Talk from Shahidul Alam

As the content from Phonar discussed the changing dynamic of photojournalism, I felt it was important to revisit the interviews and evaluate the content in relation to my research paper. My notes and the evaluation can be seen below:

Shahidul Alam came from the Bangladeshi culture in which it is expected for each individual to get what is perceived as a ‘respected job’. For this reason Alam trained originally as a doctor however a trip around American was the catalyst for getting involved with photography; being a chemist it was easy for him to operate in the darkroom. Alam eventually returned to Bangladesh to be a photojournalist whilst also working in commercial photography to maintain an income; referencing Stephen Mayes identification of the struggle between commerce and creativity.The concept that particularly struck Shahidul was the mainstream perception that Bangladeshi people were poor; this view was seen even in children as young as five. Alam identified that this perception had come from European agencies sending photographers to document a scene that was completely foreign to them. To counteract this misinterpretation Shahidul Alam created his own agency which was built from the ground and always strived to develop to stay relevant in the field of news. As a result of this effort from Alam and those he was working with, the photography in Bangladesh has now changed and people’s attitude towards it. However this was not the end of the issue in documenting another person; the photographer is in a position of power and the subject virtually has no control over the outcome of the end. With this in mind Alam speculated that a woman could still be misrepresented by a man of the same culture; in order to document effectively all perspectives must be considered.

In his quest for social change Shahidul Alam states that we must think of photography as one of the many tools we can use in order to inform and engage with a wider audience. The Rural Visual Journalism Network is a highly influential organisation set up by Shahidul Alam and operates through contributions from accessible technology. In terms of the most effective tool in current times, it is perhaps multimedia and immersive projects that are considered the most successful however in the future we may have to break away from photography completely to continue attempting to evoke change. In order to address this change we need to define the vocabulary that can help to expose the situation; Fred Ritchin called for a redefinition of the ‘photographer’ as this term is very much associated with the mechanical origins of photography. Perhaps being labelled as an ‘image-maker’ would be more appropriate in the digital age where editing software and multimedia platforms have facilitated a new form of image.

In addition to redefining the term of the photographer our society also needs to redefine our perception of literacy; it shouldn’t be pinned to the written word, this elitism will obstruct those with massive potential. The digital world creates a world of accessible opportunity; the citizen can now become a publisher which renders a problem which Jonathan identified: “when everyone can be heard, is anyone heard?” Shahidul assessed this idea by denoting that in communication, excess noise is cancelled out; it is that which is repeated consistently that is heard or seen and hopefully that content is truthful and effective. In terms of addressing the mass online audience Shahidul states that is it important to influence many people but ultimately significant change occurs on a person, individual level.

Shahidul Alam is a highly perceptive photographer and works to produce and encourage work that is not only effective, but is informed by context. This links perfectly to David Campbell’s idea surrounding narrative, power responsibility stating that a body of work informed by context will sustain itself over time. There is a constant reference to the changing world of photography and that the language of the field could be considered outdated and inaccurate following the most recent paradigm shift which Fred Ritchin has previously indicated. As Stephen Mayes identified we are constantly relating new technology back to the ideology of familiar but archaic ideals, referring to the motor car as the ‘horseless carriage’. Although we should be respectful of new technology it is important to define and create terminology with which we can start to examine and interpret that dynamics of this developing environment.


I think Shahidul Alam has a really good perspective on photography and photojournalism, that is a tool the is adapting the to changing dynamic and that one day it photography might not be the right tool anymore. He directly addresses the idea of misrepresentation and discusses that there are many elements to getting the right representation saying that a man from the same culture and environment could misrepresent a woman. The photojournalist must shoulder the responsibility and make the right decisions to produce an informed representation. It was beneficial to revisit this interview and the content as I feel my research has been strengthened and I will definitely be including Alam’s ideology if not in my research paper then in the blog posts I plan to write as an extension of the themes and concepts I wish to discuss.


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