#Phonar Session 6 – Shahidul Alam Reflection.

Born and brought up in Bangladesh, Shahidul Alam was expected to get a respectable job. With the country in turmoil in 1971 with the War of Liberation, Alam moved to Britain with his sister in order to continue his education taking a-levels and studying life sciences at university. Whilst in New York, Alam experimented and enjoyed taking pictures with his camera. With involvement in social movements, Alam recognised the importance of photos within this and returned to Bangladesh wanting to do photojournalism. He was interest in flood and famine and began to question the cultural, social and economic environment – “I’ve got to change this”. In 1989, Alam decided to set up his own agency allowing locals to tell their stories and in 1993, they introduced e-mail to Bangladesh. Workshops were introduced to teach skills and interaction with World press photo meant proper education plans could be put in place for long standing transformations. With this, a school of photography was launched – changing the attitude of the average person towards photography. To give the students a chance to interact globally, a festival was held for ‘the world to come to Bangladesh’. Alam was also part of setting up Rural Visual Journalists Network – a group of journalists who produced multimedia feeds wherever they were with an iPod touch. This meant that stories of rural Bangladesh began reaching the rest of the world, which Alam felt were previously overlooked by mainstream media. He recognises photography as a tool of many needed for social change, as well as the power of photography. Whilst we overlook the use of e-mails everyday, it’s introduction in 1993 allows us to do what we can today. Whilst multimedia wasn’t the most appropriate then, it is key for today. Alam explains that even with simple tools we can reach out, however we can only expect so much from mainstream media and we need to find alternatives. Mainstream media prevents all the other voices being heard but digital allows them to surface.

I found it really inspiring hearing how Shahidul Alam gave voices to those in Bangladesh by setting up the agency and allowing locals to tell their stories. This made me think of how Sarah Davidmann allowed her models to take a photograph of her in her body of work Eve, Adam and the Garden of Earthly Delights.  Both practitioners have offered and shared the tools for another person to ‘enter’ the world of photography and tell a story. Something which stood out to me was how Alam commented “if all we did was take pretty pictures and photographers won awards, it would have little meaning” which made me think back to the talk from Fred Ritchin where he said “photography does not celebrate itself but to be useful in the world to get us to a better place.” Both comments really stood out to me as it made me view photography more than just my hobby, my degree and my career. It can mean different things to different people but ultimately photography can be life changing. It allows us to share messages worldwide and communicate visually. As previously discussed by David Campbell in his talk, the iconic image of the young girl during the Vietnam War by Nick Ut is believed to have lead until the end of the world. Even though that may not have factually been true, it sparked so much interest and concern which could have previously been overlooked. Whilst we forever question should the photographer intervene during a terrible moment rather than just photograph it, if they didn’t, would we ever see these tragic and moving times?

“To see ourselves as photographers is a very limited way of seeing us, I see myself as a story teller”.

Shahidul Alam’s talk can be heard here.


~ by victoriasimkissphotography on November 8, 2014.

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