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Can Empire Avenue compete with the Nobel Peace Prize?

In professional circles our school of photography Pathshala ( is considered to be one of the finest in the world. So it is no surprise that our students are excellent at their craft. However, having been in the profession for over 30 years and having worked in over 60 countries, I know full well that it takes more than photographic skills to become a successful photographer. People skills are essential and having a good online presence is mandatory. Continue reading

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Bangladesh, New Media, Photography, South Asia, technology | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Through the cracks of a mirror

It was a moment that had been etched in her mind. In a workshop with Eugene Richards, one of the greatest photojournalists of our time, Dayanita had been asked, as had all the other workshop participants, to “photograph each other naked”. She was not comfortable with this, and questioned the value of such an exercise. “Trust me,” Eugene had said, “I want you to realise how vulnerable one can be facing a camera.” It was to be a turning point. Eugene might not have known, but it was this ‘vulnerability’ that Dayanita Singh chose to explore as her medium.

It would not occur to a grandmother to leave her children in an orphanage after the death of her sons and daughters-in-laws. Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

It would not occur to a grandmother to leave her children in an orphanage after the death of her sons and daughters-in-laws. © Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

It was as a curator of the show “Positive Lives” an exhibition on people’s responses to HIV/AIDS that I was first introduced to Dayanita’s work. As I looked through the archives at the respected Network Agency, I saw competent photo essays on sex workers in India. The work did not excite me. India, was known for its exoticism, its misery, its otherness. An Indian photographer, documenting the same stories that western photojournalists had established as the face of this great nation, was a disappointment. I could hardly dispute the images. She was a fine photographer, and while the prints I was shown lacked the quality one might have desired, the photographer was clearly one skilled in her art. That for me, was not the issue. I was later to discover that it was not the issue for this remarkable photographer either.

In Manipur the grandmother is affectionately called BOBOK. With the breadwinner of the family dead she will go out and beg on the street if necessary, but she will never throw out her grandchildren. If they are positive, she will care for them as long as they live.

In Manipur the grandmother is affectionately called BOBOK. With the breadwinner of the family dead she will go out and beg on the street if necessary, but she will never throw out her grandchildren. If they are positive, she will care for them as long as they live. © Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

The images Dayanita produced for Positive Lives were breathtaking. The exquisite composition and her sense of moment were the tactile elements that made her images stunning, but more persuasive was the humanity in her photographs. The tender relationships, the joy, the shared pain, the sense of belonging that she was able to nurture and portray. It was then that the trouble started, a trouble that I am glad I came across. We had meticulously gone through the issues of representing people with HIV/AIDS. They risks people faced due to stigma. The physical dangers the display of the images might lead to. Dayanita’s concern for the people she had photographed meant she had to protect them all the way. It was frustrating for me as a curator. To find pictures which were sublime in their construction, to be left behind, because the photographer felt there was too great a risk of repercussion. Too great a threat, of perhaps things going wrong. We put together a great show, but I knew, photographically it could have been much greater. I also knew we had done the right thing. Dayanita remembered too well, how vulnerable one could be facing a camera.

Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

© Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

I look back to the stroll through her flat in Delhi, the photographs taken by her mother, juxtaposed with her own. She had been questioning her own work for some time. Questioning her ‘success’ at producing images that regurgitated the “India” the west already knew. She chose to become a mirror to herself, and in that process begin a journey that would create a window to an everyday world. An everydayness that other photographers had shunned. Dayanita and her camera merged into one. She became the fly on the wall, the confidant, the muse. the critic. Before sub-continental literature had made its indelible mark, Dayanita was writing visual novels about middle class India. The glitzy, private, solemn, contradictory, celebratory world of the India today.


© Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures


© Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

She harnessed photography’s unique ability to record detail, its penchant for capturing the fleeting. Its ability to make time stand still. She made the ordinary, special, and the special, ordinary. She also made an important shift within the profession. Recognising that the medium had shifted from the Life Magazine visual spectacles, aware that the spaces for visual journalism had shifted, Dayanita, took on the spaces that other photographers had feared to tread. Her venture into museums and galleries, her indisputable presence as an artist, has challenged the traditionalists in the field of art, who had been unable to grasp the magic of this new medium. Her presence while imposing is also path breaking. A new generation of photographers will wake up to this wider canvas. Some will take it upon themselves to explore this new space. And the ripples will spread. Dayanita meanwhile will continue to nurture the vulnerable. Through the cracks of her mirror she will take us to the other side.


Indian photographer Dayanita Singh was one of the Prince Claus Fund laureates for 2008. Indian writer Indira Goswami (1942, Guwahati, Assam) was presented this year’s Principal Prince Claus Award of €100,000 on Wednesday, 3 December 2008, in the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam. Other laureates were, Li Xianting (b. 1949, Jilin Province, China), Venerable Purevbat (b. 1960s, Tov Aimag, Mongolia) , Ousmane Sow (b. 1935, Dakar, Senegal), Elia Suleiman (b. 1960, Nazareth, Palestine) ,James Iroha Uchechukwu (b. 1972, Enugu, Nigeria), Tania Bruguera (b.1968, Havana, Cuba), Ma Ke (b.1971, Changchun, China), Jeanguy Saintus (b. 1964, Port au Prince, Haiti) and Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (El Salvador, b. 1947 Venezuela). Drik Picture Library has a special relationship with the Prince Claus Fund

December 6, 2008 Posted by | Photography, Photojournalism | , , , , | 2 Comments

Showing off the Bride

Photographers the world over know the late afternoon light. The warm glow, the soft slanting shadows, the delicate glancing sheen that brings everything alive. In Bangla, this light has a special name. kone dekhano alo [the light for showing off the bride.] Apart from the universal issues of brides being seen as commodities, and of marriage being a social spectacle, it speaks of how the environment in which things are displayed, reflects upon what is displayed. Photographs are visual representations. Exhibitions are collective displays of photographs. Festivals are displays of exhibitions. Within this biennial Chobi Mela is a display of a festival. At each level, the alo [light] that we use to display the festival, the exhibition, the print, has a bearing on how we see it.

Setting up the show. 16th October 2008. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The choices made as the photograph is taken, as an exhibition is put together, as a festival is assembled, as a biennial is visualized, take into account the way each entity will be perceived by the intended audience. The relationship between the viewer and the viewed. This is impossible to pre-visualize at the moment of photography. So there are several authors who play with this alo. The political space within which an exhibition operates is tempered by the tertiary meaning that a festival director imparts, in choosing to display a body of work. In determining how it is shown, and how it relates to other work on display. The alo is not static. A festival put together when the world witnesses unjust war and an illegal occupation, will be seen differently from a festival that is viewed at a time of peace. The same exhibitions (though exhibitions are never the same and change with each displacement), seen in a different venue, nation or continent, with different proximities to zones of tension, will change in meaning even when the images remain the same. Relocating a festival allows further interpretations. So what alo do we use for showing off this festival?

Artistic Director of Brussels Biennial Barbara Vanderlinden introducing show to artists and curators 18th October 2008. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Chobi Mela was conceived in a nation that was far removed from the established capitals of photography. Bangladeshi photographers did not feature in the classical books on this medium. The images of Bangladesh seen worldwide were images produced largely by white western photographers. There had been no festival of photography in Asia. In much of Asia and most of the majority world, photography is not considered an art form. So several issues were being tackled. The ignorance about non-western photographic practice (this was true even within Bangladesh, where photographers knew about Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, but were unaware of important work being done in neighboring countries.) The non-recognition of photography as a valid profession and an art form. The limited opportunities that Bangladeshi and regional photographers had of seeing photography.

Chobi Mela exhibitions at Post Sorting Center. Avenue Fonsnylaan- 48. 1060 Brussels. Level 4. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Chobi Mela exhibitions at Post Sorting Center. Avenue Fonsnylaan- 48. 1060 Brussels. Level 4. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

There was another significant but very localized goal. In a nation where the majority of people cannot read or write, photography provided one of the few means through which ordinary people could be reached. As the festival migrates to Brussels, several of these goals diminish in importance. Others, however, take on greater relevance. An ignorance of photographic practice outside Europe and North America is perhaps a greater ailment in Brussels than it is in Dhaka. A critique of western lifestyles is perhaps of greater importance to Europeans. An understanding of majority world cultures outside their stereotypical representation in the West is certainly a more crying need in a culture fed largely on fast-food photography.

Artist at entrance of Post Sorting Center Brussels.

Artist at entrance of Post Sorting Center Brussels. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

There are commonalities too. Belgium is in a state of flux with internal tensions that threaten to divide the nation. Bangladesh also has its internal politics of dominance, and the power struggles between the major political parties have taken it to the brink of civil war. While the show goes on in Brussels, Bangladesh will continue to be in a state of emergency with fundamental freedoms curtailed. The streets of Dhaka were in flames while Chobi Mela IV was being held. An evening presentation was interrupted by the news that the military were in the streets and the government had announced a curfew. The future of the national state is very much in question in both countries.

Tiers État, the term for the commoners of France, has now become the defining expression for the majority of humankind. The Third World is not a name we chose for ourselves. The G8 countries make decisions that have a profound effect on our lives, yet we never chose to be represented by them. So we call ourselves the majority world, for that is indeed who we are, the majority of this world. Our portrayal as icons of poverty is one chosen by the West, through image-makers who are free to roam a world where boundaries exist only for this excluded majority. Europe builds a fortress around itself, choosing carefully whom to include.

