Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sometimes, photographers need to seek out content to 'fit' a story. It could be a simple portrait to illustrate a story about a child, or an aerial shot to go with something about urban sprawl. Black water for pollution, beggars for poverty. The process sometimes works this way - almost as if in reverse. We fix the content, and search for the visual that goes with it.

Clearly - this doesn't help in terms of visual stereotyping. By actively searching out the most obvious frame, we continue to feed the system of quick judgments and loose associations.

The (very exhausted) team had just completed an assignment which required us to work in this content-first-visuals-second manner. The content? Mismanagement of taxpayers' money. The visuals? Oh boy, did we have a list. From schools to roads, traffic to post offices - it seemed like the wish list of images would never end.

I sent the team out to shoot, and worried about the whole idea of visual stereotyping. What if they were to "force" out a visual when there was none? To "imply" an association when it was a weak link? To over-dramatise and exaggerate a situation just to make it seem bleaker, more negative, more depressing?

As I browsed through the raw takes from their three-day shoot, I realised I had forgotten that Dhaka was a city that required no exaggeration.

Not when patients in the main government-run hospital have to resort to sleeping on the dirty, damp floor of corridors and under staircases. Lying next to their IV drips next to them, with tubes coming out of their noses and covered with a flimsy blanket brought from their own home - I couldn't exaggerate the situation even if I tried.

Even more painful to see was the expressions on the faces of family members camping out next to their loved ones. Worry, fatigue, hopelessness - and even a little anger, I think. I don't mean to be insulting to anyone, but I highly doubt that this is a hospital that people with choices would choose to come to.

Is depressing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Random Observations

  • A t-shirt with the words MIT SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM do not look good when stretched across a pair of man boobs and paired with a khaki safari hat.
  • Old men with big egos don't like to be ignored.
  • Young men hate it when their compliments are met by an angry stare.
  • News photogs that shoot in raw ought to be shot.
  • "Working fine now" is code for "Will break down in approximately two weeks"
  • Four young dudes can finish a bottle of vodka in 2 hours.
  • There are only 24 hours in a day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Last Words

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice posts the last statements of death row convicts. (via Slate)

November 10, 2009
Offender: Valle, Yosvanis

"I am sorry, I never wanted to kill your family. I never wanted to kill your family or these people. I am sorry for the way I talk in English. I did it to myself... Thank you brother, don't hate nobody, I feel good. I love my family, I love you Jesus. Be strong mama, I love you sister. I love Jesus. Warden I am ready.

October 27, 2009
Offender: Blanton, Reginald

Last Statement:

Yes I do. I know ya'lls pain, believe me I shed plenty of tears behind Carlos. Carlos was my friend. I didn't murder him. This what is happening right now is an injustice. This doesn't solve anything. This will not bring back Carlos. Ya'll fought real hard here to prove my innocence. This is only the beginning. I love each and everyone dearly. Dre My queen. I love you. Yaws, Junie I love yall. Stay strong, continue to fight. They are fixing to pump my veins with a lethal drug the American Veterinary Association won't even allow to be used on dogs. I say I am worse off than a dog. They want to kill me for this; I am not the man that did this. Fight on. I will see ya'll again. That's all I can say.

There is also a link so that you can see the background information on each and every single person executed. This has to be one of the most harrowing, disturbing and yet meticulously-kept public record.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Friday, November 06, 2009

i write this with the expectation of receiving ridicule, since I was only a photographer in the newsroom for less than a year. My friends are still working there, and those who have left did so with years of experience under their belt.

Even with my dismally short tenure, I have never forgotten the sense of camaraderie in that place. Of course, I realise now that I had been insulated from the myriad of flaws that come with working with a large corporation. As a freelancer, I didn't have to think about staff evaluations, about the promise of promotions, about pay increases, about claiming days off. I was young, desperate to be wanted - I would have worked every day if they asked me to.

