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Bangladesh 1971

They had risked all to hold on to this moment in history. The scarred negatives, hidden from the military, wrapped in old cloth, buried underground, also bore the wounds of war. These photographers were the only soldiers who preserved tangible memories, a contested memory that politicians fight over, in their battle for supremacy. These faded images, war weary, bloodied in battle, provide the only record of what was witnessed. Nearly four decades later, they speak.

women-marching-in-streets-of-dhaka-in-1971-1152.jpg

Women marching in the streets of Dhaka. 1971. © Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World

A photographic exhibition and film season that focuses on one of South Asia’s most significant political events: the foundation of Bangladesh as an independent state.
pakistani-soldiers-surrendering-aftab-ahmed-1161.jpg Pakistani soldiers surrendering on the 16th December 1971. © Aftab Ahmed/Drik/Majority World

The Bangladesh war of independence in 1971 was one of the bloodiest conflicts in living memory. In an attempt to crush forces seeking independence for what was then East Pakistan, the West Pakistani military regime unleashed a systematic campaign of violence that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Bangalis. Many of the photographs from the unique collection of the Drik archives will be shown in the UK for the first time.

dismembered-head-in-rayerbajar-rashid-talukder-1111.jpg Dismembered head at the Rayerbajar Killing Fields where intellectuals were slaughtered on the 14th December 1971 © Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World

victorious-muktis-returning-home-523.jpgVictorious Mukti Bahini returning home at the end of the war. © Jalaluddin Haider/Drik/Majority World

mujib-returns-to-bangladesh.jpg Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his return to Bangladesh from Pakistan. 10th January 1972 © Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World

In 266 days Bangali, hill people and Adivasi resistance fighters and their allies defeated the military forces of Pakistan. The result was the birth of a new nation – Bangladesh – and the dismemberment of Pakistan.
It was only after the 16th of December 1971 when Pakistani troops surrendered in East Pakistan, that Bangladeshis began to realise the scale of the atrocities committed during the previous nine months.

children-and-shells.jpg Children amidst shells. © Abdul Hamid Raihan/Drik/Majority World

1971 was a year of national and international crisis in South Asia. The history of Bangladesh is implicitly tied to the partition of India in 1947 and therefore the tragic events of 1971 are linked to Britain’s colonial past. For Bangladesh, ravaged by the war and subsequent political turmoil, it has been a difficult task to reconstruct its own history. It is only during the last few years that this important Bangladeshi photographic history has begun to emerge.

Now decades after the war, Autograph ABP in collaboration with Drik presents a historical photographic overview of Bangladesh 1971 at Rivington Place.

Project Description
A major documentary photographic exhibition of primarily Bangladeshi photographers that focuses on the independence struggle in 1971. The exhibition is produced in partnership with Shahidul Alam, Director of Drik, a media activist and journalist from Bangladesh. This will be the first comprehensive review in the UK of one of the most important conflicts in modern history. It is recognised that over a million people died in 266 days during the struggle for an independent Bangladesh.

UK partner Autograph ABP. Curator Mark Sealy, director of Autograph ABP.

Exhibition open to public April 4th – 31st May 2008
Press View – Both curators will be available to meet the press 11.30am – 1pm April 3rd

The exhibition is accompanied by the Bangladesh 1971 Film Season throughout April 2008 in partnership with Rich Mix and The Rainbow Film Society. Please see attached document for full details.

For further information or images, contact Indra Khanna 020 7749 1261 or David A Bailey 020 7749 1264.
Autograph ABP, Rivington Place, London EC2A 3BA.

Notes:

VENUE
Rivington Place
off Rivington Street
London EC2A 3BA
020 7749 1240

April 4th – 31st May 2008
Open Tuesday – Friday 11am – 6pm
Saturday 12pm – 6pm
Entry is free. Venue is wheelchair accessible.

• Shahidul Alam: Curator, photographer, activist. Gallery Talk (in Bengali) 2pm April 5th
• Mark Sealy: Director of Autograph ABP. Gallery Talk (in English) 6.30pm April 17th
• Many other talks and events to be confirmed
• Bangladesh 1971 Film Season throughout April 2008 in partnership with Rich Mix and The Rainbow Film Society
• Special screening of documentaries and artists’ films at Rivington Place to be announced

Photographers included in the exhibition: Abdul Hamid Raihan, Aftab Ahmed, BegArt Collection, Golam Mawla, Jalaluddin Haider, Mohammad Shafi , Naib Uddin Ahmed, Rashid Talukder, Sayeeda Khanom and Bal Krishnan.

