Rise of the shutterbugs

Mahfuzul Haque explores the reasons why photography is becoming an increasingly sought-after activity in the country  

department of photography, Counter foto

department of photography, Counter foto

Shabbir Ahmad Naym is so passionate about photography that he saved a portion of his daily expenditure to buy a camera. The executive officer of Janata Bank has been an ardent photographer since his life as student at the University of Dhaka. He shares that back then, he quenched his thirst for photography by taking pictures at any programme that occurred in his department, thus becoming the ‘unofficial’ photographer there.
His involvement with photography did not end even after completing his degree and joining the bank where he has to work from nine in the morning till five in the evening daily. ‘I roam around the country when I find a holiday, where I scour for interesting subjects,’ he says. Naym is particularly interested in taking pictures of human faces.
Back in 2012, he received an offer from a friend to take pictures of a marriage ceremony. Excited, Naym did not spare the chance. ‘Everybody appreciated the photos very much,’ Naym recalls. ‘That was the first time I earned some money from doing photography,’ Naym adds. Later on, he occasionally received offers to take photos of family programmes such as birthday parties or marriage ceremony.

department of photography, Counter foto

department of photography, Counter foto

In 2013, Naym along with two friends, Sohel Bin Azad and Tamhid Ul Islam Nafi, formed a Facebook platform called ‘Bridal Radiance’. Since then the group of three friends initiated their business venture in bridal photography.
Sohel completed his graduation from pharmacy department of North South University and Nafi is a BBA graduate from the same university. Sohel, who is passionate about photography since childhood, was inspired by his uncle who was a photojournalist. Although Sohel wanted to be a wildlife photographer, his parents did not permit him.
Besides photography, Nafi is also involved in videography.
So far the three friends have taken pictures of around 60 marriage ceremonies. ‘We are doing it as part of our passion and at the same time the income helps as our pocket money,’ Sohel says.
005Photography is becoming increasingly popular among Bangladeshis especially the young crowd. As more and more people are getting their own cameras, aside from the cameras on their smartphones, the photography fever is catching on.
Some are going as far as to learn photography from skilled photographers as the scope for photographers in various sectors are increasing as well.
Anisuzzaman Ujjal, communications and documentation coordinator of World Fish, an international research agency, has been a fan of photography fan since he was a campus reporter at the University of Rajshahi. At that time he did not own a camera. ‘So whenever I got any camera to myself, I snapped a few pictures with them,’ he says.
Fortunately, after graduation, he joined the communication department of Practical Action, an international non-government orgainsation. The office provided him a camera with which he happily took pictures for office documentation.
Later, he switched his job to World Fish where the authority was looking for someone who had photography skills. In the meantime, Ujjal completed a three-month course on photography from Counter Foto, a photography school based in Dhaka.
Now he does all the photographic work for his office. ‘The office no longer requires to hire others for photographic documentation,’ Ujjal shares.

department of photography, Counter foto

department of photography, Counter foto

Ujjal, who has a particular passion on documentary photography, also shares his photos with other organisations related to World Fish. ‘My skills in photography makes my job easier,’ he shares.
Shafiul Islam, district marketing officer of Padma Oil Company Limited in Rangpur, has a similar story. He bought a camera when he was a student. Although he did take pictures to his heart’s content over the span of a few months, his camera got damaged thus blocking his photographic excitement for a while.
After joining a job, he saved money for two years to buy a new camera. ‘Now, whenever I get time or go out on office tour, I carry the camera with me to take pictures of nature,’ Islam shares.
Islam is presently doing a photo diary of his one year-old daughter. ‘The motto of the photo dairy is to frame the different moments of her life. When she grows old, the diary will be an inspiration for her,’ he explains. ‘My camera is not just an object. It is my trustworthy companion during my leisure,’ he adds.
Din Muhammad Shibly, head of academics at the department of photography at Counter Foto, says that more corporate professionals are getting passionate about photography. When they get an extended weekend, they go out with their cameras out of the city to take pictures, he says.
006As there are few options for entertainment in the urban areas, particularly in Dhaka, people are taking photography as a medium of entertainment and hobby, Shibly says.
The wave of interest toward photography was unprecedented even a decade ago. ‘This has been possible because of the advancement of digital technology,’ Shibly observes. Earlier, there was film camera and it required developing films to see the photos, so it was only confined to the professionals, Shibly says.
Shahidul Alam, founder and managing director of Drik, also observes that modern cameras are intelligent and even people with minimum knowledge of photography can take competent photographs. They can see the images instantly. This has on the one hand demystified photography, on the other hand opened up the medium to experimentation by people from many other fields, expanding the breadth of photographic practice, he says. Immediate gratification is probably still the most important reason for the medium’s rapidly expanding popularity, he adds.
Since digital cameras no longer need either film or prints to view or share photography means, there are lower recurring costs.

new age

new age

On the other hand, professionals and specialists can reach new heights because of the technological advances made and most serious photographers today have a much wider repertoire than earlier practitioners, he says.
In influencing the photographic movement in Bangladesh, Pathshala has played a key role through photographic education. The institute started its journey in 1998. Over the decades, Pathshala has expanded while attracting students from within and outside the country. The first batch of six students from Pathshala is now among the prominent and award-winning photographers of Bangladesh whose photographs have been published in some of the leading publications worldwide.
Shahidul Alam has also had an unnerving influence on the photographic movement in Bangladesh as Drik Picture Library and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute had jointly initiated ‘Chobi Mela’ in 1999. Over the years, the festival has been exploring new visions and exhibition of the ‘Majority World’, often known as the ‘Third world’ by the Western community.
The international festival of photography in Bangladesh was the first ever such festival in Asia that not only brought together eminent photographers from all parts of the globe but also provided the amateur photographers of Bangladesh and the Asian subcontinent to interact with these personalities through seminars and workshops during the festivals. After the first version of the festival, Chobi Mela VIII occured in January this year where 31 photographers from 20 countries participated.
Even a decade ago it was almost rare for someone to choose photography as a profession. Parents usually did not inspire their children to choose photography as their profession because of their negative mindset toward it. But the situation has changed over the past few years, as more people are becoming photographers in the country, observes Shibly.
Prito Reza is one such photographer who took wedding photography to a new height in the country. Reza, founder and chief photographer of Wedding Diary, says, ‘Initially, wedding photography was not as smooth. People around me did not regard it well.’ ‘But I was determined to establish wedding photography as a new genre in Bangladesh,’ he says.
Reza says that it is really good to see that many people are now embracing photography as a profession. At the same time, there is a dark side to the trend as most people are coming to the profession as part of their passion or to earn some extra money, ‘they pay less attention to photographic quality and to professionalism thus hampering the overall reputation of other photographers in the said sector,’ Reza says.

There are many online networking sites where amateur photographers share their photos. TTL (Through The Lens) is such an online platform in Bangladesh where the photographers are digitally connected. The platform also arranges workshops and exhibitions.
Shibly says that the amateur photographers take photos individually and share these at different exhibitions to occasionally bag prizes.
There are also numerous photography clubs in the urban areas of the country. At the public and private universities, students have formed clubs where workshops and exhibitions are being arranged every month to help amateur photographers.
‘It is good that more people are coming to photography. But we will not get photographers with quality and integrity through the process,’ says Shibly. Buying a camera and taking some photos do not necessarily mean that the person has become a photographer, he says. This needs institutional education because it is an art form, he says.
Alam says that photography is perhaps the most powerful tool that can influence public opinion. This can be used and abused. It is imperative that understanding visuals becomes part of our education system. ‘I find it hugely irresponsible that those who design our education policies have neglected visual literacy in our curricula,’ he says. ‘We are doing a disservice to our children by depriving them of a knowledge that is vital for a 21st century citizen.’ he adds.

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