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Heresies: Between Truths and Fiction

The project Heresies is a retrospective of one of the most innovative artists of the world, comprising five decades of photographic work. The exhibition “Heresies: a retrospective by Pedro Meyer” will open simultaneously in nearly 60 museums around the world in October, 2008, and it will be a major breakthrough in the way photographic work is exhibited.

Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer is recognized widely both for his provocative and powerful images and his pioneering work of in the digital imaging era. The photographs of Meyer consistently question the limits between truth, fiction and reality. With the advent of digital technologies at the early 90’s, Meyer evolved from a documentary photographer, who created what is known as “direct images”, to a digital documentary maker, who combines elements of different photographs to arrive to a higher or different truth. His famous statement that every photograph, either digitally manipulated or not, is both truth and fiction, has earned him being called a ‘Heretic’ in the orthodox world of documentary photography. Hence the origin of the title, “Heresies: a retrospective by Pedro Meyer”. Amongst the personal contributions of Meyer to the development of digital photography we should underscore: the creation of the first CD-ROM that combined images with sound, the first digital printings in the world, in 1994; and more recently, the creation of the photographic forum zonezero.com, the most visited photography website -content-wise-in the Internet.

35mm color transparencies | Digitally modified image.

The Strolling Saint. Place: Asunción Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, Mexico. Original: 1991. Last version: 1993. Technique: 35mm color transparencies | Digitally modified image.
35mm b/w negative.

My Mother Would Have a Brain Hemorrage. Place: Mexico City, Mexico. Original: 1987. Technique: 35mm b/w negative.

Original digital file.

Rickshaw Art. Place: Dhaka, Bangladesh. Original: 2004. Technique: Original digital file.

35mm b/w negative.

The Raincoat. Place: Frontera, Tabasco, Mexico. Original: 1987. Technique: 35mm b/w negative.

35mm color transparencies | Digitally modified image.

The Temptation of the Angel. Place: Magdalena Jaltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico. Original: 1991. Last version: 1991. Technique: 35mm color transparencies | Digitally modified image.

Original digital file | Digitally modified image.

Emmanuel Lubezki. Place: Los Angeles, California, USA. Original: 2002. Last version: 2002. Technique: Original digital file | Digitally modified image.

Original scanned document.

Five Dollars with Che. Place: Los Angeles, California, USA. Original: 1999. Technique: Original scanned document.

6x6cm b/w negative & original digital file | Digitally modified image

The Meyers. Place: Mexico City, Mexico. Original: 1940. Last version: 2000. Technique: 6x6cm b/w negative & original digital file | Digitally modified image

Not only that, Pedro Meyer also has been leader, spokesman and chief organizer of the Latin American photographers as a group, thus putting Latin American photography in the world map of the Arts. In Heresies, Meyer applies his extraordinary and visionary capacity by redefining the very concept of photographic exhibition. It makes us question: What is a photographic exhibition nowadays? How will they be in the future?

In an era in which museums suffer from strong economic restrictions and their role as authoritative institutions in the world of the arts is being redefined, the new and heretical paradigm for the photographic exhibition that Meyer presents facilitates:

– The creative collaboration between curators and artists

– A world-wide network of 60 museums participating in the Heresies project

– An innovation in the way photographic research is done as well as the possibility for institutions to enrich their collections

– Stimulating educational programs that attract the attention of the iPod generation.

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Opening Date: 8 October 2008, 5 pm
Exhibition Duration: 8- 20 October 2008 (3-8 pm every day)

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All printed on: 310 gsm acid free cotton Hahnemühle paper

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The journey from Mexico to Bangladesh had not been kind to the print. It had been bent in places and was somewhat ragged at the edges. The strong red was a colour I’ve since learnt to associate with Mexico and the unusual palette was something I later learnt to link with digital prints of that time. The striking image of a fish being cooked was riveting enough to get me to immediately try and straighten the battered print, and get it framed. It was one of the few prints on my wall. But alongside the print was a letter from a man I knew and was fond of, but had never met, or spoken to. It was a hand written note that talked of his excitement at seeing the thermal print emerge from the printer. I could relate it to the same excitement that both he and I had felt when the blacks begin to appear in the developing tray in a darkroom. This was his first print on his new printer, and he had sent it all the way to Bangladesh.

Pedro Meyer was a giant in the photography scene. As we got to know each other from opposite ends of the globe, my curiosity grew. It was 1994. I had a show in the festival in Arles. Pedro was having a much bigger show of his digital prints on canvas. Rahnuma, Ma and I arrived at the gallery, where Pedro was showing his new CD ROM, ‘Truths & Fiction”. Assuming I was Hispanic, Pedro asked if I would like to see the Spanish version of the CD. I smiled and said, “I would love to see a Bangla version.” “Ah” he said. “I must introduce you to my Bangladeshi friend Shahidul Alam. He’s in town.” That was how we finally met. Recovering from his bear hug, once I’d revealed who I was, I settled down in a quiet room to watch “I photograph to remember.” It was one of the most moving storytelling I had ever seen. The fact that it was the first CD to use images and sound, was relevant. But it was the tender and poignant portrayal by a son of his parents’ final days that had moved me to tears. We stayed friends, and went through the gamut of communication. Snail mail, telex, fax, off-line email and Skype, discussing images, sharing stories, arguing finer points on digital technology.