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press-release-bangladesh-1971.doc

February 22, 2008 Posted by | Bangladesh | 13 Comments

Being Ekushey

blogger’s note: The 21st (Ekushey) February 1952, is one of the most significant days in Bangladesh’s history and represents the language movement of Bangladesh. UNESCO has declared 21st February as the International Mother Language Day.

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Being Ekushey

rahnuma ahmed

Words or Deeds?

Apology to Aborigines

“The wrongs were done not through words but through deeds. The rights need to be done in exactly the same way. Much breath is wasted in polemic while peoples lives are twisted and broken out of sight of those who speak it.”

Zubair’s e-mail, published in New Age, Monday Feb 18, 2008 caught my eye.

I had turned the pages of the newspaper, but his words brought back memories of my school years. The infinite number of times I had said “sorry” to my mother only to be faced by sheer incredulity on her part. “Sorry bollei hoe gelo?” (So you say you are sorry and that’s it?).

It would be over little things. Everyday things. I had forgotten to put the milk back into the fridge. I had not locked the front door properly. While crossing her, my foot had accidentally touched hers. “Sorry.” I could not help but utter this little word that the Canadian nuns had taught us. This was the mid-sixties. I was studying at a convent in Chittagong. The sisters were patient. They would repeatedly instruct us, If you make a mistake, if the fault is yours, you must say, “I am sorry.” When I used the word at school, they would smile at me. Their smiles were kind and encouraging.

But things were different at home. My mother would immediately retort, Sorry bollei hoe gelo? I was always at a loss. I never knew what to say. What could I say? What should I say? Should I say, “But ma, this is what I am taught at school.” Or, “You are supposed to say this ma.” Or, much later, when I was in high school in Karachi, devouring Barbara Cartland, and Mills & Boons romances, should I have tried to explain “Ma, this is English etiquette, you have to say it. It doesn’t mean anything.” But I was sure all hell would break loose. I was sure she would pounce on my words and say, “Why say it then?” And of course I would be at a total loss.

Think before you commit a wrong, that is what she would say. “But ma, what if something happens accidentally? I didn’t want to, but it happened, still… what then?” She was quick to remind me, if you had been really mindful you would have been more careful with the glass jug. Then she would go on, “If it does, be ashamed, behave ashamed. Don’t go around, still strutting… And make sure it never happens again.”

The years had passed. I was on my own. I kept making mistakes. I kept mumbling sorry. But I was not able to forget my mother’s words. I felt there was something more to it. But what was it? Manners? Or rather, lack of? That was often implied, that they had more, we had less. I was quite unconvinced. There must be something else. Maybe it has to do with language. I was not sure. Philosophy, ethics? I was not sure. I used to read a lot, but I could not find any answers. I couldn’t forget her words either.

Many more years later, I came across John Austin’s work. In How To Do Things With Words, Austin, a philosopher of language says, language does not only convey information. It is a mode of action. Speaking involves acts: labouring, writing, cooking, cleaning, marrying, marching. And therefore, a theory of language is part of a theory of action. There are two kinds of utterances, constative, and performative (he revised much of this later, but that’s a separate issue). Constative ones are descriptive; they report. They are either true or false. For instance, the jug is made of glass. East Pakistan was part of Pakistan. The history of Aboriginal Australians is one of genocide. Performative ones are different. What is important here is the attitude of the person speaking — her feelings, perceptions, intentions. For instance, take the case of a groom who has uttered “kobul” (I do) at a marriage ceremony, but has not disclosed the fact that he has a wife and two kids. Both marriages are valid in Muslim law, but many would doubt his sincerity and honesty.

Following Austin I could see that when I said “I am sorry”, whether I meant it genuinely or not was more important than uttering the word. My thoughts returned to what ma had said. Was that what she was driving at? At the meaning? Or did her words belong to let’s say, a different moral universe? Hmm, I thought, it’s both yes and no. If something happened accidentally, against my will, then yes. I would have to be remorseful. Sincerely so. What were her exact words? Behave ashamed. But the other half of her lesson, that had been different. Think before you commit a wrong. Think. So that the need to say I’m sorry does not arise. I found Austin very interesting. I hadn’t thought a theorist or a philosopher of language would give importance to the speaker’s intentions, to her feelings. I hadn’t thought what a speaker, or writer, meant by kobul was part of the meaning of kobul. Linguistics no longer seemed boring.

I return to the present. I look at younger mothers who instruct their children to utter the word “sorry.” I remember a young friend who had come with her three year-old. He had spilt food, and she insisted, “Tell aunty you are sorry, tell her you are sorry for spilling the food.”

I feel slightly bemused when I read an article reporting a survey on the use of the word sorry by Britons (“Sorry to say,” BBC News 24). The article tells us that the word originated from the Old English word ‘Sarig’, which meant “distressed, full of sorow.” What had earlier been a hard to use word is now an “over-used figure of speech.” It is “common.” It is a “cheap and convenient way” of excusing inappropriate, anti-social behaviour. According to the survey’s findings, the average person in Britain says sorry often. Two-thirds of the time, they don’t mean it.

I am more convinced than ever. My mother must have meant something very fundamental when she had objected to the word “sorry”.

Getting it wrong?

The ex-law advisor to the current government Barrister Mainul Hossein will be remembered. For his unforgettable statements. One of these was to waiting journalists. Something to this effect, ‘If you exercised self-censorship yourself, we would not have to censor you, would we?’

Not all private TV channels have toed the line. Not all of the time. Recently, Shahidul was interviewed by one of the channels. Before the recording began, he was chatting with members of the crew. Talk soon turned to the emergency, the current economic slump, and to media restrictions. Talk turned to Ekushey TV, to the ban on Ekushey Shomoy, and Ekushey Raat. A member of the recording crew nodded his head and said sympathetically, [The problem was] oder self-censorshipta thikmoto hocchilo na. (They weren’t getting their self-censorship right).

It’s funny. It’s also very telling. We not only need to censor ourselves. We also need to pitch it right. Who does that benefit and how? What does apology do for those who apologise? That’s the question Eva Mackey, a Canadian anthropologist asks of “Sorry Day” ceremonies. These are enacted by local communities in Australia, and seen as part of a “people’s movement.” (“As good as it gets? Apology, Colonialism and White Innocence,” 1999). Her answer is, it accomplishes two things. It foregrounds 200 years of colonial violence, but the acknowledgement is made in order to erase genocidal actions. Simultaneously. Through a few simple words. Like magic. As such, it does a lot for the apologiser. They are able to construct themselves as innocent. The actions themselves are rendered “forgivable.” Before even being spoken, the acts are made forgivable. Not acts that can be punished, or avenged. Not acts that “fall outside the bounds of forgiveness altogether.” She asks, why do Canada and Australia’s attempts at cultural genocide not mean that they be ejected from the United Nations? How can a few simple words do so much? To understand that, says Mackey, we must see apology as a “speech act.”

Paraphrasing Eva, my question is: what does our self-censorship do for those who rule? It constructs them as innocent. As uninterested in power. Until the playing field has been levelled. Made empty, for them. The only players.

Getting it right

Is the observance of Language Day a speech act? Mouthing words, saying niceties. Only for one day, each year. Thank you Salam, Rafiq, Barkat, Jabbar, Sofiur Rahman, nine year-old Ohiullah…. Thank you for giving us the Language Day. We are sorry you had to die though…

Or is it about re-creating meanings of love, sacrifice and struggle? For languages and their peoples. For the mother-tongues of other peoples of Bangladesh, the paharis and adivasis. Fighting not only for the survival of languages, but the peoples these languages belong to. Fighting for their physical and cultural existence. Fighting for their freedom from encroaching army camps. Fighting against open-pit mines and eco-parks. One foisted on us in the name of national security, the other in the name of development.

Is it about getting self-censorship right? Or getting it wrong. Again. And yet again.

We should not let Ekushey become a “speech act”. We should be Ekushey.

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First published on 21st February 2008 in New Age

February 21, 2008 Posted by | Rahnuma Ahmed | 3 Comments

Tortured Truths

rahnuma ahmed

As a little child, when I was only three or four, I couldn’t understand how people could still see me if I shut my eyes.

Later, like most people, I grew up. I realised shutting my eyes didn’t make me any less visible to others.

