Lifetime Achievement In Photography
Dr. Shahidul Alam
Shahidul Alam was the pioneer who expressed Bangladesh to the international world using our very own eyes and lenses. In a country much known for being the 'bottom less basket' Shahidul Alam took the initiative to help the world look into our country through our own window to discover this magical land in photography.
It was one eighty degree turn in life for Shahidul Alam, who transformed from being a chemistry professor into a photographer extraordinaire in quest for his larger philosophy. Shahidul Alam was born in Dhaka, 1955. He went to study in University of London where he subsequently taught and obtained his Ph.D. in organic Chemistry.
Board member of PRIP Trust and Panos South Asia, Shahidul first started photography during his stay abroad in London. On a trip to US, Shahidul bought a camera for a friend and clicked a few snaps with it. When he came back, his friend couldn't pay for it and he was stuck with the camera.
He envisioned a societal welfare, and started using his camera as a tool. Photography started in 1980 for him. By 1983, he was recognized with the Harvey Harris Trophy by the London Arts Council as the best photographer of the year.
Shahidul returned to Bangladesh in 1984, to work as a professional photographer. Interested as always in politics and communal struggles, he started filming the democratic movement against the then military autocrat Lt. Gen. H M Ershad on his lenses in 1987. In 1988, he founded Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography and Media Academy to train photography enthusiasts. It is often referred to as the best photography school in the world. He now serves as its principal. In the very next year, he founded Drik Picture Library, a true pioneer in photography and media production industry in Bangladesh. Shahidul's relentless excellence and dedication helped him become the president of Bangladesh Photographic Society that year. In 1998, he was awarded the Andrea Frank Foundation Award and the Howard Chapnock Award. Shahidul also, became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
Shahidul, always a warm recepient of technology and change, pioneered the use of email in Bangladesh. Amongst his numerous endevors, one noteable occurrence was Meghbarta, the first webzine published in Bangladesh in 1999.
He initiated Chobi Mela in 2000, which was the first photography festival in Asia and the first international photography festival in Bangladesh. Chobi Mela is not just another collection of photographs, it is rather a strong, diverse and meaningful presentation of international work. Every Chobi Mela has a theme. The latest, sixth festival was based on the theme 'dream.' It promotes international photography, critiques and practitioners with a dynamic interaction. A unique feature of this festival was to promote art to people who have never been to an exhibition before. After Chobi Mela, many countries in Asia such as Singapore, Malaysia and China followed his footsteps.
Shahidul has adjudicated a number of international photographic competitions. He did not only judge the World Press Photo's annual competition four times, he was the first non-white president of World Press Photo.
Shahidul has been teaching photography relentlessly in The United States, Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Mexico. His works have been exhibited in top notch galleries and museums including in New York, Oxford, Gunma, London, Paris and Tehran. He curated for the book Blink, which was put into public by Phaidon Press of London. He also contributed his specialty to The Critical Mirror, which is a commemorative book on photojournalism. As a curator, he also supervised the OIC conference 2004 exhibition of Water: The First Element. Shahidul shot a short film In Search of the Shade of the Shade of the Banyan Tree. The film was critically acclaimed in Bangladesh, Malaysia, UK and the USA.Time Magazine, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Observer, Liberation, Paris Match and The New Straits Times are few titles that published Shahidul's work internationally.
On June 2009, Shahidul was captured for working on a project based on the river Brahmaputra at the Bangladeshi side of the Rowmari-Sahapara border but was released soon after the resulting protest from the international community.
In light of crossfire shootouts in Bangladesh, his exhibition 'Crossfire' was an eye-opener. Once again, law enforcement tried muffling his voice by stopping the exhibtion, but Shaihdul moved to the High Court and successfully sought permission to carry on his exhibition that went on to being one of the most critical photography exhibitions in Bangladesh.
Shahidul Alam, a political activist, undertook many initiatives to help the cause of the oppressed. He set up a regional centre for investigative journalism in Asia and as an adviser for UNESCO and on behalf of World Press Photo helped projects supporting media initiatives in Africa. Shahidul is a member of the board of trustees and a founder member of the LEARN Foundation which provides ICT training for rural communities.
Shahidul believes it is a difficult journey for a photographer in Bangladesh as photography is not really understood by the general mass, or the media per say. Also, lack of realization from the parents' part makes it difficult for students to study photography here. He thinks, as easy as it might have been for him to reach the top position he is in right now, it is just as difficult to convince people that there is so much more to achieve. According to him, the golden ray of Bangladeshi photography is the passion and dream in the young talents. What he finds lacking is meaningful attempts to tap into international market for these photographers.
Recently, Shahidul is working on the publication of his book on photographic interest titled 'my journey as a witness'. The book, expected to be published this week, provides an insight into the evolution of one of the most significant movements in modern-day photography, through the eyes and voice of the man who helped shape it. Articulate and personal, this much-awaited book includes over 100 photographs tracing Alam's artistic career, activism, and the founding of photography organizations. From early images shot in England to photographs of the last two decades in his native Bangladesh, this is a journey from photojournalism into social justice.
Besides the extraordinary artist that he is, Shahidul is a writer, activist, and social entrepreneur who used his art to chronicle the social and artistic struggles in a country known largely for poverty and disaster.
(R) thedailystar.net 2011