Throughout his long career, this remarkable artist has combined his visual genius with unbridled wit, and a work rate that would tire photographers a fraction of his age. This latest exhibition, yet another global first, is evidence of that untiring drive to innovate. He is a heretic. He says NO. At every stage where you might feel comfortable, he forces you to rethink your firmest beliefs and question your perceptions of truth and fiction.

Shahidul Alam
Miami
29th September 2008

September 30, 2008 Posted by | Photography | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

National ID Cards: In the Interest of Surveillance?

by rahnuma ahmed

Official: “You ought to have some papers to show who you are.”
Protagonist: “I do not need any papers. I know who I am.”
Official: “Maybe so. But others are also interested in who you are.”

— Kafkaesque journey of American sailor who has lost his identity papers, B. Traven, The Death Ship (tr. 1934)

A non-fraudulent voter list, `a priceless gift to the nation’

Praise was due. And it was given.

Ms Renata Dessallien, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, at a function marking the celebration of the successful completion of voter registration, organised by the Election Commission on July 22, spoke of it in glowing terms. It was “a truly historic achievement,” because never before “have so many people been electronically registered in such a short time” in any other country in the world. What was impressive was the immense scale of the undertaking, the accuracy of the list, the elimination of duplicate and fraudulent entries. “If there were a Nobel Prize for voter lists, Bangladesh would be the clear winner!”

The Chief Advisor Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed termed it a “milestone,” one that would enable not only the upcoming elections to be “free, fair and credible” but also, future ones, by setting high standards. The Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda, called it a “memorable event in the annals of country’s history.” At an earlier event, “Celebrating the Halfway Mark of Voter Registration” held in early March, the Chief of Army Staff General Moen U Ahmed had voiced hopes that it would “lay the foundation for building a meaningful democracy.”

A similar nationwide voter registration venture had failed in 1997 because the names and pictures of most people did not match, and many had failed to turn up to register at the appointed time. The nation, as a result, had been Tk 115 crore poorer. A proposed integrated project of Machine Readable Passports (MRP) and National Identity Cards (NID) in 2005 had been budgeted at Tk 1,400 crore. Its completion would take 5 years, the first year would be a “test” period. The 2006 voter list, prepared by the past EEC Justice MA Aziz for the 2007 elections had been faulty, it had registered an excess of 1.2 crore voters, leading to a political impasse that helped usher in the current military-backed Fakhruddin government.

In comparison to all previous efforts, the current effort has yielded a faultless voter list, one that is computerised, consisting of a data-base of 80 million 500 thousand 723 voters with photographs and fingerprints. It has cost only Tk 424 crore, one-third of the 2005 estimate, and has been successfully completed in a mere 11 months. The Election Commission was the sponsor and the coordinating agency, the Bangladesh army was the operational agency. Together they coordinated the huge logistics in a “very tight time frame”, as Major General Shafiqul Islam, Military Secretary, Bangladesh Army, said in an interview to find Biometrics, `we required 12,000 laptops to be deployed throughout the country, 8,000 printers, paper, toner, train a staff of 18,000 computer and enrollment personnel, in a situation where on an average data was collected on 300,000 to 400,000 people daily.’ The resulting electoral rolls, perhaps one of the largest electronic databases in the world, will definitely be the largest among developing countries.

A survey of the voter registration process funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) announced it to be of international standard, in the words of one of the consultants, “a list of quality no less than that of America or England.” The UN is said to be considering replicating this model in other developing countries.

The current voter list, as one of the national English dailies commented in its editorial, is “a priceless gift to the nation.”

The National ID Card, `an offshoot’

The EC project was titled the Preparation of Electoral Roll with Photographs and Facilitating the Issuance of National Identity (ID) Card. In the words of Mike DePasquale, Chief Executive Officer of BIO-Key International Inc, a US-based company which is a leader in finger-based biometric identification and wireless public safety, the NID was “an offshoot” of the voter registration project — a “co-operative venture” between BIO-Key in the US, Tiger IT in Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh army.

Brigadier General (Retired) Shahedul Anam Khan, a defence analyst, thinks the government did well to undertake both projects simultaneously. Up to a stage, “the modalities involved for the preparation of both” like basic data collection and cross checking, are similar. The ID Card was a “spin-off,” which, if it had been put off for later, would have cost more.

But, for people on the ground, the two were not as separable. M Sakhawat Hussain, one of the Election Commissioners, puts it in words closer to how we, as potential voters, experienced it, “No one will be listed as a voter without the registration of the name on the electoral roll and no one will get the national ID card.”

Advocates of e-government are also advocates of national ID cards, for instance Farooq Sobhan, M. Shafiullah and others write in a Study of eGovernment in Bangladesh (Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, April 2004), “Bangladesh should take active steps to initiate a project for national ID” because it will provide an important base for the provision of eGovernment services “efficiently and in a personalized way,” to citizens who will have unique ID numbers. I came across several Bangladeshi bloggers who seemed to hold similar views. According to one, it would be “a solution to many problems,” a national database would hold information from voter lists to tax records, it would make easier many tasks from machine-readable passports to criminal investigations. According to another, the digitisation of national-level information would make governance procedures “more scientific.”

The EC has drafted an ordinance making national ID cards mandatory for citizens, ‘for getting any services from the government, its departments and institutions or from any statutory government offices.’ Twenty two services are listed, these include the issuance and renewal of passport, driving licence, trade licence, tax identification number, business identification number and bank account. It also states that nobody will get government subsidy facilities, allowance and relief if they do not have identity cards. Very recently, the council of advisors approved the formation of the National Identity Registration Authority Ordinance 2008. It authorises the home ministry to provide national ID cards. Under the proposed ordinance, the EC will hand over all information that has been collected — data and biometric features of the citizens — to NIRA, a statutory body. The ordinance declares false information, forgery, having more than one ID card a criminal offence, punishable by three months to seven years rigorous imprisonment, along with monetary fines.
That confusion exists among people in general — the beneficiaries of the national ID card — was revealed during the four city corporation and nine pouroshobha elections held recently. Voters had come to the polling centres with their national ID cards, and were confused over why the serial number of their ID cards did not tally with the voter serial numbers. This resulted in delays in vote casting, and in long queues. Voter identity cards had been given in the 90s, or torn-off slips containing registration numbers, and as a newspaper report states, during the recently-held local-level elections, the common perception had been that the `ID card was to be used for voting purposes.’ Reports say, polling officers had been similarly confused. M Shakhawat Hossain, Election Commissioner, blamed the media for publicising what in effect was a `national ID card’, as a `voter ID card’, even though, according to him, the EC had carried out a huge campaign to clarify the differences between the two.

The ‘largest biometric database in the world’

What is less public knowledge is that the four fingerprints of each voter that was captured with BIO-key’s fingerprint ID software, and FBI-certified fingerprint readers, has already generated over 300 Million ISO fingerprint templates. Combined with the 400 million projected to be generated, it will become by far the largest biometric deployment in the world.

Duplicate registrations are being accurately identified says Ziaur Rahman, Managing Director of Tiger IT BD Ltd. (Tiger IT), a company that is a leader in both prepackaged and customized software solutions and was BIO-Key’s “systems integrator on the ground,” at a speed of “one million matches per second on a single processor.” Tiger IT Bangladesh’s website provides further information on the national ID card (by the way, the domain tigeritbd.com was registered as recently as August 2007). The card includes a standard barcode which is encoded with ISO fingerprint templates, and PKI digital hash. These can be used to quickly verify the identity of the cardholder while ensuring the integrity and authenticity of the ID card. The Cognitec Facial Recognition Software has been used to capture facial images.

While Renata Dessallien enthuses over how “modern technology” enables the prevention of vote theft, and DePasquale prides on how BIO-Key’s patented technology is “performing better than anything else in the market for finger matching,” I have simple questions to ask: who owns my fingerprints? how will it be used? can NIRA transfer it to government departments within Bangladesh without my knowledge? or, maybe even outside the country’s borders? As the British government did when it passed more than 500 samples of DNA to foreign agencies, but when asked “no one seemed to know” to which countries.

The European Comission recently proposed the harmonisation of security features on passports across the European Union. The proposal, introduced in October 2007, requires Member States to take measures to introduce biometric features, including fingerprinting, on passports and travel documents. The fingerprints would be stored in a centralised database. The European Union Data Protection Supervisor, Peter Hustinx, who is in charge of safeguarding the personal data and the right to privacy of EU citizens, has expressed his concern since it fails to “adequately safeguard the right to privacy of EU citizens.” He says, the Commission failed to consult with his office prior to submitting the proposal, as required by EU law.

The current regime’s voter registration list has, in all probability, lessened the likelihood of fraudulent votes. But it also has, in all likelihood, laid the groundwork for installing a new regime of surveillance, one that will be deployed against the citizens of Bangladesh.

First published in New Age on Monday the 29th September 2009

September 30, 2008 Posted by | Bangladesh, governance, Rahnuma Ahmed, technology | , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments