Belonging in Photo Eye Blog

Posted: May 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson

By Munem Wasif
éditions Clémentine de la Féronnièr, 2013. 160 pp., 69 duotone illustrations, 9¼x6¾”.

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 7.27.05 PM

After first paging through Belonging I, as a reviewer, was overcome with a deep sense of intimidation. Rarely do we find ourselves in the presence of something that exudes such excellence and love. Love? Yes, absolutely love; these photographs thrust one into a place, a time, a community in a way in which I am at a loss for words to draw comparison. The tenacious realness of these images, made somehow surreal through black and white, is more akin to the vivid nature of dreams. Once you have engaged with Belonging and walked away it seems less like a collection of photographs and more like a memory that eludes full recollection, or as if you fell asleep in the passenger seat of a car as it passed through a foreign city, waking every so often, stealing an image, a scene here and there and then submerging them in the elusive waters of dreaming.

Belonging is Munem Wasif’s photography of the capitol city of Dhaka in Bangladesh. The images don’t present anything definable; this is not a people series or a city series, rather the images speak to Dhaka as a living organism; a place fulfilled by individuals, crowds, celebrations, commerce, architecture, and time with its continual building and wearing down. The expansive view of Dhaka becomes something like a hymn, it reaches outwards by looking in, a sort of ecstatic experience of place, interaction, and tradition and, remarkably, Belonging is devoid of sadness. Always there is joy. Even amidst the rundown buildings, the desolate places, the poor domiciles, joy pervades.

The choice Wasif made in shooting these images in black and white adds to a sense of narrative. We feel that we are engaging with a place trapped in time like an insect in amber. These images resist time, they exist with a poignant urgency and represent an eternal moment: a courtyard conversation between neighbors, an afternoon nap amidst the day’s work, a funeral, a gathering of fishermen. Simple themes find their way to the forefront and are captured in their honesty and their continual necessity.

Infrequently does a book contain as much power as Belonging does. It is a book that pulls you in, that places you among its subjects. You cannot engage with it without becoming a witness to it, a participant of its daily joys. This is a book so real in its feeling that Wasif seems always to want to remind the viewer that we are engaging with photographs. Figures frequently appear as ghost, blurred in their steps, the eyes of a dog are white with the camera’s flash, edges bleed, but never is there a sense of sloppiness. Instead Wasif taps us on the shoulder to simply remind us that we are only viewers, we’re only looking into a record of “Old Dhaka.”


The book itself is a work of art. Cloth-bound, expertly designed and laid-out, Belonging runs the risk of rising to the level of art itself, of abstracting from a presentation of Wasif’s work into a work in-of-itself. Rarely do we engage with a book that feels as nice, flows as tastefully, and gives so much or speaks, as it does, to so many.


Belonging reminds me, more than any other thing, of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, that long poem that celebrates all, finds joy in all experience, and seeks to repel none. It’s a community conversation, a social engagement that seeks to show people as a social animal, as occupants, and fauna to the urban flora of markets, harbor fronts, and apartment buildings. “Belonging” as it is meant here, would mean excluding nothing. Wasif leaves nothing out, and everything in is in by love.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON

1134- Lives Not Numbers

Posted: May 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Curation | No Comments »

A group exhibition dedicated to the lost garment workers of Bangladesh

Curated by Mahbubur Rahman and Munem Wasif

22 april- 26 april


Still haunted by the memories. When I close my eyes I see the procession of corpses, following me behind, taunting my sense of responsibility. 24th April, 2013, Rana Plaza collapses, 1135 lost to senseless greed, lives lost due to collective negligence. A dark day in the history of garments workers lives, a nightmare which will terrorize us for the rest of our lives.  Amongst the rubble, hidden beneath the stones, beams and bricks, thousands of workers lie enveloped in darkness, their dreams crushed under the weight of our negligence.

002Rahul Talukder_Joideb 1

Performance by Joydeb Roaja @ Rahul Talukder


Isntalltion of photographs by various photographers @ Sarker Protick


Epitomb by Mahbubur Rahman and Ayon Rhal @ Sarker Protick

Seminars, grieving, crying, TV programs, bureaucrats, NGOs’ , civil servants , photographers, film makers Buyers, diplomats partake in the  media circus, all engaged in the commotion over the dead bodies of the garments workers. Their collective footsteps thundering in the ears of the corpses, failing to register a faint murmur amongst the living. Garments workers in Bangladesh number over 4 million. Women make up more than 80 % of this large number, which provides some of the cheapest labor on earth. Their products grace the shelves in Europe and North America.


@Ayon Rehal

006New Wave_001

New wave bottom by Promothesh Das Pulak @ Sarker Protick


Melting by Kabir ahmed Masum Chisty @ Sarker Protick


Final Embrace by Taslima Akhter and Shimul Saha @ Munem Wasif

Frantic is BGMEA, frantic is Primark. In the frenzied rush of the living what benefit is it to the dead? Their spirits taunt and tease, asking innocuously, was my life worth the petty vanity, precious savings of few cents and shillings? Struggling to make ends meet, the workers are compelled to work overtime and night shifts, barely generating enough income to pay for their daily necessities.



Epitomb By Ayon Rehal and Mahbubur Rahman @ Sarker Protick


Missing by Munem Wasif @ Farzana Hossen


Missing by Munem Wasif

Bangladesh produces readymade garments cheap for brands such as H&M, Primark, and it gives the garments workers a feeling of participation in the global scenario. Whenever the workers try to unite and organize for their basic rights, their efforts are met with rubber bullets and merciless oppression from the police. Striving for a nominal bonus and fearing loss of wages, the incapacitated workers were forced to enter and work in the building condemned to collapse just the day before. Their dreams lie crushed amongst the dust and dirt of Rana Plaza. The few survivors of this tragedy wander about humiliated, searching and waiting for compensation. Till date there are still approximately 146 missing workers, no trace of theirs has been found, no one asks for justices for them.



Performance by Rettu Sattar @ Farzana Hossen


Performance by Rettu Sattar @ Farzana Hossen



Buy One get one free by Mohhamad Hasanur Rahman @ Munem Wasif

Pathshala pays homage to the fallen souls, to the garments workers who were killed in the incident at Rana Plaza. Through the captures of the needless ‘accident’, through performance art reflecting the sorrow of the deprived, it attempts to leave a lasting mark on our collective psyche.


Epitomb By Ayon Rehal and Mahbubur Rahman @ Sarker Protick

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Roses Album By Yasmin Jahan Nupur and Taslima Akhter @ Sarker Protick

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Collected Photos from Family album by Taslima Akhter

Join us in our homage to the unnecessarily killed. Artists from diverse backgrounds unite at Pathshala to address the wrongs of our own shadows. Performance artists, photographers, theater activists and others converge to hold a group exhibition, curated by Mahbubur Rahman and Munem Wasif.

017Kafil Bhai_Munem Wasif

Music by Kafil Ahmed @ Munem Wasif


School children visiting the show @ Sarker Protick

Participating Artists: Abir Abdullah, Amdadul Haq, Ayesha Sultana, AyonRehal, Joydeb Roaja, K M Asad, Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisti, Mahbubur Rahman, Mahmud Hossain Opu, Mohammad Hasanur Rahman, Munem Wasif, Parvez Ahmad, Promotesh Das Puluk, Rahul Talukder, Reetu Sattar, Shimul Saha, Shulekha Chowdhury, SuvraKanti Das, Taslima Akhter, Tushikur Rahman, Yasmin Jahan Nupur.

Organized by Pathshala South Asian Media Institute

Learning How to Look

Posted: May 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | No Comments »

I first encountered Munem Wasif’s work when I was on a Fulbright Scholarship for fiction and photography in Bangladesh and India in 2007. I was blown away by the talent of the Bangladeshi photographers I met during my time in Dhaka. They were everywhere, at galleries like Drik in Dhanmondi, teaching and studying at the Pathshala Photography Institute, exhibiting work at the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography, tackling various activist and photojournalism projects around the country, and of course, shooting fashion shows and weddings and other social events.

Wasif’s work immediately stood out: the rich textured black and white portraits, intricate cityscapes, ruined industry, sprawling countryside, poignant street scenes—all of it artfully framed, skillfully shot. Here was someone who knew what he was doing, and more than that, had an eye for the unusual, for the significant.

Munem Wasif’s photographs on a wall at Eyes on Bangladesh, an exhibit in New York City featuring the work of nine Bangladeshi photographers. Courtesy Eyes on Bangladesh
Wasif is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, and his work has been published and exhibited worldwide. He teaches at Pathshala and is a curator for Chobi Mela. In March 2014, Wasif was one of the photographers featured in Eyes on Bangladesh, an exhibition in New York City that showcased the work of nine noted Bangladeshi photographers and began a dialogue between first and second generation Bangladeshis.



In this interview for the Margins (published by the Asian American Writers Workshop), conducted over email, I asked him a few questions about his work and life as a Bangladeshi photographer. Read on for his generous thoughtful answers.

Abeer Hoque: How did you get started?

Munem Wasif: My uncle Ikram was a student of Geography. He traveled for his studies and took photographs. He was also a member of a photography club. His room was full of negatives, cameras, and lenses. The whole idea of traveling, taking photographs, and developing and looking at negatives greatly attracted me.

After I finished school, he introduced me to Begart, the first photography school in Bangladesh, which was founded by Manzoor Alam Beg in 1960. That was how it all started. When I went to Begart, I was amazed by the environment of the art studio. It was very different from the middle class Bengali lifestyle I was used to. There were hundreds of LPs, books, and magazines. Imti bhai, the son of the founder, was running the school, and he was living the life of an artist. I was young and all of it made a great impression on me.

My father was not very happy that I wanted to become a photographer. He told me to think twice, because the drivers and cameraman eat at the same table. This is what he understood about photographers in our country, and perhaps what a lot of people think.

Who were your inspirations and teachers?

Oh, there are lots of people! My literature teachers in school and college were really important. I remember Saikat sir talking about Haiku poetry in class, and Shamem sir telling us the story of the albatross.

Imti bhai at Begart played a crucial role in my introduction to photography and developing my taste and style. It was through him that I discovered Cohen and Dylan, musicians who influenced me as an artist. We were both crazy about the singer Suman Chatterjee, now Kabir Suman. Suman’s lyrics are so political and so poetic at the same time. They aren’t just about blue skies and rain and falling in love. They’re more than that. They’re immediate and meaningful and visual. They changed the way I see and the way I take photographs.

Abir bhai looked at every single image I came up with when I was learning, and helped me develop my skills. Manosh da taught us to look at photography critically and understand the politics of representation. Malu was amazing in how he linked up literature, film, music, and politics. Shahidul taught us everything beyond photography. He gave us the confidence to dream, and to see the world around us. I used to look at the pages of Raghu Rai’s small book “In His Own Words” every night. And there are many more abroad, including Barbara who helped change the way I see and edit my work.

What has it been like for you as a photographer in Bangladesh? Where do you see the field going? Where do you want it to go?