Chobi Mela evolved from the need for self-representation of this excluded majority, for the creation of its identity, and for the expression of its creativity. The themes for Chobi Mela have reflected this need. Differences. Exclusion. Resistance. Boundaries. Freedom. These are words that circumscribe our existence. It is through our engagement with what the words represent that we look for our space in a rapidly globalised world.

The selection of Contacts 30 presented a problem. It was clearly one of the key exhibitions in the festival. Isolated in the Bangladesh National Museum, it could be seen in its entirety without casting a shadow on smaller intimate exhibits, which were as important, but with a substantially smaller footprint. The intimacy of one did not impinge on the volume of the other. With that separation removed, could they coexist? Were we in danger of drowning the quieter voices? Would the imposing presence of one, prohibit the quiet reflection necessary for the other? What about the show itself? Would the thirty images presenting thirty years, work in year thirty-two? Given the same images but a changed global dynamic, would the same images have been chosen? One never knows, and perhaps it doesn’t matter. What is being shown is a display in a certain time and space and it is only within that time/ space matrix that it can be negotiated. Festivals are live, as exhibitions are. The historical context of an earlier showing, planned in the same venue and by the same curator, having been removed in protest against censorship, adds a layer of complexity that might escape the viewer, but adds to the legacy of the festival and its history of resistance.

Kwaito Culture
Photographs: Neo Ntsoma

Kwaito Culture Neo Ntsoma

Kwaito Culture © Neo Ntsoma

Neo Ntsoma cried at the Goethe Institut Auditorium as she spoke of her isolation in Apartheid South Africa. But they were strong tears. Neo’s personal struggle as a black woman in a white male space, allowed her to look for the changing culture in today’s black South Africa. Her personal project on the SA Youth ID-Kwaito Culture speaks of much more than just the changes within the youth of her nation. The lions have found their storyteller. Ntsoma is a complex person. Highly strung, energetic, intense, passionate, laughing, crying, running, leaping, she is in the middle of everything and everywhere. A spring ready to uncoil. She is also deceptively perceptive. Having faced racism in every guise, she has toughened herself to face life’s challenges. But it is her black identity that has emerged as the soul within her work. She rejoices in her color and rejoices in color. Her search for identity within the black South African youth scene is no nostalgic trip down memory lane, but rather a buoyant leap at the crest of the wave of youth which captures the energy, the dynamism and the joy of a youth determined to find its own expression. Not surprisingly, it is the raw energy of her work that attracts.

The Tigers
Photographs: Gajaani

LTTE Sniper Gajaani

LTTE Sniper © Gajaani

They call her a terrorist. Gajaani’s work has been rejected by many, as she is a fighter in the LTTE, a listed terrorist organization. The label has of course been given to the ANC, and hence Nelson Mandela, while many who continue to terrorize the world, do so with abandon, knowing there will be no labels to tarnish their image. The labels do not concern me, and while I was intrigued by her history, it was the images I saw that provided the excitement. Never before had I seen the every day lives of the LTTE. Women fighters dancing, combing each other’s hair in the bunkers. Playing musical instruments. The children in bunkers, mines being planted, snipers in camouflage, reminded me it was a war zone I was peering into. For over seventeen years, Gajaani has photographed the war as seen by a Tamil Tiger. I have never met her, and our only contact has been through a mutual friend we both trust. The friend carries our greetings and ferries pictures back and forth. War changes people, but the changes in Gajaani are not simply due to war. She now sees beyond images of war. Her films are lyrical, but also reminiscent of the battle drums of old, strident, passionate and one-sided. She takes still life and sunsets, and photographs abstract shapes in the sand. This is not a photojournalist reporting on a war, but a warrior taking pictures. We may not like it. It might make us uncomfortable. But we cannot deny its existence. This is her war, her life and her call to freedom. In a world dominated by spin and propaganda, I recognize that seeing this work will be disturbing for many. But this is a disturbance that must not be avoided. The work romanticizes a war where many have died, on both sides. Most of them civilians. But to deny this work denies the fundamental inequalities that lead to such wars.

She first showed me her early work. She has sent more work since, along dangerous routes. Films, still photographs, hard images of the devastation of war, gentle images of soldiers being ordinary men and women, children in fear and in play. And she has written letters. I don’t know if Gajaani is her real name. I read again the lines that take on new meaning as the war moves to a more violent chapter. I know she will soon be on the front lines. The photographer will become a warrior again. She will trade her lens for guns.

Dear Shahidul Vanakkam,

…I hope that if our liberation war lets me live then I would love to meet you… Even after an artist’s death, art lives. After death it will be so. I have that small belief…

With love


Modern American Segregationists
Photographs: David Holloway

US Segregationists David Holloway

US Segregationists © David Holloway

He hails from a long line of farmers, carpenters, truck drivers, and mechanics. But the storyteller David S. Holloway has gone beyond the farmlands of Oklahoma and forests of Arkansas. The first multiparty elections in Tanzania, the SARS outbreak in Toronto, and the punk rock and politics of Washington D.C. provide the backdrop for the social tensions that his photography explores.