I write this now because I just finished an unpleasant argument with someone who accused me of working too hard. It is something that people say a lot about me here, but I suppose that only I am privy to the truth.

I have learnt when to shut off, when to close down that computer, when to say enough is enough. I don't feel like i have to prove anything anymore, and I do not feel guilty when I choose not to reply that email that has been sitting in my inbox for too long.

This is something very difficult to do, as I am surrounded by people whom the title of 'workaholic' does not justice. These folks work from 8 in the morning till past midnight, and still feel like they haven't done enough.

My point is - I am not like that. I did that for the first couple of months, but such a workload left me utterly broken and useless. And so, I stopped it.

I now have to break that little pact I made with myself.

The news agency was meant to be separate - an independent entity that was silently supported by the main organisation. Due to mismanagement and a whole host of other reasons, the news agency was struggling to stay afloat. Radical changes were needed if it were to survive.

My boss - the one who had started everything - had somehow come to believe that my incredibly short work experience as a news photographer meant that I had the expertise to lead a news agency.

And I, echoing Joo's everlasting words of wisdom "Better me than anyone else", readily agreed.

My department was already struggling with the workload we had - with all my time spent on fixing day-to-day matters, I could barely find the time to plan the much needed long-term brand and vision for the department. And still, I couldn't say no.

The small news team moved in five days ago. Three young men that had miraculously continued to stay with the sinking agency even though they were paid miserable salaries to work seven days a week. They had a certain air of desperation that was all too familiar. One of them had howled in protest when I said I was planning to start putting them in shifts. The thought of not being called on for a job, and thus missing out on a shoot, was completely unacceptable to him.

And so, I now lead a team of eight and an agency that distributes stock, editorial and news imagery. Shutting off is fast becoming an impossible option.

But there is now a new vigor in the room. These boys do not leave when the clock strikes 5 in the afternoon. Inappropriate jokes, sarcastic remarks about politicians, callous comments about bomb explosions, the question "Did anyone die?", the familiar rush rush rush to get things done, spell names right, dig up the background facts -- forgive my sentimentality, but I felt I had come home.

I suppose this nostalgia will wear off in a couple of months, after the bullshit had piled up and the realisation that WE ARE NOT MAKING A DIFFERENCE has set in -- but till then, I'll be damned if I don't enjoy every last second of this.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

In about two and a half hours I will find out if I need to go to Nepal on a visa run.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


So I think I ended up spamning everyone on Facebook today - many apologies for this, but I didn't really have any other platform (Twitter doesn't work from mobile phones here).

Long story short: We planned to have a simple exhibition to raise awareness about Tibet's fight for independence. Folks at Chinese embassy were none too pleased. We refused to cancel the exhibition. Police from the Bangladesh Police Special Branch (akin to the intelligence unit) made repeated visits and threats.

© Shehab Uddin / DrikNEWS

All of this culminated in a showdown of sorts today. The police ended up locking the gates so that no one could enter or leave. Shahidul Alam, the founder and director of Drik, ended up having to climb over the gates again and again just to get in and out.

© Adnan / DrikNEWS

The chief guest arrived - Professor Muzaffar Ahmed, president of Transparency International Bangladesh. He wasn't allowed in either. But he kept smiling, and I couldn't help but giggle whenever I looked at him. I suppose being in charge of fighting corruption in the country makes you quite immune to such things.

© Shehab Uddin / DrikNEWS

So, we ended up launching the exhibitions on the streets since the police refused to budge. We gave out refreshments, just as they would have if it had taken place inside the gallery. The policemen refused their share of cake.

Professor Muzaffar Ahmed (left) launching the exhibition on the streets with Shahidul Alam.
© Adnan / DrikNEWS

© Shehab Uddin / DrikNEWS

An interesting day, if I do say so myself.

Note: The exhibition wasn't our idea, although we did provide the gallery space for it. The organisers were a group of Bangladeshi students who had taken it upon themselves to fight for Tibet's freedom. I'll save that chapter of the story for another time.