I think we have just now only created the base, the context from where we have to start the real work. We still don’t have the historians, the curators, the editors for the field of photography. We don’t have a market, neither editorially nor in the art world. And we are still taking photographs of eggs and poverty, and talking about raw and jpegs, and counting how many awards we have won. This is what we’re selling, as we rotate around the West.

But we have also established a beautiful photography school in Dhaka (Pathshala), a great international photography festival (Chobi Mela), and a local community, which is very supportive. I think that’s truly special.

How did you learn your craft?

I learned photography the way one learns how to play music, by listening and practicing everyday.

What are some accomplishments you’re proud of?

I am really proud of my students at Pathshala where I teach documentary photography.

I am proud to have published two small anthologies (Kamra 1 and 2) called Photography in Bangla with my friend Tanzim Wahab.

I am proud to have interviewed one of the masters of Bangladeshi photography, Bijon Sarker, who died in 2012. Bijon da helped found the Bangladesh Photography Society, and he was one of the few photographers of his time pushing the boundaries of images while everyone else was busy making pretty pictures. His experimentation in the dark room resulted in images of a kind we had never seen before. I hope people will hear his voice.

And I am happy to be working with the photography festival, Chobi Mela, as a curator.

What are some of the topics and issues you address in your work?

I love working on long-term stories, looking through the layers, and going back to places again and again. I have been working on a story for the last 5 years called “In God We Trust”. It’s about the representation of Islam after 9/11, about all the contradictions and overlappings we have within ourselves. It’s not about right or wrong. Photographically, it has been very difficult, but it’s a very important topic to me.

I recently returned from an art camp organized by Britto Art Trust. We worked in No Man’s Land, the literal place between India and Bangladesh. We installed our work in an open field, neither in Bangladesh nor India, nowhere. I arranged my photographs in the field, one after another, like a panorama. You had to bend down really low to see the work and in doing so, you would also see the border, the land itself. After the show, a man came to me and asked me if he could take a print to hang on his wall. His name was Shafik Mia and he was from the village of Lubia in Shonapur, Sylhet. I asked him why. He just smiled and said it was beautiful. That was really something for me.

What is one of your favorite projects?

I have just published a book on Old Dhaka called Belonging. It didn’t start off as a project, but more as my infatuation with this part of town. Old Dhaka reminds me of my childhood city of Comilla, with its strong sense of neighborhood, old buildings from colonial times, and small alleys where I would get lost on my bicycle. Old Dhaka will always be a special place for me.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as an artist? What would you like to learn?

I think I have only just learned how to look at things.

I want to make books – not just commercial coffee table books, but art books that channel emotion on the page, and handmade books where the pages and binding are part of the artistry. I would like to experiment with different materials, and with installing work in context.

I would like to write about Bangladeshi photography, its history and transformation over the last 30 years. The anthologies, Kamra 1 and 2 are part of this effort.

In the next Chobi Mela, we are planning some workshops that address some of these topics, and will hopefully help develop a culture where people are interested in making and buying such books.

What’s next?

I have been planning for a road trip for some time now, just to observe my country and its people. I think we are passing through a very sensitive time, politically. After the election, I don’t know how many Hindu families will be left in Bangladesh, how many will have gone to India. I don’t have a story or a plan. I just want to explore, and travel by river and through the hills.

Tell us about your work in Eyes on Bangladesh – how did you get involved and what does it mean to you?

Ayesha, one of the curators for Eyes on Bangladesh, contacted me about being part of the exhibition. I was not very sure at first, but after talking with Nabil and Ayesha a few times, I decided to participate. I think they have done a fabulous job, and it’s great how they have designed the whole exhibition. For example, I like how little kids have been invited to visit and comment on the work.

What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?

Read literature, study the history of art, and travel. That’s how you will learn photography. Don’t post your work in FB and wait for likes. Listen to your heart.

The interview was published in Asian American Writers Blog-


Posted: May 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I lost my beautiful manfrotto carbon fiber tripod on the opening day of “1134- Lives not numbers” exhibition. I was extremely tensed and was carrying lot of equipment. So I left my tripod on the back of CNG. I realized just one min later, instantly ran to square hospital and Labaid. Checked all the CNGs but he left. I was so helpless. It was a bad start.

Today at noon Malek bhai called me from Pathshala, he was asking me if I have lost something because a CNG driver has come to look for me. I was so surprised. I told Malekbi to ask him to leave the tripod in Pathshala but he said that the CNG driver wants talk to me. Then he said he was sick for 5 days other wise he would have come before. But he wants see me first before giving the tripod back.

Osman goni

He just came in front of my house, we talked for few min. He is such a nice man. Oh! his smile. Osman Goni I wish there are more people like you in this country. Salute Osman bhai.

Pintu never came back

Posted: July 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Writings on photography | No Comments »

It was Holi, the festival of colours (the religious spring festival celebrated by Hindus). Abir Bhai (Abir Abdullah) and me went to take pictures in the oldest Hindu area in downtown, Shakhari bazar. Suddenly a man just appeared introducing himself  ‘hello my name is Pintu’. Normally in Shakhari bazar, the young boys become madly drunk on that day. So I was very irritated and thinking this is just another drunk one. Probably he will start saying big words. Normally these kinds of people do nothing but chapabaji (making big mouth) sitting on para’s rok (by sitting at area’s pavement)! But this man said he can take us to a house where joint families are playing Holi and we will be amazed to see that. Normally you won’t get access in people’s house easily. I didn’t believe him but Abir bhai insisted to go there and see. When I went there for some reasons I sensed something special. Suddenly someone threw water and the play began…I felt shit, this is going to be amazing. At that day I also got my new digital camera and it was wet because of the water from everywhere, I was nervous. Although I was shooting like mad; I didn’t know really what I was shooting. I even didn’t look at the viewfinder in some frames. But I got one of my best photographs in my life.

