Old Photographs | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 30, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:11 AM, May 30, 2020


Old Photographs

While in lockdown I pulled out my old black and white negatives. These are photographs of Bangladesh I took during vacations home while I was living and working in California's Silicon Valley. From 1984 to 1999, whenever I came home, I spent my days wandering the streets of Dhaka taking photographs. If possible I also went outside the city – outskirts of Dhaka, a boat trip to Chittagong, trips to our family home in Sylhet, as well as to plantations owned by our family.

After each trip I returned to California and reported back to my engineering job. But I spent free weekends carefully processing the film, making sure all those scenes of Bangladesh were "developed." I stored the negatives - cut into strips - in cellophane sleeves to prevent them sticking to one another. When working with them – to make black and white enlargements – I followed an analogue workflow with the negative. That required looking at the contact sheets through a magnifier and picking out a "good one" to work with.

Today I no longer have access to the tools and chemicals needed for printing my negatives. In any case, working with digital cameras, I have become accustomed to a digital workflow, which is much more powerful and flexible than the analogue one.

But how can I apply digital workflow to those old negatives which have been sitting idle? I need those negatives in my computer, and for this I must convert them into digital pictures using a scanner. Over the years I had shied away from this tedious and lengthy work. However encouraged by a favourite cousin who loves my work, I started doing this during the lockdown. I used a low-quality but fast scanner built around a point-and-shoot camera.

And so I found myself in a topsy-turvy ride through the years – as Bangladesh revealed herself to me, again and again, through various guises, changing every time I looked through the camera. For example, in 1984, I often walked into a village on a weekday and found myself surrounded by children eager to be photographed. But during the 1990s I could hardly find village children as most of them were at schools, many operated by BRAC.

There were photographs of relatives and friends – often a quick snapshot during an office encounter or a chance meeting in the street – that flooded my mind with memories. Family photographs – particularly with my departed parents and relatives – filled me with good memories and wistfulness.

What subjects attracted me those days? Undoubtedly the children and their boundless energy was the one constant motif running through fourteen years. It was almost like I wanted to re-live my own childhood here, over and over again. I was also attracted to street art of various forms: rickshaws, movie billboards, graffiti and advertisements. One particular trip, watching Dhaka expand rapidly mostly through the hard work of manual labourers, I photographed that. Another trip I decided to photograph tea workers in our plantation.

So now I have a window into a time of our country before it changed dramatically. I hope to make something of it one day, but I am not sure what.


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