Drik’s Bangladesh: Band of the Lithe and Blithe Khademul Islam
rik launched its sumptuous Bangladesh: seen from within: Ways of Life volume of photographs at the Hay festival. The rationale for publishing it is articulated by Drik founder Shahidul Alam with missionary zeal in his editor’s note. It should prove to be an instructive one for Bangladeshis, inundated as they are nowadays with photographs from every corner of the country, where point-and shoot-cameras, or even their more sophisticated cousins, have come to be considered to be the easy way towards artistic expression. But hardly anybody from the above crowd can actually articulate what the complex art of photography is, or has become, or how it is evolving in this modern world. What photography means in the context of Bangladesh. We Bangladeshis simply look at ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’ photos, without being able to place them within contextual frames, or an aesthetic discourse. Shahidul Alam can. And does. Reading his two-page introduction to this volume, if you read carefully, is to open a door to a world where complicated dialectics of aesthetics rage and swirl. What is a professional photographer? One whose, writes Alam, “success depends not so much on her aesthetic sense or insight, but on her ability to please the sitter… (a work) driven by an external agenda.” Whatever the permutations, whether one is a famous portraitist or unique stylist, the crucial factor of what the client/sitter desires and pays for determines the act. Or, in some cases, as latter-day marxists would say, overdetermines it. In contrast, there is the amateur, “freed from such inhibitions, liberated from the need to preserve a public persona.” Who answers to no call except her/his, and given the technological advances made in terms of cameras, has also been freed from “dark rooms, the heavy lens…and the empty wallet.” In turn, these amateurs have transformed the way Bangladesh is looked at, from those fashioned by “visiting photojournalists or NGO workers” to something rich and strange. Or to something comparatively richer and stranger. No longer are we the subject of “hackneyed set pieces,’’ victims of “tech-loving salons”, or the lab specimens of “super saturated imagery typical of special effects gurus.” Bangladesh is unchaining itself in this respect, freeing the shackles of old ways of representations and even of some new ones. This charge of the lens brigade is being led by keen amateurs rewriting the history of a nation’s images. This book by Drik celebrates that emancipation. And what is special too is that it was in this
D H A K A T R I B U N E S U N DAY, D E C E M B E R 7, 2 0 1 4
spirit of liberation that Shahidul Alam chose the photographs – pahari women grimacing happily in a tug-of-war, action-blurred photo of men hauling in a fishing net, the leanly muscled body of a villager weaving a basket, a rickshaw along a backlit village road where the leaves are like stars on the ground, boats on the river shore, or the writer Hasan Azizul Haq, moored in contemplation, young men and women banded in protest – in sections titled variously ‘work’ or ‘living’ or ‘children’. What one sees here predominantly is space, amplitude and volume, open skies and vistas, with even the fish seller’s grin as he sits in his enclosed space with wide-bodied fishes opening up expansive stretches of cultural and food mythologies. Yes, of course, as Rubana Huq hints at in her
Photo from Drik book titled Hasan Azizul Huq, A Reconciled Litterateur, taken by Farhad Kaizer
L to R: Rubana Huq, Fakrul Alam, Shahidul Alam
delicately-worded introduction, these photos do show one side of the picture(forgive the pun!) while yet more radical critics may point out that in any form of representation, ideology matters. That such photos, like the writing of sonnets during the Elizabethan age, provide the underpinnings of a ‘happy’ bourgeoisie state order where the absence of the dark side is the suppression of truth. One is sure Alam is aware of these points. Quite aware. Yet, and yet, it is undeniable that with his words providing guidance, and his eye its expertise, the book is a joyous, flamboyant, extravagant, celebratory paean to Bangladesh. And hidden, covertly grinning, in the subtext of these images can be glimpsed Bangladesh’s lithe, blithe band of amateur photographers, freely roaming this green land of ours. n
While the frames and stories in this collection are open for interpretation, a message holds true throughout the narration: the portrayal of the land and its people celebrates the victory of hope over despair, dawn over dark, and freedom over oppression. – RubanaHuq Introduction
Events such as the duet between Vidya Shah and William Dalrymple were riveting. Bumping into old friends and meeting long-awaited ones was a treat. The eclectic mix of suggestive hijras and mystic bauls was alluring, and the kachchi biryani watered down by boroirosh amidst poetry and song was the perfect nourishment for body and soul. The talks went well and our new book sold out. What more could Drik want?
Shahidul Alam is founder, Drik, Dhaka.
– Shahidul Alam on how the Hay went for him and Drik
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