Reading the recently-published Human Rights Watch report, available on the internet, The Torture of Tasneem Khalil. How the Bangladesh Military Abuses Its Power under the State of Emergency reminded me of my childhood follies. And I thought, hmm no one talks of military torture. Police torture, yes. RAB torture, umm, maybe. If you are foolhardy. Or if you are Jahangir Alam Akash, an outspoken Rajshahi journalist (see his just-published Ondhokarey Ponero Ghonta).

But military torture. No. DGFI torture i.e., torture at the hands (or boots) of military intelligence. NEVER. Unless one is Professor Anwar Hossain (Jobanbondi, Kara Deenolipi).

Talking of torture by state agencies, against its own citizens… but no hold it. Is the DGFI a mere state agency? Don’t keener analysts, those who don’t regurgitate dead political theories on TV, say that it has come to represent a state within a state?

Torture doesn’t reveal the truth

It was a medieval idea, that pain had to be inflicted on the body for truth to pour out. The purpose of modern torture is different. To instill fear. To crush political dissent. To wreak havoc and destroy lives. Often performed out of sheer habit. To assert supremacy. To possess nations. To build empires anew. The ticking bomb theory seeks to justify torture. What if a bomb timed to detonate at the rush hour has been planted in a crowded metro area. What if security forces have been able to identify and pick up the terrorists. Surely, to save innocent lives…

But reality is more complex. Torture doesn’t bring out the truth. Torture victims have repeatedly said that after a certain point they admit to nearly anything. To stop the pain being inflicted. Unless one is Khaled Shaikh Mohammed, described by US intelligence agencies as a 9/11 operational planner. Khaled was waterboarded, a torture technique where the prisoner is made to feel as though he is drowning. The interrogators used both hot and cold water. He was subjected to all kinds of deprivations, beatings, threats. They failed. He won the grudging respect of his interrogators. The high point was when they threatened to harm his children — a boy and a girl, age 7 and 9 — also captured. Khaled replied, “That’s fine. You can do what you want to my children, and they will find a better place with Allah.” He did give his interrogators some information, but as CIA expert Ron Suskind says, they were things that professional interrogators could have gotten otherwise. CIA’s torture methods, says Suskind, are “unproductive.”

Many liberal democratic governments in the West are embarrassed at having to employ torture. The war on terror, the horrors at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have given rise to convoluted descriptions of what is torture, how to measure torture, levels of acceptable pain. Often enough one comes across public officials quibbling over the legality of particular forms of pain and suffering inflicted. For instance, the newly-appointed US Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused to comment on whether waterboarding constituted torture. In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Chairman, Mukasey wrote, “it is not an easy question.”

It’s funny how perceptions can change when questions are framed differently. “If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful! Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture,” is what US national intelligence chief Mike McConnell said in a New Yorker magazine interview.

Do not forget me comrade

“I think I owe my resistance to a variety of concepts. Love is one of them. Poetry. Despair also, but not in the sense of suicide or surrender. Sadness was also present. There was also an ethical dimension. I was raised to be unbreakable, there was no choice but to resist,” said Syrian poet and journalist Faraj Ahmad Bayrakdar, to the Lebanese newspaper An Nahar. Faraj was imprisoned and tortured for his political activities and membership of the League of Communist Action. Termed one of the world’s “forgotten prisoners,” he was released from prison 14 months before the end of a 15-year jail sentence.

The most painful torture method, said Faraj, was the German chair. He calls it the “Nazi chair.” The prisoner is tied to a metal chair, it is then folded backwards, so that it pressurizes the back of the prisoner. Once put on that chair, any full breath can kill. “He has to calibrate his breathing on the edge of pain between two half-breaths. His life is placed on that line.” Once Faraj had to be carried back to his cell on a blanket. On the way, he had a vision of Malek Bin Arrayb when it was his time to die. “I felt the similarities between him and me. I didn’t fear death, I was only sad.” He composed this verse:

I wasn’t alive
And I wasn’t dead
So I made my way for him
Oh, how the narrowness of this place
Shames me.

For others, composing poetry while in prison has provided a feeling of control. It has defeated feelings of helplessness. Muriel Dockendorff Navarrete was 23 in 1974. A poet, lyricist, and economics student, she was arrested by the DINA in Santiago, Chile, for her organizing activities. Married a year ago, she was never again seen by her husband, or other members of her family. Muriel wrote this poem for “Sandra,” a fellow torture-center detainee, on the inside of a cigarette packet:

I remember when I met you in the house of terror, of what you gave me and surrendered to me.
In those moments in which the light was a dream or a miracle. However, you were the light amongst the darkness.
We were as one in our misfortune. Today, after thousands of
misfortunes more, I can see you, as I did then, always looking forward.
We will see each other again through the fog that we will disperse.
Do not forget me comrade.

