A dead face, bruised, emerges out of muddy waters, bricks lie strewn around. Only the face, no other part is visible. Gouged eyes stare, like black holes. The killing fields of Rayer Bazar, 14 December 1971. The Pakistan army and their allies al-Badr and al-Shams had killed most brutally East Bengal’s teachers, doctors, engineers, poets and writers on that fateful night. Rashid Talukder‘s photograph is a testimony to the genocide conducted by the Pakistan army. Even 47 years after independence, a severed head, gazes at us vacantly. Silently.
Rashid Talukder’s camera is witness to innumerable tumultuous times – the mass uprising of 1969, the bloody freedom struggle of 1971, Sheikh Mujib’s speech of 7 th March, Shaheed Asad’s blood-drenched shirt, Moulana Bhashani, Kazi Nazrul, also the anti-Ershad movement, and many other happenings large and small. Rashid Talukder’s photographs lay out the map on which this country, its politics and everyday life vibrate, and provide a priceless document of the people’s history.
Even though Rashid Talukder worked for Sangbad and Ittefaq , prominent Bangla-language dailies for many decades, his work was never confined to newspapers. He took photographs against the stream. In ’71, his hands took hold of a camera, instead of a gun. He witnessed the war, but his lens never focused only on the morbid, they were forever in search of something else.
Most of his photographs were not published but he clung hard to his negatives. Nothing daunted him, neither police beatings, nor the lack of institutional support or the fear of risking his own life.
In 1986, Rashid Talukder went ahead and joined the Bangladesh Photographic Society (BPS). BPS was then the only space where photographers gathered to discuss the aesthetics and composition of photographs. Press photographers would usually keep a distance from such talk. It is said that the aesthetic element Rashid Talukder introduced in his photographs beside its documentary value, was caused by his goings to BPS. The Bengal that Rashid Talukder saw with these fragments – the arrest of political activists, bodies washed away by cyclones, Moulana Bhashani cooking, sculptor Rasha’s fiery protest, ducks waddling in procession on tarred roads, was different to the one depicted by Naibuddin Ahmed or Anwar Hossain.
Rashid Talukder was given a Lifetime Achievement award at ChobiMela 2006. Drik Picture Library began collecting his photographs, negatives, notes etc., from 2010. This exhibition is part of that long and continuing process of research and archiving – Rashid Talukder (1939-2011): A Life’s Work.
Artist’s BIO : Rashid Talukder
Rashid Talukder, a founding father of modern Bangladesh photography, is also a pioneering visual documentarian of Bangladesh’s two decade-long struggle for independence – spanning from the language movement of the early 50’s to the war of independence against the Pakistan army in 1971. “I fought the battle not with arms, but with my hands. My camera was my weapon of choice.” Talukder was born in Chabbish Pargana, West Bengal, in 1939. His fascination with photography, how could photographs identically translate what one saw, onto paper, led to a very early start in his career, he began making tea for photographers in a Rajshahi studio at the age of six! He joined the Press Information Department as a photo technician at the age of twenty; for the next forty three years, he worked as a professional photographer in two major Bangla language newspapers successively, the Daily Sangbad from 1962, and the Daily Ittefaq from 1976. Talukder received a Lifetime Achievement Award at ChobiMela IV, Dhaka, in 2006, and the Pioneer Photographer Award in National Geographic’s All Roads Photography Programme, in 2010. He died of a stroke in 2011. His memorable words, “Photography is an international language. …If you don’t love photography it will not love you.”
Curator’s BIO : Munem Wasif
Munem Wasif is an artist, curator, and educator based in Dhaka. His work investigates themes of memory, place and identity, primarily through photographs and video. He has been a co-curator of Chobi Mela since the festival’s eighth edition in 2015, and has curated two major survey shows for the festival since then: of legendary Bangladeshi photographer Anwar Hossain (Chobi Mela VIII, 2015), and Nasir Ali Mamun (Chobi Mela IX, 2017). Together with Mahbubur Rahman, he also co-curated 1134 – Lives not Numbers (2014) , an exhibition paying tribute to the garment workers who lost their lives in the Rana Plaza factory disaster. Wasif’s book publications include Belonging (Clémentine de la Feronnière Editions, 2013) and Salt Water Tears (Images Plurielles, 2011); and together with Tanzim Wahab, he has published two editions of Kamra , a Bangla-language anthology of essays on photography. Wasif’s work is regularly published and exhibited both nationally and internationally, and he currently teaches at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka.
Chobi Mela X
International Festival of Photography, Bangladesh
February 28 – March 9, 2019