Shahidul Alam – Promoting Bangladeshi Visual Arts

Born in Dhaka in 1955, Shahidul Alam has built a successful career in photography, both in Bangladesh and internationally, receiving his first award in 1983 – the Harvey Harris Trophy awarded by the London Arts Council for being judged as the best photographer of the year. Having studied in London and obtaining a PhD from the University of London, Alam returned to Dhaka in 1984, and in 1989 he set up the Drik Picture Library as a collaborative project with Bangladeshi anthropologist and writer, Rahnuma Ahmed. Using the Sanskrit word to describe inner vision and philosophy as it name, the Drik Picture Library provided a platform for photographers to display their work and explore new avenues in the ever-advancing world of photography.

Alam served as the president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society for three terms, and in 1998 he established the South Asian Institute of Photography, Pathshala, which became the teaching facility attached to the Drik Picture Library. He is also the director of the biennial international festival of photography, Chobi Mela, considered to be the largest photography festival in Asia, with participants traveling from all over the world to Dhaka to display their work. Alam has also been a judge at the Netherlands-based World Press Photo awards.

Other noteworthy achievements of this accomplished Bangladeshi photographer include being the first Asian recipient of the Mother Jones (MoJo) Award for Documentary Photography, as well as receiving Honorary Fellowships of the Bangladesh Photographic Society and the world’s oldest national photographic society – the United Kingdom’s Royal Photographic Society. As an acclaimed public speaker, Dr Shahidul Alam has lectured at Stanford and Harvard in the United States, as well as at Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He has also delivered lectures at educational institutions in other parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia, as well as in a number of Latin American countries.

As the founder of Majority World, an association representing the majority world – otherwise known as ‘developing nations’ – Alam noted in an interview he would like indigenous peoples to tell their stories through photography and citizen journalism, presenting aspects of their lives that western media may ignore or misunderstand. Documenting his personal experiences, Alam’s book entitled My Journey As a Witness, published by Skira Editore of Italy, was launched in Dhaka on September 23, 2011, with the author being lauded as “a master of Bangladesh’s visual arts”.