It also leaves messages for us, for those outside. We must not forget. Neither Muriel, nor “Sandra.” Nor all others tortured. We must work to disperse the fog.

You are the law. You are God

Nufar Yishai-Karin, Israeli clinical psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, interviewed 21 Israeli soldiers. They confessed to assaulting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Frequently. Brutally.

The majority of the interviewees confessed at some point or the other, that they “enjoyed [the] violence.” It broke the routine, they liked the destruction and the chaos. Violence and the sense of danger gave them a feeling of power.

One of the soldiers said, “The truth? When there is chaos, I like it. That’s when I enjoy it. It’s like a drug. If I don’t go into Rafah, and if there isn’t some kind of riot once in some weeks, I go nuts.” Another soldier explained: “The most important thing is that it removes the burden of the law from you. You feel that you are the law. You are the law. You are the one who decides… As though from the moment you leave the place that is called Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and go through the Erez checkpoint into the Gaza Strip, you are the law. You are God.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Tasneem’s account is “the most detailed public account of a
case of torture in Bangladesh.” There are other testimonies too. The truth has been told.

We can no longer keep our eyes shut.
New Age 18 Feb 2008

February 18, 2008 Posted by | Rahnuma Ahmed | 1 Comment

Freedom

Drifting in cage and out again
Hark unknown bird does fly
Shackles of my mind
If my arms could entwine
With them I would thee bind

Rooms it had eight
And doors it had nine
Windows betwixt you find
Up above the glittering hall
Mirrors might make you blind

What fate alas makes bird do thus
Caged bird breaks free to fly
Of bamboo raw the cage I saw
This mind of mine still longs oh so
Lalon Fakir cries as he sees with his eyes
The cage wither and go*

The body, the soul, the self, the universe, Lalon saw freedom not as an entity outside oneself, but as a lived experience. Within yet afar. Ephemeral but tactile. With wings but encaged.

New forms of slavery form new forms of chains. Violence suffered in silence. Ancestral land commandeered. Resistance made illegal.

What mask does freedom now wear? Freedom to profit is the new elixir. Freedom to reach distant markets, to exploit cheap labour. The word that takes us to such dizzying heights leaves the deepest of wounds with its loss. ‘Foreign’ sounding names, ‘wrong’ coloured skin, ‘different’ passports, circumscribe our new freedoms.

Going beyond walls built to occupy territory. Beyond bombs dropped to coerce the unarmed. Beyond cells built to hold the other. Artists paint with colours that don’t exist. Write with words as yet un-invented. Photograph where light is yet to reach. The cage. The door. The wing. The soul. Freedom.

Shahidul Alam
Festival Director
Chobi Mela V

We invite photographers working in the fields of photojournalism, fine art, conceptual or any other field of photography, to interpret the theme “Freedom” in the widest sense possible. Submissions may be made online from 1st March 2008 through to 31st May 2008. Selections will be made by 15th June 2008. Final work must be submitted by 31st July 2008. Festival opens 6th November 2008. Submission guidelines will be available online.

*Translation by Shahidul Alam from “khachar bhitor ochin pakhi” by Lalon Shah.

February 16, 2008 Posted by | Bangladesh, Photography | , , , , | 3 Comments

Masterclass

It feels strange to be called a ‘master’ when the ‘students’ are such hugely talented photographers. When it includes the inimitable grandmaster David Burnett in our midst the discomfort is complete.

dr-burnett-600px.jpg © Jan Grarup

It was a delight to be in his company again. Though I’ve always enjoyed his images, and we’ve been co-jurors of WPP, this was the first time we’d spent so much time together. The poster for the first ever Chobi Mela in 2000, with his iconic image of the Muktibahini, still hangs on Drik’s corridor. Poor Munem Wasif travelled all the way to Amsterdam only to find his bearded tutor again.
sirio_058.jpgsirio_013.jpgsirio_066.jpgsirio_065.jpgsirio_048.jpgsirio_077.jpgsirio_117.jpg © Sirio Magnabosco

But the pleasure of such company, the energy within those four walls and the sheer joy of seeing such wonderful images, made up for any qualms I might have had. David’s presentation was humbling. It’s candor, its warmth, the enormous breadth of his work and the unquestionable quality of the photography left me breathless.

the-war-we-forgot-1971-600px.jpg © David Burnett/Contact Press Images. Design Reza/Drik

The WPP awards for Christoph, Cédric and Rafel that came in yesterday, was a welcome bonus, but an expected one. This was photography at its finest and despite the vagaries of judging and the imperfections of any selection process, photography such as this must surely rise to the surface.

