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Rashid Talukdar. PHOTO: ZAHEDUL I KHAN

The Third Eye of Rashid Talukdar

The man and the woman pulling the ghani -- the traditional contraption used to extract oil from mustard seed -- strained every sinew, doing work that befits a pack animal more than a human being. Every day they dragged the heavy wooden boom, away from the public eye, until one day Rashid Talukdar captured them in his frame.

During one of his regular visits to Tangail, Rashid encountered the scene unexpectedly in a hut by the side of a narrow road leading to the village, Santosh. Rashid snapped the scene almost in a daze.

For the first time he could understand that the duty of a photographer is more than taking photographs. He went inside and talked to the family. He found out that since the poverty-stricken family had sold their only bull, they had been pulling the ghani themselves to produce oil. The elderly mother could not help her son with the work, so the son had married in order to gain an extra pair of hands.

The story grew wings at this point. Rashid's photograph inspired a reporter who went to the village and wrote a story that attracted international attention. The photographer had given birth to one of the greatest stories ever to appear in Bangladeshi newspapers.

“A photographer must have the power to convince people, talk to people and only then can he capture real life in his frame,” believes Rashid Talukdar. “He must have a third eye, which allows him to see things others cannot.”

The third eye of Rashid Talukdar is undoubtedly powerful and has won him recognition and love of people throughout his life. The recent recognition came from National Geographic Society's Pioneer Photographer Award in the All Roads Photography Programme. Talukdar is the first Bangladeshi photographer to be honoured by such a prestigious award. Prior to this, he has won many awards in Japan, Thailand and Germany, and also received prizes from UNESCO and other organisations at home and abroad.

The Star's (TS) FARHANA URMEE speaks to RASHID TALUKDAR (RT) about the essence of photography, his own works and the challenges of the profession in Bangladesh today.

TS: Can you explain the essence of photojournalism?
A photojournalist is a person searching for photographs out of everything, searching life. A photographer should search for the real photo, a photo with life, a photo that speaks. Photojournalism is more than a profession; photojournalism is a passion.

TS: How were you introduced to photography?
: I had a keen interest in photographs from my childhood. The technology of producing man's images on paper had always fascinated me. And out of my interest in photography I managed to get work in a local studio in Rajshahi, where I lived, when I was in class six. Time passed, and eventually I joined the Press Information Department in 1959 as a photo technician. When the Daily Sangbad hired me as their photojournalist in 1962, my career took off. After working with Sangbad for 14 years, I joined The Daily Ittefaq in 1975.

TS: What were the challenges for a photographer during your time?
In our time we had to work hard with the cameras, focus, developing negatives and so on. But today's advanced technology makes it much easier for a photographer to take shots. We had to dip the negatives into chemicals, but today technology eliminates all the hazards of this work. Above all, I had to work under a number of pressures. For example, I was beaten up by both police and political goons, threatened by influential people and more.

TS: How did you preserve your work?
My Ustaad taught me to wash negatives repeatedly; he used to say 'it gives them long life'. I wish they will live long. At this moment I have a collection of approximately 15,000-20,000 negatives at my home while many negatives were lost or taken away from me.

I hope my photographs will survive through time. I have enlarged a number of photos and hung them at my place. My photographs hang in museums, offices and private homes sometimes with credit, sometimes without. No government agency seems to be interested in compiling the photos which can be considered as visual history. They could make a visual archive or keep them in a museum considering their historical and artistic value.

TS: How would you rate your own work?
I have spent 49 years in this profession. I love the people and the country, and this shows in my photos. I suppose I have taken at least 49 pictures during this long time that could touch people's hearts or be close to life.

I met a good number of renowned people in my life, I came across a number of significant political events, and I met thousands of people at home and abroad, besides I was profoundly loved by people. That's the best reward for me.

One day at the Central Shaheed Minar, a man suddenly ran up and hugged me. I was trying to recall whether I had met him earlier or not. But seeing my confusion, the man said, he had been accused in a fake case and the newspaper reports accompanied with my photographs had saved his life.

TS: A large part of your works is that from the Liberation War of 1971. What was that like and where does a photographer stand in such times of crisis?
I fought the battle not with arms but my hands, my weapon being my camera. I took a number of photographs during and after the Liberation War. Many people, were leaving the country and taking shelter in neighbouring India, but I could not leave -- perhaps my camera didn't let me. I knew that things weren't over here and I would have much to see in the days to come.

After the night of March 25, 1971, I saw brutality and bloodshed like I had never imagined. That night, the Bangalis knew something dreadful was about to happen. One of my photographer friends and I went out and took snaps of the barricades. Khandaker Mostaque Ahamed was riding a jeep with many tanks following him. I wanted to take the shot but was not allowed to. I saw a blaze at Razarbagh Police line from my home and the whole city had a black out. Around 1am, a bullet hit my house and we all hid under the bed. I saw a student at Jagannath Hall, Dhaka University being crushed to death by a Pakistan army tank. There was a curfew on March 26 and when it was temporarily lifted, I stepped out and all I can recall is dead bodies -- of people from 16 to 60 -- everywhere. I visited many places and saw much devastation in 1971 and I knew that I would have to show our muktijuddho to the world. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself suggested this to me as well, asking me to take part in an exhibition in Delhi. When I reflect on the war today, the question of why we fought it haunts me when I see how far we have moved away from its spirit. I feel that we as a nation should be ashamed of how we have tarnished our glorious history.

TS: Who were the greatest personalities you photographed or came across during your career?
I was fortunate that throughout my life I came into contact with noted personalities. Being a mere photojournalist, I got immense love from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani and other great leaders. When Mother Teresa came to visit Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to photograph such an extraordinary personality up close, and was blessed with her presence at my house. Shahidullah Kaiser, the person who introduced me to the world of photojournalism, was a great man, and I still follow his advice.

TS: What is your opinion about the current state of photojournalism in Bangladesh?
Today's photojournalists are so confined to their jobs. Photojournalism is not a mere job. To capture memorable moments on frame they have to work hard. Advancements in technology have made it much easier for them. They should take full advantage of it. Photojournalists should quit working in short cut methods. Their true dedication can introduce a new dimension to photojournalism in the country.

I would say to up and coming photojournalists -- never accept any gift from anyone while you are on duty. Never try to find a short cut to get your job done. Don't spend time looking for a seat while covering an event. Go early and leave late from an assignment. Be passionate and be dedicated.

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