The struggle of working-class Americans give us a window into the realities of a nation so obsessed with world domination that it has forgotten who it is fighting the war for. Race, poverty and violence make their way into Holloway’s lens. His stark black and white images, frightening but beautiful, seduce you with their form before baring their crude baggage. Raw greed, manufactured fear, calculated indifference. Family gatherings fueled by hate.

Contacts 30
Photographs: Contact Press Images

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan at Geneva Summit 1984 David Burnett/Contact Press Images

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan at Geneva Summit © 1984 David Burnett/Contact Press Images

What makes an icon? What does a celebrity fashion photographer choose, to depict the ravages of war? How does a Salgado contact sheet look? The giant contact sheets, reincarnated by the very digital technology that rings its death knoll, reveal the structured approach and the inconsistencies that mark a photojournalist’s quest to find the perfect image. The viewer, like a giant magnifying glass, follows the journey frame by frame. The chosen image separated by curatorial treatment, becomes history. Its neighbors perhaps finding only oblivion. Thirty images. Thirty years. The contacts of the celebrated Contact Press agency span the quintessential moments of the times. Exhibited by curator, president and co-founder Robert Pledge, the contacts span the great moments of history. The death of Chairman Mao Zedong, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the measured tryst between Gorbachev and Reagan, George Bush with his poodle, a distraught Mary Decker photographed by Contact’s other co-founder David Burnett who in a contact sheet of his own, indulges in a self portrait. It makes the complex kaleidoscope that this exhibition mixes and pulls off with gusto.

Nowhere People
Photographs: Swapan Nayak

Nowhere People Swapan Nayak

Nowhere People © Swapan Nayak

India is the new darling, and negative stories about the nation refuse to surface. While a caste system refuses to lie down and die, a growing economic disparity amidst growing economic growth, fails to leave an invisible trail. The nation burns. The seven states in the geographically isolated and economically underdeveloped North-East India are home to 200 of the 430 of its tribal groups. With the poor moving to the less poor zones, an influx of migrants from neighboring areas leads to ethnic conflicts over land and fighting for political autonomy or secession.

The numerous political parties and armed groups that have mushroomed resort to “ethnic cleansing” in order to defend their interests against a real or perceived enemy. “Divide and Rule” rules. Violence has broken out in the states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, involving at least eight different ethnic groups (Bodos, Nagas, Kukis, Paites, Mizos, Reangs, Bengalis and Chakmas). The largest forced displacement movements have occurred in the states of Assam, Manipur and Tripura.

Swapan Nayak operates within this unpredictability. Spending days on boats that navigate the treacherous waters of the Sunderbans, and mixing with the tribes that want revenge for their displacement, he travels along with his photographs. Together, they take the viewer into an unknown India.

Naxal Women

Photographs: Shahidul Alam; Interviews: Nesar Ahmed; Translations: Rahnuma Ahmed


One day my sister and I felt we had to see a meeting (of an underground party). Where were the meetings held? In our primary school, in our village. We went ever so quietly. We wore pant and shirt. We had tied gamcha on our heads. © Shahidul Alam

They had left their village homes to join the class struggle. They were young. Some were, so to speak, “born” to the party. Communist party members were frequent (albeit clandestine) visitors to their homes, which acted as party “shelters.” For some, there were no restrictions but for others, it wasn’t easy. Daughters wanting to go into politics, and underground politics at that? Never. Several were severely beaten by their families. The women rebelled. A woman in her early teens, whose marriage was being hurriedly arranged, left home and went to the Party-controlled “free” zone. One was forced to leave home when the Awami League’s para-military forces, the Rakkhi Bahini dowsed their house with petrol and set fire to it. Party members had been frequent visitors there. It was 1973.

They worked mostly as Political Commissars, doing organizational work. Some took part in armed conflicts. Two were chiefly couriers, one also cooked for Party members. Most married Party comrades. The Party vetted friendships. Conditions were attached: a year’s separation, no letters, monitored visits. Weddings were simple affairs, a few comrades present, signing on a piece of paper, which belonged to the Party. A handshake, an exchange of garlands. Perhaps a meal. But some weddings—maybe that of a party leader—were extravagant.

State repression continued. Cooption also occurred. In late 1979, the Party disavowed armed struggle. Its policy of annihilating class enemies had meant… “we created enemies in our own villages.” Women comrades were asked to return to their families, or to marry and settle down. Some feel there was no other option since the party was organizationally shattered, with many of its members either dead, or imprisoned.

It’s an open question. These women’s’ recollections help flesh out the actual lives and concerns of Bangladeshi Naxal women, women who are largely absent from Party literature and male-centered traditions of history-writing. A tradition that I have tried to challenge.

Tears Cloud Peace

Photographs: Masaru Goto

Grieving for a relative killed in battle. Masaru Goto

Grieving for a relative killed in battle. © Masaru Goto

Even in the paradise on earth, there is a line of control. Bullets kill, shrapnel maims. People “disappear.” Forever. Mothers mourn children’s death. Lovers part. 80,000 dead. Men, women and children from both sides. The 440 kilometer line of control. Masaru Goto works on the Michael village of border district Kupwara. A few miles from this line of death. The line of control becomes the line of fire. They are engulfed in flames. They die from each other’s bullets. Indians. Pakistanis. Kashmiris. In death they finally unite. Away from the romantic Shikara rides, the Shalimar Gardens, the snowcapped mountains. Away from the polarized depictions of freedom fighters/terrorists. Away from the militancy and the occupation. Goto shows us the lives of ordinary people not searching for paradise, but seeking survival on earth.

Not Your New York

Photograph: Pablo Garber

Pablo Garber

© Pablo Garber

Digital postcards in a digital age. Fleeting snapshots of Pablo Garber’s images. He gingerly places his feet on a moving, shifting, amorphous earth. Unsure of his presence. Indignant in his reasoning for making pictures, Garber is a stranger in a city he longs to call his own. The exuberance of a city that is larger than life. Here fortunes are made. Careers launched. But Garber rejoices in serendipity. He soaks in the larger than life city that is the Big Apple, rejoicing in its excesses, chuckling at its follies. He remembers the city streets as he had last walked them, nearly twenty years ago. He recognizes the shadow of 9/11.

He hears the city weeping as he looks for the missing World Trade Center. Garber’s work has always dealt with relationships. In the streets he searches for his own relationship with a long lost city.

A River Has Two Sides
Photographs: Jerome Ming

Burmese refugee children. Jerome Ming

Burmese refugee children. © Jerome Ming

The photographs by Jerome Ming are rarely “decisive moments.” Rather they reflect the seemingly timeless character of people’s struggle to survive. What is decisive, are the circumstances, often beyond their control, that shape their lives. As many other concerned photographers have done, Ming documents the plight of disenfranchised communities, but in doing so he neither sensationalizes their presence, nor disengages them from the evolving cultural shifts that have become a permanent characteristic of people in transition. They are subdued photographs that seep into you, rather than images that scream for attention. They are photographs that beg reflection, which rarely scream, but are always there. Echoing in some ways the inevitability of the changes and the relentless march of “progress” as defined by others.

The War Rooms
Photographs: Tarek Al-Ghussein and Chris Kienke

The War Room Tarek-al-Ghoussein-UAE and Chris Kienke-USA

The War Room Tarek-al-Ghoussein-UAE and Chris Kienke-USA

It is an unusual mix. Tarek Al-Ghussein and Chris Kienke. A Palestinian and an American. But it is a war that belongs to us all. In a globalized world, the invasion of Iraq affects all our lives. The images, seemingly arranged at random, become the pixels of war. Choosing not to choose, they let a mechanical selection determine the sequence. Yet another dehumanization in this “clinical” war game. Like the old telex machines churning out ticker tape, these mobile images converted to still life are like corpses of movies. Segments of life frozen by war. Pop stars, sports fields, cartoons, most view programs on spin, smart bombs homing in on target. Yet there is no cynicism depicted in this collage. The cynicism is implied. Saddam, Nighthawks, Bush and his poodle, all serve to create a relationship with the viewer, which is both complex and riveting. Are we awed, enraged, disillusioned, relieved? None of these. In this image-saturated world of ours, we have become desensitized to the messages. Engulfed in a war room, we whisper. Careful not to annoy the generals. Displaced from its roots, this festival within a biennial-festival, tries to recreate a sense of place, a sense of community and a sense of struggle. The passions that gave rise to Chobi Mela, the need for such a festival, the photographic family that has grown around it, has a collective identity that will not be diluted in a bigger event. It draws on the inherent story exhibiting qualities to which the photography lends itself. While the work shown encompasses the globe, the photographers address issues that are universal in themselves, regardless of their geography.

Shahidul Alam

Brussels 19th October 2008

Festival dates: 19th October 2008 – 4th January 2009

Special thanks to: Nesar Ahmed, Rahnuma Ahmed, Abdullah Al-Faruque, Refanur Akhtar Moli, Md. Shafiul Azam Khan Tushar, Dominique Deschavanne, Mohammed Harun Ur Rashid Nipun, Irfanul Islam and Tanvir Murad.

October 19, 2008 Posted by | Photography | , , , , , | 1 Comment

We miss you Yang

Yang Xiaoguang – My Best Friend

I have been trying to write for three days but every time I start to type I break down in uncontrollable grief. How do you start to honour such a unique man. Those of you who knew him will understand.