Oh to be a student again!

cedric-6t.jpgcedric-1t.jpgcedric-2t.jpgcedric-3t.jpgcedric-4t.jpgcedric-5t.jpgcedric-7t.jpg

© Cédric Gerbehaye, Belgium, Agence Vu. Congo in Limbo. General News, 3rd Prize Stories. WPP contest 2007

rafel-1t.jpg

rafel-2t.jpgrafel-3t.jpgrafel-6t.jpgrafel-4t.jpgrafel-5t.jpg

© Rafal Milach, Poland, Anzenberger Agency. Retired circus artists, Poland. Arts and Entertainment, 1st Prize Stories. WPP contest 2007

christoph.jpg

© Christoph Bangert, Germany, Laif. German Army sniper practice target, Kunduz, Afghanistan, 27 April. General News Singles, Honourable Mention. WPP contest 2007

Joop Swart Masterclass 2007:

Masters:

Shahidul Alam
Susan Bright
David Burnett
Ayperi Ecer
Jan Grarup
Barbara Stauss
Brian Storm

Students:

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
Olivia Arthur
Christoph Bangert
Kate Brooks
Alexandra Demenkova: Sasha
Agnes Dherbeys
Cédric Gerbehaye
Sirio Magnabosco
Rafal Milach
Munem Wasif
Irina Werning
Xin Zhou

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Photojournalism | 2 Comments

10 years of visual achievement

Turaj Ahmad takes a look at the work done at Pathshala, South Asian Institute of Photography — its method, its achievements, its contribution to the field of photography and its international affiliations- on the eve of its tenth birthday


Saikat Mojumder

Amidst, more often than not, the chaotic traffic on the roads of Sukrabad in Panthapath, with various inter-city bus terminals on either side, a relatively narrow gate with a board bearing a logo of a wide branched mango tree — even perhaps the trade being plied inside to an extent — often tends to go unnoticed. The mango tree, generally associated with a ‘Pathshala’, a traditional Sanskrit word for a seat of learning, is symbolic of just that, a Pathshala, though of a different type where the language of images is explored.

February 1 marked the commencement of celebrations lasting three days, for those associated with Pathshala, South Asian Institute of Photography, on its completion of 10 years. A photography exhibition titled ‘Studying Life’, featuring the works of Pathshala students and alumni marked the beginning of the celebrations. The exhibition, inaugurated by pioneer playwright and theatre person Atiqul Huque Chowdhury on February 1 at Drik Gallery is set to last till February 15, open to all from 3 pm up until 8 pm.

During its 10 years in existence, the institute has certainly redefined photography as a whole. ‘Pathshala’s contribution to photography is not just limited to Bangladesh, but in a sense is global,’ says Rezaul Karim, tutor and administrator of Pathshala.

‘An aspiring photographer needs to understand the difference of taking up the different aspects of photography, something an amateur would not catch right away, and that is what Pathshala tries to help one with,’ he says.

‘At the institute, we keep our students up-to-date with the world helping them make a more informed career choice. It helps them develop a stance in their work as well,’ he says.

The achievements of some of its students is a testament to the institute’s success, having won prestigious awards such as the Mother Jones, World Press, the National Geographic All Roads as well as being hired by leading publications which included the likes of Time Magazine, Newsweek and the New York Times to name but a few, in the process, undermining the common paradigm of photography as anything but a gainful profession.

‘Photography is not just about shutters and lenses, but about posing questions through critical thinking, leading to social changes which is what Pathshala tries to nurture in Pathshala ,’ says Dr. Shahidul Alam, the principal of the school of photography.

In 1998, Alam won the prestigious international award, the Howard Chapnick, the prize money of which was used to set up Pathshala. Pathshala was set up on December 18 1998, as part of a three-year World Press Photo (WPP) educational initiative, launched to coincide with Dhaka’s annual WPP exhibition, with Drik, already serving people in the trade, laying the foundations for the first credible institution for higher education in photography in this region.