Old Dhaka-Belonging

From that day Pintu and I became friends. Whenever I went there I tried to meet him and have a cup of tea. So one day, after my early morning stroll in old Dhaka, I went to Pannitola, where Pintu used to live. It was almost 11 in the morning and he was still sleeping as usual. He woke up, opened the door and we started talking about this and that. He had lots of young followers in the area who adored him. So he told one of them to bring tea and his breakfast. The door was open and a dog from next door came and sat beside him. He started smoking. I suddenly felt this would be a photograph! I took out my camera and shot almost 22 frames.


Meanwhile, I got busy with some other projects. So after few months I went to Old Dhaka again and knocked in his room. After recognizing me, the Aunt just next to Pintu’s room started yelling that Pintu left for Calcutta without even paying house rent for months. She was also very angry because her son was one of the followers of him. According to her, Pintu is the reason to ruin many boy’s life in this area.

Pintu never came back. I have become attached to the family who now lives in that building. Every time I go there for some strange reasons i miss Pintu!

_MG_2025 copy


Note- This text is little bit different than the original one in the book.



Choosing the best photo by using the contact sheet and we, as observers can understand, by looking at the contact sheet, the history behind some of the most unforgettable images of our history.


Sixty international photographers – Roger Ballen, Elinor Carucci, Mark Cohen, Charlie Cole, Stephane Duroy, Donna Ferrato, Larry Fink, Gianni Berengo Gardin, Bob Gruen, Leonie Hampton, Ed Kashi, Christopher Morris, Asako Narahashi, Rebecca Norris Webb, Reza, Mark Steinmetz, Joseph Szabo, Phil Toledano, Albert Watson, James Whitlow Delano – who tell with their photos the last sixty years of our history: from Ronald Reagan’s presidency to the one of Barack Obama, from the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989 to the war in Afghanistan, from Chechen wars to Tsunami in Japan, from John Lennon to Pearl Jam.

The book is edited by Giammaria De Gasperis.

Contatti – Provini d’autore 
Edited by Giammaria De Gasperis
Postcart Edizioni
Texts by Christian Caujolle and Nazario Dal Poz
212 pages
12 x 20 cm
ISBN 978-88-86795-87-6
12,50 €

Normally I don’t see dream…

Posted: April 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Diary | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Normally I don’t see dream. I remember waking up in the morning to clean Mikail. Then I opened the window and there was cold breeze. I went to sleep again. There was already light outside. Suddenly I felt somebody calling me. It sounds like a call from abroad. I wasn’t hearing it clearly but I realized it was my mother. Then I call back her for several times but no body pick up. After a while somebody pick up and said in Bangla that she is sleeping, and to call her later. (It feels like she living with a family in London. In reality she used to stay with a family in Singapore for her treatment.)

Ammu and Munmun

Ammu and Munmun, photographer unknown

Then I guess I was in the middle of a reality and dream. I called Mahbub chacchu, who was very close to my mother to ask him where is Ammu, why we are not in touch with her. I felt like I haven’t seen her for ages. And for some reason I forgot her completely. Then I asked my father. Nobody was giving any answer! I was getting more tensed thinking how she is managing to live on her own? She is sick, alone… What we are doing here?

Then I got the call. I felt Ammu is there. But she has pipe in her throat, as she can’t breathe. It’s difficult for her to talk. All I could listen some sound from her voice, I felt like she wants to talk with me. But I am so far. I also want to talk with you Ammu. Tears were coming out from my eyes even in the sleep. I woke up and saw Reetu and Mikail is sleeping. I went to the other side of the bed and lay down beside Reetu. Hold her tightly. Tears were all over. I couldn’t resist myself; I told Reetu I saw Ammu in the dream. I was feeling so bad. I couldn’t manage to take care of her when she was alive. I was young then, when she used to call from Singapore and asking me if I pray for her? I always answered yes. But I eagerly was waiting when she will finish, I could run to play.

After some years we were more like indifferent, because she was sick for long time. We had to spend long time in the hospital, especially in ICU of PG hospital. But I never cried. Even after her death. But this dream shattered me. I felt like crying madly.

I miss you ammu, I wish you were here today to see Mikail. He is beautiful!

Apr 19, 2013





A letter to GMB Akash

Posted: January 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Writings on photography | No Comments »

Dear Akash Bhai,

Good morning.

This is a personal letter to you and to no one else. I am following you and your work for long time. There was a time when I was looking at Abir bhai, Kiron bhai’s and your photos day and night. Before closing my eyes, I was thinking I wish I could work like this man!

I went to the same school as you. And that school has changed my life. I have become different human being. I have fights with lot of teachers in the class; I disagree with them in lot of cases. But I do believe this school has changed the landscape of photography in Bangladesh.

The day passed, we have grown up. And you too. We have different paths. We didn’t meet regularly as you traveled a lot and you have different relationship with Drik & Pathshala. But I met you in Hamburg at your flat, on the streets of Shakaribazar, Shahbag, Dhanmondi and in airports. We smiled at each other and shared our thoughts.

I have decided to publish ‘Kamra’ because I thought we need to move on. There was not so much space in Bangladesh to talk about photography, to have debate and to be passionate about what we do.  Previously It was more about grouping, where you belong, what camera you use, what award you get. And I am sick of that. This book is published by me and Tanzim Wahab. And I owe the responsibility.