Dave Clark

Professor Yang Xiaoguang. Photo: Dave Clark

Many I am sure have already written of Yang’s great achievements in life. He was indeed a remarkable man. This however is a personal testament to my best friend. I had only known Yang for four years but in that time he had become like a twin brother, we had planned to grow old together. I was never more content than when I was in his company, always laughing, always talking about new and exciting ideas and always happy. I have lived and travelled throughout the world but can honestly say I respected no other as much as Yang.

To me his greatest skill was always with people. I remember on a trip to Bangladesh he was as comfortable talking to a rickshaw puller as he was an ambassador. He truly believed all men were equal, whatever their race or position and most importantly he treated them all the same, with kindness, with respect and with a glint in his eye and a witty comment that made everyone laugh.

Dave Clark

Professor Yang Xiaoguang. Photo: Dave Clark

He was also a truly skilful manager and an inspirational teacher. Anyone who spent a day in his office would remember the constant phone calls and stream of people knocking on his door with problems. I never saw Yang angry, he would deal with each one with sympathy and then come up with a solution. People did things for Yang not because they felt it their job or duty but because they wanted to.

If wealth is measured in happiness then Yang died an exceptionally wealthy man. My greatest regret is that he can no longer share that wealth with all of us who knew him. However As Thomas Campbell wrote, ‘To live in hearts we leave behind, is not to die’ and Yang’s spirit will always live in me.

We miss you Yang.

Dave Clark


MA Blog entry

It is with immense sadness that we report the sudden death of Professor Yang Xiaoguang, Dean of Dalian College of Image Art and founder of the Photo MA programme. Yang was killed in a car crash in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal on the 7th October. Yang died in the way he lived, enjoying life to the full.

Yang was brought up during the Cultural Revolution in China during which time he was banished to the countryside. Returning to Dalian in the post Mao era he took a job as a technician in Dalian Medical University where he was to work for the rest of his life. Learning English by himself he took advantage of a scholarship to America in the early 80’s where he first started to study photography, completing an MA in Visual art at Columbia Pacific University. Returning to Dalian he started what was then only the second University Photography BA programme in China and over the next twenty years grew it to be the most respected department in China and quite possibly the largest department in the world. He was visiting scholar at University of California Berkeley from 1988-1990 where he first developed an interest in documentary film making. A passion that saw him travel the world and develop film making into the University programmes. In his life he published eight books and countless articles, he was hugely respected throughout the Chinese and international photography community and leaves a large hole in global photographic education.

Though greatly respected for his achievements however Yang’s utmost quality was his energetic charismatic personality. He was a shining example of greatness in every respect. Always positive, never too busy to deal with the smallest request from anyone, whatever their position, nationality or need and kind, exceptionally kind to everyone who knew him. He was never short of ideas and answers to the numerous problems that faced him. A true ambassador to China and to Photography.

We will all miss him enormously.

Dave Clark





尽管他的成就已经使人望尘莫及,而杨晓光先生最为突出的优秀特质在于它充沛的活力、感召力、和人格魅力。他在各个方面都是我辈的光辉典范。他从不因为繁忙而拒绝任何人哪怕是最小的请求,而是永远积 极帮助,不论他人的地位、国籍、也不在乎是何种需求,他都和善、万般关怀地对待所有认识他的人。对于问题,他总会找出答案,提出观点。他是中国摄影与国际 交流真正意义上的一位友好使节。



Hi All,

It’s been a harrowing two days but all went smoothly. I spent most my time with Xiao Bing and Wang Jingchun both of whom are making good progress. Xiao Bing is recovering quickly, he has a minor neck injury and cuts and bruises but should be back to normal in a week or two. Wang Jingchun is more serious, still in ICU but stabilising. Both will be flown back to China later today.

I went with Yang’s wife, Chang He and a delegation from the University to see his body and carry out a series of Chinese rituals for the dead. I showed Yang’s wife the facebook site and all the messages you all sent for which she was very grateful. There is a big festival in Nepal at the moment and so all the paperwork was not yet complete for a cremation. Also Yang’s wife was undecided whether she wanted to bring the body back to China for burial. The Chinese consul in Kathmandu has been extremely helpful in sorting these matters out. She will remain until all is finished.

On the trip I also learned from those in the van at the time the full story of the event. They had hired a van with a driver to go on a trip. Presumably because of the festival the driver had not slept for two days. He fell asleep at the wheel and collided with an oncoming truck. Yang was sleeping on the back seat with his head against the window. Thankfully he was killed instantly and would not have known anything about it. Wang King Chun who was on the middle seat also on the driver’s side, was fortunately awake which gave him a split second to move out of the way and save his life. The driver was also killed instantly.

Many thanks for all your messages I will continue to pass them on to Yang’s family. His son has now returned from Australia and will be in Dalian for the next few weeks. I would also like to express immense thanks to Chang He who has worked tirelessly for his class mates and Yang’s family.

