Taslima Akhter is widely known for her photograph, 'Last Embrace,' which depicts the heart wrenching image of two victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy, locked in a desperate embrace under the rubble. This photograph, featured in the Time Magazine as one of the top ten photos of 2013, is not just a haunting image, but a protest, says Akhter. “I identify myself first and foremost as an activist,” she informs us, “My photography is a part of my activism.”
Taslima Akhter studied in Dhaka University, where she completed her MS and M.Phil in Public Administration. She later completed her studies on Photojournalism from Paatshala. During her student years, Akhter was a part of the Bangladesh Student Federation, “In 2008, when our country was in a political emergency situation, and all political gatherings were banned, I decided to use my time to hone my skills in photography and further my interest in the field,” comments Akhter.
Akhter is interested in highlighting the social, environmental and political issues of Bangladesh in her photographic work. “I have been working for more than six years with garment workers,” says Akhter, “I started a project at Paatshala on the lives of garment workers within and outside of the factories focusing on their struggles and strengths. This was not a commissioned project, I worked for myself.”
When the fire at Tazreen Garments broke out, Akhter was there, documenting and lending a helping hand. “In the past I worked with salary, safety, union rights etc but after the Tazreen incident, safety became a priority,” says Akhter. The same was true with the incident at Rana Plaza, where Akhter and her group were not only documenting, but also helping with the rescue mission. “I have worked with countless victims of Rana Plaza after this, to help them organise and receive aid,” Akhter informs us. “I am coordinating Garments Sramik Sangathan (garment worker's union) through which we are bringing out a book about Rana Plaza, which will include stories of the victims we have managed to interview, a list of dead as well as missing workers, with their photos. Hopefully this publication will help raise awareness.”
Aside from these, Akhter has worked on projects about, Lalon, Dhaka city, Phulbari, Nandigram in Kolkata and much more. “I also received a scholarship in New York, USA, from Magnum and NYU, where I worked on a project about single mothers,” says Akhter.
“In 2010 when the wage protest was ongoing, I had an exhibition in Drik to show support,” says Akhter, “I also had exhibitions in NY, Germany and Norway and after the Rana Plaza crisis, four others and I had an exhibition in front of Rana Plaza. The Lalon exhibitions were held in the homes of the devotees. I focus my efforts in trying to hold exhibits where the photos are taken, that is not always possible but in the future I hope it will be.”
Akhter has received many awards for her work namely, the Best Photography Award from 5Th Dali International Photography Exhibition in China in 2013, the World Press Photo Award and the POYI Award (photo of the year international) among others.
“I think whichever field anyone wants to work in, be it photography or something else, they must think about why they want to pursue it and whether it will make a difference in society. I think these questions are important to answer to oneself before pursuing any interest,” she opines.