Embracing the Amateur

Photo: Javed Miandad Design: Mahbub/Drik
Photo: Javed Miandad
Design: Mahbub/Drik

We spot a lens peering at us from the corner of our eye. Immediately we straighten up, fix our hair, smooth the rough in our clothes, consciously make – or avoid – eye contact. Only the well trained is able to visibly avoid responding to the camera’s presence. The professional photographer prides in her ability to take ‘natural’ photographs, where her intervention is invisible. Yet, peering through family albums, wedding folders or a Facebook status we find ourselves actively inviting the portrayal of how we want to be seen. Whether we consider a photograph of ourselves to be ‘good’ largely depends on how well the photographer has represented us, as we would want it. As such the photographer’s success depends not so much on her aesthetic sense or insight, but on her ability to please the sitter. While this applies to the casual portraitist, it is much more true of the professional photographer. Her bread and butter depend on a satisfied client and as such, are driven by an external agenda. Whether it be a corporation, or an NGO or a newly wed couple, a good photographer is one who delivers what is required. Continue reading

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And Yet She Smiles

And yet she smiles. Gang raped numerous times as a child. Forced into pick pocketing. Caned till she was unconscious. Sold to a madame. Hajera Begum’s life has little that would give cause to smile. Yet she smiles. She cries too. Not because of the gang rapes, or the beating, or the many years she lives in the streets as a rag picker, but when she remembers that a man who worked in an NGO, refused to work in her team because she was a sex worker.

It was that moment that Hajera decided she would make sure it was different for others like her. She had earlier set up a self-help group for sex workers, but eventually, with the help of some university students and other friends and a generous journalist, set up an orphanage for abandoned kids. They are mostly children of sex workers. Some are children of drug addicts. A few are children of parents who simply couldn’t afford to keep them. Hajera and her thirty children live in five small rooms near Adabor Market 16, on the edge of Dhaka. Run entirely by volunteers, she has only one paid staff, the cook. “What will I do with a salary?” she says. We share what food we have. I have a roof over my head and I have my children.

Remarkably, Hajera is not bitter. While she remembers every detail of her nightmarish life, she also remembers the friends who believed in her, and helped her set up the orphanage. Instead of remembering that she is incapable of bearing children because of brutal unwanted sex, she basks in the warmth of the 30 children who now call her mother.

Hajera (right) and her friends by Crescent Lake in the parliament grounds. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Hajera (right) and her friends by Crescent Lake in the parliament grounds. 1996. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

When I first met Hajera, back in 1996, she was a sex worker based in the grounds of the house of parliament. We became friends, and she and her friends would often visit us in our flat, an unacceptable act in most homes.

Hajera was a sex worker who set up a self help group for sex workers called Durjoy. She now runs an orphanage for 30 children, who are mostly children of sex workers. Some are children of drug addicts, a few are children of other low income families. They have all been abandoned. 16 Adabor Market. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Oct 2014
Hajera at her orphanage. 16 Adabor Market. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Oct 2014. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

“You hugged me today when you saw me in the street, just like the old times. That’s something men will never do. They will have sex with me, grope me in the dark, rape me if they get the chance, but they will never hug me, as a sister, as a friend. That is what I want for my children. That they will grow up with dignity, in a world where they will be loved.”

Hajera with her kids. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Hajera with her kids. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

As the kids get older, there is more need for money, particularly for schooling. Some of the students who support her have graduated and now have jobs. One works in a telecom company. With their help this February, they ran for the first time, a FaceBook campaign to raise money for the centre. The oldest girl Farzana is 13. The daughter of a mutual friend Hasna – who still works in the streets – she has just been admitted into the respectable boarding school, Bharoteshshori Homes. Two of the boys are also being sent to good schools. She has high hopes for the other kids too, though she worries about Shopon who is deaf and mentally ill. But she takes great pride in showing me the bunk beds she’s had made, so the kids no longer have to sleep on the floor.

The new bunk beds. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The new bunk beds. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

As I look back at Hajera peering through the little window, bidding me goodbye, I realise how lucky the kids are, to have her as their mother.

Shahidul Alam
7th October 2014
Dhaka

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Posted in Arts, Bangladesh, culture, My Photo Essays, Photography, Photojournalism, Poverty, Shahidul Alam, South Asia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chasing Windmills

AZIZUR RAHIM PEU, born 10th June 1964, died 14 October 2014

Azizur Rahim Peu
Azizur Rahim Peu

“If you let me go, I’ll kill myself.” I’d never given a job to anyone before. So this response to my suggestion that there was a better future for him elsewhere, was something I wasn’t prepared for. I had returned to Bangladesh after having been away for twelve years. Not having the capital myself, I had set up a photographic studio in partnership with a businessman cum photographer Khan Mohammad Ameer and his businessmen brothers. The studio “Fotoworld” was posh, and we photographed the glitterati. We also took pictures of factories, the odd milk powder tin, food, cigarette cartons and pretty much anything people would pay us (and sometimes not pay us) to shoot. Azizur Rahim Peu was my first recruit. I’d come to know him through the Bangladesh Photographic Society, where I was the general secretary and had taken an immediate liking to the young man. Continue reading

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Pictures that question the world

By Pawel Kuczynski

ArtFido

Good set, except that Israel is curiously missing.