With best wishes to you all,



Professor Yang and Dave Clark were visiting artists at Chobi Mela IV (November 2006). Yang gave a talk on “Photographic Education in China” at Chobi Mela IV. During his visit he set up many links with practitioners from other parts of the globe to Dalian, which included Rupert Grey (UK), Norman Leslie (Australia), Robert Pledge (USA/France), Violet Valdez (Philippines) whom he met at the festival.

October 10, 2008 Posted by | Photography | , , | 2 Comments

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, 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.


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


All printed on: 310 gsm acid free cotton Hahnemühle paper


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
29th September 2008

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

What Matters

The World’s Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time

Sterling. 2008. 335p. ed. by David Elliot Cohen. photogs. index. ISBN 978-1-4027-5834-8. $27.95. POL SCI

An ice cave on the edge of the Marr Ice Piedmont on Anvers Island,

Cover photo by GARY BRAASCH: An ice cave on the edge of the Marr Ice Piedmont on Anvers Island,

PHOTOGRAPHY EXPOSES TRUTHS, advances the public discourse, and demands action. In What Matters, eighteen important stories by today’s preeminent photojournalists and thinkers poignantly address the big issues of our time—global warming, environmental degradation, AIDS, malaria, the global jihad, genocide in
Darfur, the inequitable distribution of global wealth and others. A “What You Can Do” section offers 193 ways to learn more and get involved.

A four-year-old girl in Ghana walks two-and-a-half miles (four kilometers) twice each day to fetch buckets of water for her family.

Back cover inset by BRENT STIRTON: A four-year-old girl in Ghana walks two-and-a-half miles (four kilometers) twice each day to fetch buckets of water for her family

Photographed by:

Shahidul AlamThe Associated PressGary BraaschMarcus BleasdaleRaymond DepardonPaul FuscoLauren GreenfieldMaggie HallahanEd KashiGerd LudwigMagnumSusan MeiselasJames NachtweyShehzad NooraniGilles PeressSebastião SalgadoStephanie SinclairBrent StirtonTom StoddartAnthony SuauStephen Voss

SATHI’S FACE is covered with carbon dust from recycled batteries. She is eight years old and works in a battery recycling factory in Korar Ghat, on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

SATHI’S FACE is covered with carbon dust from recycled batteries. She is eight years old and works in a battery recycling factory in Korar Ghat, on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. © Shehzad Noorani/Drik/Majority World

Commentary by:

Omer Bartov • Judith Bruce • Awa Marie Coll-Seck • Richard Covington • Elizabeth C. Economy • Helen Epstein • Fawaz A. Gerges • Peter H. Gleick • Gary Kamiya • Paul Knox • David R. Marples • Douglas S. Massey • Bill McKibben • Samantha Power • John Prendergast • Jeffrey D. Sachs • Juliet B. Schor •
Michael Watts

A MEMORIAL to the 1994 Rwanda genocide at the Church of Ntarama, in Kigali Province. Photograph by Raymond Depardon

A MEMORIAL to the 1994 Rwanda genocide at the Church of Ntarama, in Kigali Province. © Raymond Depardon

What Matters—an audacious undertaking by best-selling editor and author David Elliot Cohen—challenges us to consider how socially conscious photography can spark public discourse, spur reform, and shift the way we think. For 150 years, photographs have not only documented human events, but also changed their course—from Jacob Riis’s exposé of brutal New York tenements to Lewis Hine’s child labor investigations to snapshots of torture at Abu Ghraib prison. In this vein, What Matters presents eighteen powerful stories by this generation’s foremost photojournalists. These stories cover essential issues confronting us and our planet: from climate change and environmental degradation to global jihad, AIDS, and genocide in Darfur to the consequences of the Iraq war, oil addiction, and the inequitable distribution of global wealth. The pictures in What Matters are personal and specific, but still convey universal concepts. These images are rendered even more compelling by trenchant commentary. Cohen asked the foremost writers, thinkers, and experts in their fields to elucidate issues raised by the photographs.

A WOMAN TAKEN to an emergency feeding center in Somalia established by the Irish charity CONCERN waits for food and medical attention. Photography by James Nachtwey.

A WOMAN TAKEN to an emergency feeding center in Somalia established by the Irish charity CONCERN waits for food and medical attention. © James Nachtwey.

Some stories in What Matters will make you cry; others will make you angry; and that is the intent. What Matters is meant to inspire action. And to facilitate that action, the book includes an extensive “What You Can Do” section——a menu of resources, web links, and effective actions you can take now.

A PIPELINE carrying drinking water to more prosperous districts of India’s largest city, Mumbai (population 20 million), passes through the shantytown of Mahim, where it serves as an impromptu thoroughfare. Photography by Sebastião Salgado.

A PIPELINE carrying drinking water to more prosperous districts of India’s largest city, Mumbai (population 20 million), passes through the shantytown of Mahim, where it serves as an impromptu thoroughfare. © Sebastião Salgado.