I am sorry if I have hurt you with my text. But I think what I have written, I have written from my heart and I don’t apologize for that.  I was hard on you, because I think you are one of the photographers who got the potential to go beyond our expectation.  Because you have shown that potential in your early work, in your life. I have also written in Abir bhai’s text that his news photos don’t inspire me. He has so much more to give. I have asked Alam bhai, how does his idealism work when he works for World Bank. I have asked Nasir Ali Mamun, why he gives same bw (light & shadow) treatment in all the photos.

But I might be wrong and you have full rights to disagree with me, you can yell at me. But I was shocked that you think I am part of a particular grouping. I was shocked to see how your fans have posted ugly comments and you didn’t say a single word. I didn’t expect that from you Akash bhai.

I have emailed you quite few times (25.7.2012/ 28. 8 .2012/ 29. 8. 2012). I wanted to take your long interview. You were busy, you were traveling.

I am sure there will be time. When you read the text again and have second thought. I will wait for that time.

It’s a lovely day outside Akash bhai, there is a beautiful light. It’s winter. Lets go outside and get lost in the street. I am sure we can both take amazing photographs, which will be very different from each other. But I hope we still can appreciate our work with an honest heart and be critical to each other.


Munem Wasif

18 January 2013


Ten Photographs, Ten Stories

© GMB Akash. All rights reserved.
Photo from Akash’s website:

Munem Wasif on G M B Akash

[Translated from Bengali by Naeem Mohaiemen]

By then, the inevitable happened. First Shahidul, then Shehzad, Abir, Kiron– one after another, a daring piece of work. All hard core black-and-white, capturing a humane moment. Akash also started out in this mode. There was a unique caring in his photographs. A forgetful rider on an exhausted horse at the beach. Or, an intimate scene of Akash’s mother bathing his grandfather. These early black and white photographs carry the shadows of that established style. In any case, there was tremendous pressure on the younger photographers. Difficult to stand with your head held high. Not easy to brush off the weight of that established structure. If there is no new language, new stories cannot be told. Then even breathing became difficult.

But for some reason Akash was not finding his voice. The images are good, light-composition, everything is in place. But even the good photographs were blending into one, somewhat bland. His blood was hot, his camera hand was itching. It did not take too long to break the rules. Color photographs, wide lense, sexy subject– combining all these, Akash crossed the boundaries, broke the old empire. This was a completely different taste. The established politeness of photography ran out the door. Joop Swart masterclass, Time magazine assignment. Bang, bang, bang– Akash was a superstar.

This photograph is from the time before stardom. Akash was still searching for himself. What should he photograph? Gay men live in Narayanganj. Akash’s own town. Shahjahan is lightly kissing his client. Bodies astray, men kissing men. Was the kiss real? A nearby man is staring at the camera! The pleasure of this photograph increases by another two levels. Were there conversations before snapping the image? Is the whole thing staged? I do not think so. It does not matter anyway. Garish colors, crazy fashion, a tilted frame, bounce flash, distorted shape. A barely controlled excitement. Every gesture has a reckless vibration. There is no comfort in these images. Rather, it aggravates you. Your curious eyes want to know, what is there? The smell is different.

I look at the photographs even more carefully. Dancing, singing, sexuality, adoration, love– it is all so strange. Man or woman, dancer or prostitute? Many questions. Local people call them “kothi.” A family of nine between four walls– many characters. They all seem very strange– the photographs make them even more the “other.” Are photographers then some type of “specialized tourists”? We go to many different places and take such strange photographs– it all seems unfamiliar. That is when I remember Dayanita Singh and Mona Ahmed. As we look at her photographs, Mona is no longer a transvestite. Here the human relationship is more important than the photography. Dayanita and Mona became friends. A relationship of 13 years.

Meanhile Akash transforms from a photographer to professional magazine photographer. Very specifically defined. Geographies outside this country’s borders become his space of circulation. At the same time, that reckless mood of his photographs starts fading away. It is an oppositional relationship. His pictures become polite, restrained, beautiful in their construction. Akash keeps making work, here there everywhere– the clients are mainly western magazines. The sweat of child laborers, the brothel of Daulatdiya, a farmer drowning in floods, indigenous peoples, a corpse cut up by a train, drug addicted youth, shipbreakers, a chain-shackled madrassa student. Demand versus supply. One portrait, one wide shot, some detail, some relationships– a social story in 12 images.

Akash succeeded. But did we lose something special in the process?

Munem Wasif on GMB Akash [Kamra Volume 2]

[কামরা খণ্ড ]

দশটি ছবিদশটি গল্প জি এম বি আকাশের একটি ছবি নিয়ে লিখেছে মুনেম ওয়াসিফ

তত দিনে যা হবার তাই হয়ে গেছে। প্রথমে শহিদুল তারপর শেহজাদ, আবির, কিরন- একের পর এক দুর্ধর্ষ কাজ। সব হার্ড কোর ব্ল্যাক অ্যান্ড ও্য়াইট আর  মানবিক মুহূর্তের ছবি। আকাশও শুরু করেছিলেন সেই ঘরানাতেই। অদ্ভুত মায়াও ছিল ছবিগুলির মধ্যে। সমুদ্র পারে উদাসী চালক আর ক্লান্ত ঘোড়া অথবা আকশের মায়ের তার দাদাকে স্নান করানোর দৃশ্য, আন্তরিক।  প্রথম দিকের সাদাকালো কাজে আমরা সেই পুরানো ছবির ছায়াই দেখতে পাই। নতুন ফটোগ্রাফারদের উপর অনেক চাপ। ঘাড় সোজা করে দাঁড়ানো কঠিন। পুরানো কাঠামো ঝেড়ে ফেলা সহজ নয়। নতুন ভাষা না হলে নতুন গল্পও বলা যাচ্ছে না। নিঃশ্বাস নেওয়াটাই যেন কঠিন। 

