘Child Labor’, and it makes me think about the injustices and inequalities of this world. And, the number of children who go to bed hungry and who are forced to work in hazardous professions, putting their lives at risk, just to eat one square meal a day. I would like to hope that someday all the world’s children will be able to have beautiful childhoods.

To view more photographs from GMB AKASH’s ‘Child Labor’ project, visit here. For the previous post on GMB AKASH, visit here.

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