Cohen hopes What Matters will move people to take positive steps——no matter how small——that will help change the world. As he says in his introduction, the contributors’ work is so compelling that “if we show it to you, you will react with outrage and create an uproar.” If, says Cohen, you look at these stories and think, “What’s the use? The world is irredeemably screwed up,” we should remember that, historically, outraged citizens have gotten results. “We did actually abolish slavery and child labor in the US; we abolished apartheid in South Africa; we defeated the Nazis; we pulled out of Vietnam. As the saying goes, ‘All great social change seems impossible until it is inevitable.’ ”

PHILANTHROPIST Abdul Sattar Edhi with a few of the many thousands of children he has helped. Shahidul Alam

PHILANTHROPIST Abdul Sattar Edhi with a few of the many thousands of children he has helped. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

– Michael Zajakowski, Chicago Tribune

TRANS AMADI SLAUGHTER is the largest slaughterhouse in the Niger Delta. Workers kill thousands of animals a day, roast them over burning tires and prepare the meat for sale throughout the delta. Fish was traditionally the main source of protein here, but fish stocks have dwindled due to overfishing and oil pollution. Ed Kashi

TRANS AMADI SLAUGHTER is the largest slaughterhouse in the Niger Delta. Workers kill thousands of animals a day, roast them over burning tires and prepare the meat for sale throughout the delta. Fish was traditionally the main source of protein here, but fish stocks have dwindled due to overfishing and oil pollution. © Ed Kashi

A. Newspapers and Online

1. Hard to see, impossible to turn away – Issues and images combine in ‘What Matters,’ a powerful and passionate new book
“Great documentary photojournalism, squeezed out of mainstream newspapers and magazines in an age of shrinking column inches, has had a hard time gaining traction in other venues… But nobody has told the 18 photographers in “What Matters: The World’s Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time.” These are photo essays by some of today’s best photojournalists following the great tradition begun over a hundred years ago with the exposés of New York tenement life by Jacob Riis. Through the doggedness of these photographers—who are clearly committed to stirring us out of complacency—all the power and passion of the medium is evident in this book… Some of the pieces will break your heart, some will anger you. All will make you think. To channel your thoughts and feelings into action, the book ends with an appendix “What You Can Do,” offering hundreds of ways to be a part of the solution to these problems.”

Chicago Tribune Book Review, 2 page spread

2. “Must viewing.”

San Francisco Chronicle, 2 page story

3. Photographs that Can Change the World
“David Elliot Cohen’s new book, What Matters, which hits bookshelves today, is a collection of photo essays that explore 18 distinct social issues that define our time. Shot by the world’s most renowned photojournalists, including James Nachtwey, who has contributed to V.F., the photographs explore topics ranging from genocide and global warming to oil addiction and consumerism, offering a raw view into the problems that plague our world. Each photo essay is accompanied by written commentary from an expert on the issue. Cohen hopes the book will inspire people to work toward resolving these problems. “Great photojournalism changed the world in the past, and it can do it again,” Cohen says. “I want people to see these images, get angry, and act on that anger. Compelling images by the world’s best photojournalists is the most persuasive language I have to achieve this.”

4. Book Review: What Matters

“Changing the world might sound like a lofty goal for a photo book, but that’s what the new book, What Matters, The World’s Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of our Time edited by David Elliot Cohen (Sterling Publishing, $28, 2008), hopes to do. Citing the power of socially conscious photographers over the last 150 years, the beautiful collection of 18 photo-essays by some of today’s prominent photojournalists hopes to “inform pre-election debate and inspire direct action.” Regardless of what side of the political fence you sit on, this collection of heartbreaking and powerful stories and images is guaranteed to get you thinking.”
Popular Photography

5. What Matters: The World’s Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time.
Those doubting the power of photojournalism to sway opinion and encourage action would do well to spend some time with this book. In 18 stories, each made up of photos by leading photojournalists and elucidated by short essays by public intellectuals and journalists, this book explores environmental devastation, war, disease, and the ravages of both poverty and great wealth. The photos are specific and personal in their subject matter and demonstrate how great photography can illuminate the universal by depicting the specific. Cohen has a goal beyond simply showcasing terrific photography. In his thoughtful introduction, he makes explicit his aim to connect the work compiled here with the great tradition of muckraking photography that helped to change conditions in New York tenements and to end child labor at the turn of the last century. A terrific concluding chapter directs readers to specific actions they can take if they are moved to do so by the book’s images, and it’s hard to imagine the reader who would not be moved. Highly recommended for public libraries and academic libraries supporting journalism and/or photography curricula. (a starred review in Library Journal generally means the book will be acquired by many libraries.)

Library Journal

6. First of five part series about What Matters
(The first installment drew 500,000 page views)

7. Second part in CNN. Black Dust by Shehzad Noorani

September 28, 2008 Posted by | Global Issues, Photography, Photojournalism, Photojournalism issues, reviews, World | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments