my journey as a witness
by Shahidul Alam
In the book, my journey as a witness, photographer Shahidul Alam reflects on his life as a witness to the photography lifestyle as well as South Asian conflicts. Alam discusses his early life, to when he first started photographing, to his last photographic exhibition in thirty-six segments.
In each segment, Alam tells a vivid story, reflecting on a specific memory that aided in the development of his photographic career. For example, in the segment “Learning to see,” Alam reveals his initial career aspirations and how he learned to photograph. He also reveals the struggles he faced as a young student photographer. In the “The calling,” Alam discusses the first time he took photographs of people candid during the floods in Bangladesh. Additionally, Alam examines the violent artificial and nature-made conflicts that occurred in Bangladesh, which made him become a photojournalist.
In the segment “The struggle for democracy,” Alam reflects on the resistance against General Ershad and the strict government enforced censorship, and how he responded using his camera. Further, in “The truth is the first casualty,” Alam discusses the nature-made conflict of the 1991 cyclone that hit Bangladesh; in this segment Alam criticises the international media’s obsession over the imagery of poverty-stricken people.
In addition to the more disturbing tales Alam tells, he also exposes his love for photographing children. Titled “The blind boy,” Alam discusses a photograph he took of a group of orphaned children who had not eaten in three days; the boy in centre being blind. It was after this photograph Alam realized that no matter what condition local children were in, whether they had been in conflict or not, they always wanted to be in photographs and smiled at the opportunity.
In his final segments, Alam delves into photography and culture, and shaping the photography world for a better future. These passages open a discussion about the photographic world’s inaccessibility to local photographers, as well as the ways Alam and his associates tried, and are trying, to make local photography more authentic.
Shahidul Alam is a Bangladeshi photojournalist, social activist and professor whose work focuses on the lives of the ‘Majority World.’
Alam, Shahidul. my journey as a witness. Italy: Skira Editore, 2011.
Review by Hanna Hendrickson-Rebizant