Pawel Kuczynski is a Polish artist who specialises in images that make you think hard about the world we live in.

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STRANGER THAN FICTION: America’s ramped up nuclear capability: Prelude to another Cold War?

by TAJ HASHMI*

While people across the world for the last three years have been watching the unbelievable resurgence in state- and non-state-actor-sponsored violence and terror across the Arab World – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Gaza, and of late, Iraq – the Obama Administration’s recent decision to ramp up its nuclear capability has almost remained unnoticed to most analysts, let alone the common people. Even if, very similar to what happened during the Cold War, America’s ramped up nuclear capability does not lead to a nuclear conflagration, this is going to signal further nuclear proliferation, arms race and a new cold war. Continue reading

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Drik’s 25th Anniversary

The dot matrix Olivetti printer was noisy. The XT computer came without a hard drive: two floppy disks uploaded the operating system. When the electricity went (as it often did), we had to reload it. Our bathroom doubled as our darkroom. A clunky metal cabinet housed our prints, slides, negatives and files. Anisur Rahman and Abu Naser Siddique were our printers; I was photographer, manager, copy editor and part-time janitor. Cheryle Yin-Lo, an Australian who had read about us in a magazine, joined as our librarian. We offered and she happily accepted a local salary.

Screenshot 2014-09-04 13.14.44

The New Internationalist Magazine in Oxford, has been a long time friend and supporter. This two page spread was put together by them to commemorate Drik’s 25th anniversary. Thanks NI. Continue reading

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Brahmaputra Diary by Shahidul Alam

Lecture no- 340 Series: Nature

Speaker:          Shahidul Alam

Topic:              My Journey As A Witness
Date:                August 26, 2014
Time:               6.30 PM
Venue:             EMK Centre, Midas Centre, 9th floor, Plot: 5, Road 16 (old 27), Dhanmondi, Dhaka
Moderator:      Tughlaq Azad
Ticket:              50 Taka only

The source of the river Brahmaputra in the Chemayungdung mountains in Tibet, China
The source of the river Brahmaputra in the Chemayungdung mountains in Tibet, China © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Older than the mountains, it is a river that forces its way through the towering Himalayas. The Tibetans know it as the Yarlung Tsang Po (the purifier). In India, it is known as Brahmaputra. In Bangladesh, it is also known as the Jamuna, The Padma and finally the Meghna before it opens into the sea.

Photographer Shahidul Alam will share his journey towards Brahmaputra’s origin. Continue reading

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Behind the Gaza ceasefire Israel and Hamas talk potential peace

By James m. Dorsey Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Synopsis

Israel and Hamas have significantly moderated their attitudes towards one another despite official denials. Indirect talks in Cairo designed to achieve a lasting ceasefire between the two war weary parties effectively constitute negotiations about the parameters of a potential future peace agreement. Continue reading

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Mandela’s First Memo to Thomas Friedman

Arjan El Fassed

The Electronic Intifada

29 March 2001

Editor’s note, 28 June 2013: This article was written by Arjan El Fassed in 2001 in the satirical style then being employed by Thomas Friedman, of writing mock letters from one world leader to another. Although it carries El Fassed’s byline, it has been repeatedly mistaken for an actual letter from Mandela. It is not. It is a piece of satire and has never been presented by EI as anything other than satire. El Fassed has written this history of the piece and how it subsequently was mistaken for a real letter, on his personal blog.

Memo to: Thomas L. Friedman (columnist New York Times)
From: Nelson Mandela (former President South Africa)

Dear Thomas,

I know that you and I long for peace in the Middle East, but before you continue to talk about necessary conditions from an Israeli perspective, you need to know what’s on my mind. Where to begin? How about 1964. Let me quote my own words during my trial. They are true today as they were then:

“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

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West Bank: 11-Year-Old Boy Bled to Death by Israeli Army, Attempts to Rescue Prevented by Live Fire

eleven-year-old Khalil Muhammad al-Anati.

Thousands gathered shortly before afternoon prayers on Sunday in Fawwar refugee camp south of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron to mourn the death of eleven-year-old Khalil Muhammad al-Anati.

Israeli soldiers shot Khalil with live ammunition outside his home that same morning on 10 August after forces invaded the camp. He was buried not far from his home that afternoon by thousands of friends, family and neighbors.

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