ছবিগুলো ভাল, লাইট-কম্পোজিশন সবকিছুই ঠিক ঠাক। কিন্তু কেন জানি আকাশের ঠিক জমছিল না। ভাল ছবিগুলোও যেন একরকম হয়ে উঠছিল- কিঞ্চিত পানসে। টগবগে রক্ত, নিশপিশে হাত। খুব একটা দেরি হল না তার ভাঙতে। রঙ্গিন ছবি,ওয়াইড লেন্স, সেক্সি বিষয়-সব মিলিয়ে ভেঙ্গে ফেললেন পুরানো সাম্রাজ্য। এক  অন্য ধক। ছবির ভদ্রতা যেন দরজা দিয়ে দৌড়ে পালিয়ে গেল। জুপ সোয়ার্ট মাস্টার-ক্লাস, টাইম ম্যাগাজিনের অ্যাসাইনমেন্ট। ব্যাং,ব্যাং, ব্যাং- আকাশ সুপারস্টার।

ইহা স্টার হওয়ার আগের কাহিনী। আকাশ তখনও নিজেকে খুঁজছেন। কি তুলবেন? সমকামীদের ছবি-স্থান নারায়ণগঞ্জ। আকাশের নিজের শহর। শাহজাহান তার খদ্দের কে আলতো করে চুমু খাচ্ছেন! এলিয়ে যাওয়া শরীর, পুরুষে পুরুষে চুমু। চুমু টাকি আসল ? পাশের লোকটা আবার ফটোগ্রাফারের দিকে চেয়ে আছেন! ছবিটার মজা আরও দুই ধাপ বেড়ে গেল। ছবি তোলার আগে কি কথা হয়েছিলো? পুরাটাই কি সাজানো? না মনে হয়। কিছুই যায়ে আসে না। তীব্র রং, উৎকটে ফ্যাশন, তেসরা ফ্রেম, বাউন্স ফ্ল্যাশ, কৌণিক আকার। চাপা উত্তেজনা। পুরো ভঙ্গিমাটাই কেমন জানি বেপরোয়া। ঠিক যেন স্বস্থি দেয় না। বরং উশকে দেয়। কৌতূহলী চোখ দেখতে চায়, কি ওখানে? গন্ধটা একটু অন্যরকম।

ছবিগুলো আরও মনোযোগ দিয়ে দেখি। নাচ, গান, যৌনতা, ভক্তি, প্রেম-কেমন জানি? পুরুষ না নারী, নাচনেওয়ালী নাকি বেশ্যা? অনেকগুলো প্রশ্ন। স্থানীয় লোক এদেরকে ‘কোতি’ বলে। চারকোনা দেয়াল, নয়জনের পরিবার-নানান চরিত্র। মানুষগুলিকে দেখলে অদ্ভুত মনে হয়, যেন ছবিতে তারা আরও ‘অপর’ হয়ে উঠে। ফটোগ্রাফাররা কি আসলেই ‘স্পেশালাইযড ট্যুরিস্ট’? নানান জায়গায় যান আর এমন সব কিম্ভুত কিমাকার মুহূর্ত তুলে নিয়ে আসেন- অপরিচিত ঠেকে। ঠিক তখনই দয়নিতা সিং এর মোনা আহমেদ এর কথা মনে পড়ে। ছবি দেখতে দেখতে মোনা আহমেদ আমাদের সামনে আর হিজরা থাকেন না। এখানে ফটোগ্রাফি বিষয় না, সম্পর্কটাই মুখ্য। দয়নিতা আর মোনা বন্ধু হয়ে উঠেন।১৩ বছরের সম্পর্ক।

এদিকে আকাশ নিছক ফটোগ্রাফার থেকে পেশাদার ম্যাগাজিন ফটোগ্রাফার হয়ে উঠেন। বিশেষভাবে নির্দিষ্ট। দেশের সীমানা পেরিয়ে বৈদেশিক ভূগোল হয় তার বিচরণ ক্ষেত্র। অন্যদিকে আস্তে আস্তে তার কাজের বেপরোয়া ভাব ম্রিয়মাণ হতে থাকে। বৈপরীত্যের সম্পর্ক। ছবি হয়ে উঠে নির্মাণে আরও ভদ্র, পরিমিত ও শোভন। আকাশ ক্রমাগত কাজ নামিয়ে যান, এখান থেকে ওখানে- খদ্দর মুলূত পশ্চিমা ম্যাগাজিন। শিশু শ্রমিকের ঘাম, দৌলতদিয়ার পতিতালয়, বন্যায় ডুবন্ত কৃষক, আদিবাসী জনগোষ্ঠী, ট্রেনে কাটা লাশ, নেশাখোর যুবক, জাহাজ-ভাঙ্গার শ্রমিক, মাদ্রাসায় শিকল পড়া ছাত্র। চাহিদা বনাম জোগান। একটা পোরট্রেট, একটা ওয়াইড শট, একটু ডিটেল, কিছু সম্পর্কের ছবি- ১২টি ছবির সামাজিক গল্প।

আকাশ সফল। আমরা কি বিশেষ কিছু হারালাম?


