People react differently to cameras in Bangladesh; there’s little worry, barriers, or self-consciousness towards them. They will connect with you wholeheartedly after just a smile. If they do pose there’s a feeling of honesty and openness, a genuine window into that life and moment in time. It’s a photographer’s dream, and the certainly the best place I have ever photographed people.
In the 3 months I was working here I sadly didn’t get much time for photography, but through a collection of snatched moments, each no longer than a minute or two, I was able to create a series of Bangladeshi portraits – a little cross-section of life here.
The Bangladeshi Bride, Batiaghata
A crazy mashup of trumpets and keyboards carried through the hot still night into my bedroom. Someone was having a hell of a party nearby. A few minutes later I got an invite – it was a wedding ceremony.
I went with my host sister, Monisha, to the venue – a little network of mud huts with grass and tin roofs. Several hundred people were milling around and there was a dancer and musicians in the middle. It turns out that those intruments were a harmonium and some type of flute.
Monisha took me to see the bride getting ready, in a tiny room with full with bustling people and so little space that I could barely turn around. The bride was sitting on a bed calmly in the eye of the storm. I gestured with my camera for a picture and she smiled subtly.
It was too dark to get a good shot of her with the ambient light, so Monisha shone her phone’s torch onto the bride’s face and without so much as a blink she continued to look straight at me, giving herself to the camera.
The ceremony was difficult to watch. I sat at the very front, just outside of the little temple area where two priests carried out the rituals of a traditional Hindu wedding with the bride and groom. About halfway through the bride cried uncontrollably. It added a different level of meaning to her serenity in the photo I had taken earlier.
River worker, Khulna
We’d taken a little break from work (buying materials for the local entrepreneurs we were supporting) and headed down to the river in the city of Khulna. A man walked down to load things onto a boat and something about him caught my eye.
I stole the first shot. He wasn’t paying any attention to me, despite being within arm’s reach, and it was just too good a moment to miss.
But a few minutes later he came back and asked me to take a photo (by telling one of my Bengali volunteers). Whether he asked because he knew I wanted his photo, or because he simply wanted to have his photo taken I will never know. Either way, in that next minute I got one of my favourite portraits.
Street vendor, Khulna
The boatman, Batiaghata
Stuck in traffic, Khulna
Left: These sisters in their matches dresses were collecting flowers beside a pond.
Standing up, School Vita
The forced portraits, Dorgatola
Taking these photos was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. We were getting ready to do an awareness raising session in a local village and were followed by two transgender ladies. We went to the house of someone we knew but they followed us in and refused to leave until we gave them some money. With no sign of going and just us, a mother, her children and her grandmother in a mud hut I was starting to worry about how this was going to end up.
But after finding out I was a photographer their attitude changed somewhat. They wanted me to film their dance, and then they wanted me to photograph them and spread their story of struggle and ostracism across the world. I was happy to oblige, though they were not the type of people you said no to! And what a photo it turned out to be. The woman on the left – and definitely the one who called the shots – is known as Bianca, I didn’t find out the other name.
We still ended up giving them a bit of money, though.
Once the transgender women had left I took the opportunity to photograph the great grandmother, a tiny and quiet lady who stood motionless until I got my shot. Their house is made up of two rooms and a porch area, along with some animal cages where they keep pigeons and chickens.
Above: Tea stalls are often the focal part of a community, particularly for the men, who will grab a cup of cha and gossip with each other. Taken in Malliker Mor.
Left: One of the older residents of the village Dorgatola sitting outside whilst an awareness raising session takes place.
Below: A grandmother poses with her grandchild. Have I mentioned that Bangladeshi kids are absolutely adorable? Ok I have, but it’s just so true!
Left: This is the grandfather of my host home. If living in rural Bangladesh felt like a step back into the 20th Century then this kind man felt like a glimpse of life in the 19th Century. He would sit on a sack on the floor for all occasions and meals, which would only ever be rice and dhal. His sight and hearing had deteriorated considerably by this point.
Below: In the dim light of a school classroom on a hot and muggy afternoon, I asked this man for a photo. He tolerated my request and simply moved his eyes to look straight down the lens of my camera.
Pritam, School Vita
Pritam surely has the best smile in Bangladesh. We organised an event to connect disabled members of the community to the local youth clubs, who would be able to represent and help them, and Pritam was one of the people who came. He can’t speak a word of English, and my Bengali is limited to about 5 sentences, but we made a connection instantly. And when I gestured with my camera to take a photo this beaming smile spread across his face. After the event I would see him from time to time and he would always run up to me to say hi and ask how I was. It made my day every time.
Mothers and fathers of Bangladesh
Above: A son watches his mum, Lily (second from right), as she carries out cookery training. As part of our volunteer work we provided training to local entrepreneurs in order for them to have successful and sustainable businesses.
Left: This mother had such a beautiful and kind face I just had to photograph her. She was listening to an awareness raising session on child nutrition that we and the local community had organised, known as a courtyard session.
Below: Whilst taking a walk to the riverside near to my host home I noticed this father and son playing together. The contrast between them and his tenderness was just too gorgeous, and again I had to take a photo. He was happy to pose for me.