‘At the time, there was only a single classroom and even though various well-renowned photographers would come over to conduct the workshops, I was predominantly the lone tutor as they could only stay over a limited time span, before Kirsten Claire, an English photographer joined, enabling us to form a two member faculty,’ Alam adds.

Since then, the number of faculty members have gradually increased to 11, out of which, eight are former students of the institute, as it pursues to maintain the goal set from the onset, that was to ensure employment for its students.

‘The skill we try to teach is more about how to tell a story and subsequently bring about a change for which we incorporate economics, visual anthropology, statistics, environmental studies along with the study of photography to make our students more adept when dealing with a subject,’ says Azizur Rahman Peu, a student of the first batch and now a teacher there.

‘Many of the staff photographers of most major newspapers are from Pathshala while many are working in various television stations as well,’ adds Peu, also the editor of DrikNews, a news agency emphasising on rural reporting which hires Pathshala students as part of its staff.

‘We aim to encourage a global perspective among students with the teachers teaching the significance of keeping informed, through the proper use of the internet and not just camera techniques for instance,’ explains Rezaul Karim.

‘We aim to produce not just photographers but photo readers with visual literacy. Visual language can be seen as a more communicative form of social interchange which is a vital part of the education provided in the institute,’ he adds.

Since its inception, the institute has also seen many an eminent names of the photography world, including Raghu Rai, Reza Deghati, Morten Krogvold, Robert Pledge, to name but a few, dedicating their time to the photographers of the institute, conducting workshops which many of the current students believe is one of the biggest privilege and opportunity provided at Pathshala.

‘Once during a workshop of Morten Krogvold, a girl flew all the ways here from Norway to work with the photographer who is a Norwegian himself while we were getting the privilege for free,’ says Tanvir, a former student of BUET currently in his third year at Pathshala.

‘I never thought that photography could be taken up as a profession while my family also did not approve of it, although that changed a little once I had one of my photographs published on Time.’

‘After taking part in the workshops where one has to work on a particular subject for up to a month at a stretch, for example, one of my subjects for a particular workshop was a member of a certain family. I realised that even though it would not guarantee a financially secure job, I could learn more about people in depth through photography, which would certainly not be the case with say engineering,’ adds Tanvir, who is currently working for DrikNews, while also contributing to the friendly rapport shared between the teachers and students to the enhancement of education in the institute.

Liton, another third year student of the institute, inspired by the works of Abir Abdullah, a prominent photographer as well as a former student and now a teacher at Pathshala, quit his job at the time as a studio photographer to join the institute. ‘In some classes, we had to draw out a subject presented to us,’ says Liton.

‘Although I was a keen artist as a young boy, I became a bit bemused by that particular task for I had left my job to study photography not drawing.

‘However, that exercise all but helped acquire a higher level of concentration which is essential in photography while the tips we receive from foreign photographers have also helped develop a strong thought process,’ he adds.

While the three year BA course provided by Pathshala is not UGC approved, it is nonetheless accepted in other world class institutions abroad such as the Sunderland University, Bolton University as well as the Danish School of Journalism, all of whom are long term affiliates of Pathshala, with many students transferring credits to these institutions.

The degree from Pathshala also bears a certain degree of uniqueness, as there are no other notable institutions providing one can parallel it, as a result of which, there aren’t much troubles faced by its students in terms of competition, according to faculty members. The internship opportunities at Drik, Chobi Mela and Drik News also offer students the chance to experience some of the requirements and demands of professional life.

Academic exchange programs with Oslo University College in Norway and the Edith Cowan University in Australia have also given the students of Pathshala the opportunity to work with students of diverse backgrounds.

A merger between Pathshala and the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) as well as the upcoming regional masters programme between universities in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Norway and Pakistani are also symbolic of the large strides made by the institute.

‘One of the main reasons behind the formation of Pathshala was to question our educational system which primarily focused on the methods of memorisation and taking a completely different path to that process,’ explains Shahidul Alam.

‘Most of the current crop of teachers here were students of this institution, leaving its future in good stead, however, we need more investments in order for the institute to achieve a greater level of financial independence as it is still quite reliant on Drik and hopefully through our endeavors, we can actually change the face of the mass media that exists here,’ he concludes.

February 8, 2008 Posted by | Drik and its initiatives | 1 Comment

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