GMB Akash posted following status update: “Delight in reading one of my junior, who expressed his world-famous-expertise in a publication by claiming my work declared as ‘GMB Akash is a ‘successful Specialized Tourist’, not a ‘Successful photographer’ (the summary I understood from the article), enjoying the fact that Bangladesh’s most famous photography school endorse it.” 12th January

“I surely do not have time to read juvenile and nonsensical rants like what they produce.. But I must fight corruption and promote integrity. It’s a sad, sad situation just thinking about that if you are not in politics, nepotism and only focus on your work then you have to pay in a long run and live full of your life with lag in your path. In the article it has also written: ‘I self-made my photographs, ‘I work with sexy topic’, ‘I work only for international magazines’, and I only take photograph on the basis of ‘Demand and supply’ etcetera and etcetera. What will be my expression after knowing first time that my photography topics are sexy! Hell yeah!
My friends, thanks for standing beside me always, I have much esteem for your meaningful comments, always inspiring and an abode to energise my heart and soul.” 12 January at 15:11

“I have full feelings on every one’s emotions. every one@ its not the fact that its downing my heart but it is making me surprised how people can even think thus, & if senior (at least the writer is senior in the industry by 2013) comments such childish (they published it calming my photographs are fake/self made, my photography topics are sexy (!! I never know we photojournalist are fashion photographers!!) what will happen to next generation living under that umbrella! seriously its insane, just simply insane.” 13 January at 12:53



Naeem Mohaiemen posted the following response:

Dear Akash,
I appreciate your photography and have followed your work for years. However, with all due respect, you have misunderstood Munem’s essay, which is a very positive essay about your early, rule-breaking photography.

If you read the full essay in KAMRA VOL 2 carefully, you will see that:
1. Munem Wasif does not call you a “Specialized Tourist”, he calls all photographers “Specialized Tourists.” That includes Munem Wasif himself, and all photographers working in Bangladesh. His critique is of the entire photography industry, not of you.

2. Munem praises your early photographs. Your early photo of two gay men kissing was selected as part of the “10 Photos, 10 Stories” series in KAMRA Vol. 2. These were selected as 10 iconic photographs from Bangladesh. The other 9 selected were photographs by Rashid Talukdar, Shahidul Alam, Saida Khanam, Shehzad Noorani, Shafiqul Alam Kiron, Family Photos, Azizur Rahim Peu, and Rasel Chowdhury.

3. In the first part of the essay, he describes the set “style” that came about due to the early success of Shahidul Alam, Shehzad Noorani, Abir Abdullah, and Shafiqul Alam Kiron. He describes your photos of Naraynganj brothels as being the first to break with that trend of black-and-white photography, instead going for loud colors, wide angles, etc. The description is of a young photographer who broke the rules.

4. In the last part of the essay, he expresses his disappointment with the photographs you do on assignment for magazines, because he believes those are much more rule-bound. The client demands very specific things from photographers, and rules cannot be broken.

5. The last two sentences, which you misunderstood, is talking about the loss to Bangladeshi photography. Munem believes that magazine photography, with its very specific demands, has taken away the possibility of some very unconventional work from you, which would change Bangladeshi photography. The exact sentence is “Akash succeeded. But did we lose something special in the process?” (আকাশ সফল। আমরা কি বিশেষ কিছু হারালাম?)

I have translated the full article. Please read it here and you will see that things are not where you think they are.


Second response of Naeem Mohaiemen to Akash:

I wrote an essay for this current KAMRA, Vol. 2: “Social Reality’s Reality Quest: from Colonial Portrait to Development Discourse.” The same journal in which Munem’s essay on your work also appeared.

At one point in the essay, I wanted to talk about the transition away from the 1980s/90s black-and-white social reality trend (I gave Shahidul Alam, Shehzad Noorani, Shafiqul Kiron, Abir Abdullah as four key examples of that trend). While writing this portion I had a long discussion with Munem Wasif (co-editor along with Tanzim Wahab of KAMRA) about what were the works that caused a break. Munem pointed out your color photographs of transvestites as the work that first broke with the trend. So I included your work as the example of the one significant early break with the trend.

Think about it for a minute– the person you are so incredibly critical of in your status update, he highlighted your work as an example of the one work that was a rule-breaker, new genre creator. As he wrote in his own essay: “Akash crossed the boundaries, broke the old empire. This was a completely different taste. The established politeness of photography ran out the door.”

There is a concept called critique with love. We critique those from whom we expect a lot, because we want them to be better, to keep striving. Unfortunately in Bangla culture, we often only see the critique and fail to see the love.

There is very little to be learned from empty praise such as “inspiration” and “proud.” In the era of facebook, these have been reduced to instant greeting card sentiments, they take very little time or effort to write. I believe there is more to be learned from someone who admires your radical early work and wishes you would return to it.

Bijon Sarker died today…

Posted: December 29th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Writings on photography | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Bijon Sarker died today.

When I heard he had an accident, I was at Pathshala. Suddenly I didn’t know what to do, whom to call. I though of calling Popi da his son, but we weren’t on good terms since Bijon da’s interview in Kamra. It was hard for me.

@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding

Came back home and found scroll news on tv screens that Bijon Sarker is severely injured. I called Chandan bhai, he was on his way to the hospital. We realized he would need lot of money for his treatment. I tried raising little money from students, friends, collogues, from Drik, from Pathshala. It was hard but we managed to raise a little money. Of course that was not enough. I went to hospital few times, there was nothing we could do. He was in ICU, alone.

