Posted on Leave a comment

Bangladesh. Day 10- Transformation and Goodbyes

We took over the lobby at a 5-star hotel feeling a bit awkward, yet grateful, around the plush furniture, perfumed air and air-conditioning.  For 10 days, we had basically “roughed” it, guerilla style, with modest but comfy accommodations and simple, cheap street foods (aka: chicken biryani).  Now we all sat silently looking at our laptops, with our frothy $5 cappuccinos in hand, reviewing our photos to pick the best 20 to show the others.  It was the first time on the 10-day trip that I really looked at my photos.  I tend to enjoy this type of tantric photo review. As a habit, I never look at my pictures when I take them. Being a bit old-school, I prefer to pretend my digital camera is a film camera and still enjoy the “surprise” of the images when the “film” gets “developed”. 

As I relived the trip through my photos, I reflected on the change of my personal attitude and my unwarranted anxieties. Ten days ago, I was positive I was going to encounter the worst of humankind but my experiences could not have been more removed from that.  The apprehensions that had plagued me for weeks and had kept me awake for nights had disappeared.  The “murders and thieves” were anything but, in fact, I found the Bengalis to be some of the nicest, most curious people I have ever met. Neither hostile nor indifferent to my presence but, in actuality, happy that I was there and as curious about me as I was about them.

As I chronologically reviewed the over 8000 pictures I took, I was happy to see a clear evolution of my images and storytelling.  I noticed that the mistakes and poor shooting choices I made on Day 1 were progressively more absent as the days went on.  The number of “rejected” shots became smaller and smaller and my photos became more deliberate. My images showed my transformation to a more mature, patient and discerning photographer.  I was tired, exhausted but with the kind of exhaustion that made you feel good, content, like you had done something important.  I learned so much and made great friends.  Etienne, was right– this was Mecca, the Holy Land, the Promised Land of photographers.

I boarded the plane, richer in experience, richer in art and with all my vital organs.

Aron

November 27- December 4, 2019

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts. It even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you. It should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, in your heart, and on your body. You take something with you and hopefully you leave something good behind.”

Anthony Bourdain

P.S.- Thank you so much for taking the time to follow me during this amazing adventure. If you are interested in doing this trip (or similar in many locations around the world) please contact my good friend Etienne at PicsOfAsia.com (I have no financial affiliation).  If you would like to invite me over for dinner to discuss the difference between travel photography and street photography I’d be happy to attend – just promise me you won’t serve chicken biriyani.

Posted on Leave a comment

Bangladesh. Day 9- “A spot of tea?” and Black Lung Disease

We descended on them like a pack of wolves. We fanned out, downwind and up-light with cameras at the ready.  We pounced. The poor women didn’t see us coming.  Being a group of 5 photographers it was always tricky to shoot candid shots, unobstructed. 

The Finley Tea plantations, in the area of Sreemangal, were breath taking. But we only came across a few women harvesting tea leaves (wrong season? Wrong time of the day?). We danced around each other, photographer around woman, photographer around photographer- like a fiddler’s do-si-do, trying to get the best angles without being in each other’s shots.  An intricate dance indeed.

Later on, eyes peeled to the horizon for smoking stacks of brick factories, a seemingly favorite subject of ours, we finally found a massive one full of activity.

 Rounding the corner of the kiln, I came across two young men shoveling and grinding big chunks of coal into the coal dust that would be used to stoke the kiln fires. With only filthy head wraps to protect them, so much coal dust was pouring out from the 3-walled corrugated iron shack that you could hardly see them.  I have never seen worse working conditions in my life. 

The coal dust was so oppressive that I was only able to tolerate the confines of the small hut for a few short minutes before having to run out for fresh air. The thought did not escape me that these poor men will probably spend the rest of their working lives in there…serious lung disease awaiting.

Posted on Leave a comment

Bangladesh. DAY 8- The Downside of being a Celebrity

 

We went to a local market; the faint smell of fresh chilies was mixed with the earthy tones of burlap sacks filled with potatoes.  

As if on cue, we all split up to try and capture our respective moments.  It was here that I felt what it must feel like to be a celebrity. We were probably one of the few tourists ever to stop there and I quickly amassed quite a crowd of curious on-lookers. Everywhere I went I was followed by 10 -20 curious locals, all asking me my name and my nationality or asking to have their photo taken. “Trump! Trump?!”

            (my entourage)

For a portrait photographer this is, perhaps a dream.  But having an entourage can be very counter-productive to capturing spontaneous moments, feelings, and emotions. I decided to put my cameras down, grab a chai, and watch the world go by.

Lunch/Dinner: Chicken Biriyani

Posted on Leave a comment

Bangladesh. DAY 7- Dreamscape

The next morning the roads to the airport were thick with morning mist; this offered an amazing opportunity to take photos of farmers walking through this eerie, dreamy landscape.

We found our way to another brick factory and once again I jumped right in to try and document what so few of us have gotten to see with our own eyes- always trying to document not only the sights but also trying to capture the essence of the atmosphere.

When we finally made it to the airport we were disappointed to hear that our flight to Sylhet was delayed six hours.  Resolving to make the most of it, we decided to go to the nearby train station.  

Posted on Leave a comment

Bangladesh. Day 6- Human Aerators and “ ‘Dar she blows!”

We checked out of our hotel before dawn, eager to arrive at our destination before first light. We headed out in the direction of Dinajpur (another 3-hour drive away). On the way, we stopped at Mahastan Bazar, one of the biggest wholesale markets in the region. It is a very hectic, interesting, yet odd, blend of fish auctions and cauliflower wholesale depots. 

 One of the more interesting things I saw was a slew of young boys, squatting next to large plastic tubs of live fish, smacking the surface of the water with their hands… little human aerators…

We continued our journey towards Dinajpur, stopping en-route whenever photo opportunities arose. We had seen many up to this point but finally we saw the first active smokestacks that were bellowing white smoke into the clear blue sky. 

The sheer scale of this brick factory was mind-boggling.

Kilns the size of football fields, two stories high, hand packed with MILLIONS of handmade bricks.  These fiery beasts were hand fed with ground coal through small covered holes on the roof.  The men wearing only wooden-soled sandals to “protect” them from the intense lava-like heat of the inferno with baking ceramic underneath. 

The heat was oppressive and the work a never-ending dance of feeding, loading, and emptying the kiln.  The hands of the men were as hard and cracked as the bricks they were stacking and unstacking; their backs permanently hunched.  

Surrounding these temples of fire where rows and rows of perfectly aligned bricks, slowly drying in the sun.  A handful of men, packed hand-dug clay into wooden molds, preparing for the next batch of bricks to be fired. The human effort involved to do this was something I had only imagined. To see it in person was a whole different experience.

Before arriving in Dinajpur we stopped in a small village at the Birampur Dinajpur market. A relative oasis compared to the intense heat and dust of the brick factory. They were all very keen to be photographed, and so we focused a part of that afternoon on taking close-up portraits. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Bangladesh. Day 5- Hit by a Train (Almost)

Rising early, we headed into the heart of Bogra City. The central Railway Bazar was an amazing opportunity to capture all the busy activity of a market, with the added excitement of avoiding getting hit by the train that WENT THROUGH the market. The narrow stalls haphazardly put together with sheets of metal and hanging tarps allowed amazing streams of light to filter through.

“I’ve always said that a place’s markets are the quickest and best way to gain entry into a culture and a people.”

Anthony Bourdain

After a brief rest at the hotel, and a fish tikka…. Just kidding… chicken biriyani for lunch, we drove towards the banks of the Brahmaputra River. Peaceful countryside life, fishing boats and reflections in the water made this area a photographer’s dream.  We walked along the coast and into the fields to experience village life; a father and son harvest, fishermen’s catch, the kids at play…all with the backdrop of the setting sun.

 

( India in the background.)