@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding

Next day I had to fly to Cambodia. Saw the beautiful festival in Siem Reap, biked with friends in the countryside, had wonderful food in the streets. I came back after few weeks and got involved with so many things. Called Munni apa and Chandan bhai to get his update. But nothing much, Bijon da was still lying in his bed senseless.

Bijon da was one of the few photographers of his time who pushed the boundary of images while everybody else was busy making pretty photographs. He experimented in the darkroom and created images that we had never seen. He was concerned about the Bangladesh Photography Society. He missed Beg Shaheb as his companion. He was sad he didn’t manage to inspire the next generation of photographers to experiment and to learn to see the unseen. He was a poet who walked alone in the narrow streets of Old Dhaka. No body has written a feature about him in a newspaper, there was no book by him; his negatives have been eaten by ghun poka.

@ Bijon Sarker/ From BPS catalog

@ Bijon Sarker/ From BPS catalog

I promised him I would arrange a darkroom, papers and chemical, so he could start making photographs without a camera. He told me nobody must go to the darkroom; nobody could see his images before he had finished. Yes Bijon da I promised. I failed.

@ Munem Wasif/ Beauty Boarding

Bijon da died today; there were only a few people in Shahid Minar. We couldn’t manage a little more space for this artist to work. He was the Man Ray of Bengal.




Munem Wasif: Human Emotion

Posted: December 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | No Comments »

As deep as you can go

Munem Wasif finds his important images close to home
Interview Laura Vuoma/ PhotoRAW magazine

How did you discover photography?

“Deciding to become a photographer took a long time. Bangladesh is a society with a lot of class divisions. Photography has no practical future here. My father told me once that if I want to be a photographer I will have to eat with the drivers. He was referring to weddings, where drivers get their food at the end.

I studied sociology as my main subject and photography on the side. At that time my mother died and that was a big change for me. I decided to find my way and support myself with photography.”

How do you see the importance of documenting one´s own country?

“For me photographing in Bangladesh is a choice. At the same this is a poor country with a lot of economic and political problems, so travelling with a Bangladeshi passport is quite difficult. And the kind of work I do takes a long time, so financially it is better for me to work in my own country.

Nowadays I can work abroad if I want to, but I just don´t feel like it. I don´t really enjoy the kind of magazine work where you go to another country and spend maybe a week there. For me photography is a way to express myself. If I don´t feel connected or emotionally driven for my subject, I cannot do a good story.

Bangladesh is ugly and beautiful, completely full of contradictions. We have millions of problems, but the beautiful thing that we have is human warmth.”

What has photography taught you about yourself?

“The camera has given me a chance to see the extreme rich, the extreme poor and also the middle class in my country. I have started to see the relations between these groups, the way this society works. If I compare myself to my friends working in offices, I feel I look at my country more critically.

I think that one of the most important qualities of a photographer is adapting to different customs and values. You need to be open to a lot of things. You have to listen. You have to go really in depth. You have to observe and be patient. You cannot always think about your own comfort.”

How would you describe your imagery?

“For me the common thing is human emotion. Looking at all the work I have done so far, I see more self-reflection than a full story.

For me single images are very important. Of course the story becomes important when you put images together, but I think single images also carry a story. When I do social stories, of course I research a lot. You have to put the story in context. But I feel some of my images are also research in themselves, visual research of a specific place.

I love black and white photography. When I was studying, all the photographers I looked up to were black and white masters. Clearing the colours out helps me to sum it up.”

Is there something that defines Bangladeshi photography in your opinion?

“I don´t think that your biological or geographical place defines how you look at things. Bangladeshi photography is really global. And even if there is something in common that is particular and interesting, I will not call it Bangladeshi.

The reason I started teaching was that I was tired of the work that was coming out of our school, Pathshala. It was all the same social documentary. People were trying to copy other photographers who had become successful. I wanted to break all the rules and open up new windows. I never showed my work in my class, since I didn´t want to encourage my students to be like me.”

What draws your attention in a story?

“For me it´s enough if you get a sense of feeling or mood looking at a body of work. Like a piano piece by Erik Satie, which is really simple but just grips you when you hear it. I feel there´s today so much to look at, but very little you can get connected to.”

How do you see the future of photojournalism?

“I´m not so sure about this whole concept of saving the world by doing photo stories. Who is portraying whom? The majority of the people in the world don’t have their own voice, they are being depicted by a particular group. The position of a photojournalist as a messenger seems very religious to me. Humanistic social documentary is important, but it can also build an emotional trap for the audience. There is a lot of politics and different interests involved in this industry. The result depends on how you engage yourself to the subject and where and how you publish it.

And it´s not only about photojournalism, it´s other images too. We are living in a world where it is difficult to be sensitive.”


Senses Seven presents “Blank Sights”

Posted: December 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Curation | No Comments »

Photographs by Sarker Protick


Blank Sights

In a gallery, we stand in front of a photograph, witness a scene, grasp the details, feel informed and we move to the next one, we are not allowed to touch them. We are living in hyper-visual world, we know how to see.  Sight becomes a witness, sometimes the most prominent component of our senses. But can we also smell and taste them? In ‘Blank Sights’ photographers tried to overcome the sight and get into the other senses. Their photographs do not make us informed or do not reassure us about our knowledge of a world. They take us to the unseen, to the unfelt.

By Tanzim Wahab

Artists –
Debasish Shom
Labib Mohammad Sharfuddin
Samsul Alam Helal
Salma Abedin Prithi
Soumitra Barua
Vashkor Ahmed
Curated by 
Munem Wasif