This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – Shahidul Alam’s exhibition “Truth to Power” at the Rubin Museum New York. Also, this weekend in Brisbane the FotoAIDconference is on. I’ll be speaking on Sunday. Check out the full program and remember all proceeds go to bushfire recovery programs.
Exhibition: New York
Shahidul Alam – Truth to Power
The final show in the Rubin Museum’s 12-month exploration of the concept of power is Shahidul Alam’s ‘Truth to Power’. Alam is a Bangladeshi photographer, writer, activist and institution-builder – readers of Photojournalism Now will recall our review of his book The Tide Will Turn in December last year.
In 2018 Alam was one of the journalists named TIME Person of the Year after being incarcerated and tortured for speaking out against the government in a TV interview with Al Jazeera. A global effort to see him released resulted in Alam being freed after more than three months. The trial is pending and Alam still faces the prospect of a prison term.
It was in 1980 when studying for a PhD in chemistry in London that Alam picked up a camera for the first time. Already agitating as a social activist, he recognised “how powerful images were.” Returning to Bangladesh in 1984, he asked himself if the country needed another scholar or a documentary photographer. He chose the latter.
In 1989 Alam cofounded Drik Picture Library with his longtime partner, Rahnuma Ahmed, a writer and anthropologist. Drik champions local Bangladeshi visual journalists, but Alam and Ahmed’s initial intention was to amass “warriors” to document the protests against the tyrannical President of Bangladesh, General Ershad who was ousted in 1990.
Since that time, Alam has continued to be a vocal opponent of corruption and injustice and a champion for the marginalised and forgotten. The exhibition at the Rubin which features more than 40 images including new work allows the viewer to begin to understand the stories of those pictured. The ephemera in the collection also gives a unique insight into the workings of Alam’s mind and the depth of his commitment to telling stories that others would conceal. His book “My Journey as a Witness” which I have checked out of the library numerous times, was nominated as the “most important book ever written by a photographer,” by the late John Morris, a renowned picture editor.
In addition to his own photography practice, Alam is also the brains behind Drik Photo Agency, Pathshala South Asia Media Institute, Chobi Mela Photography Festival and Majority World Photos. He is a powerhouse of positive energy and resolve, and one of the most erudite people I know.
Alam says, “Truth to Power is a tribute to the numerous acts of resistance all across the globe and gives hope to those who continue to believe that a better world is possible. I’m thrilled to have the support of the Rubin Museum.”
Beth Citron, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Rubin and organiser of the exhibition says, “Photographic imagery in South Asia has become an effective means for the underrepresented to claim voice and political presence. Alam is masterful at using images to tell stories and shine a light on injustices and inequities. In a time when free speech and expression is challenged in Bangladesh and across the world, Shahidul Alam’s lifelong work reveals the power of truth and voice in effecting change.”
The Rubin Museum of Art is an arts and cultural hub in New York City’s vibrant Chelsea. Emphasizing cross-cultural connections, the Rubin is a space to contemplate ideas that extend across history and span human cultures.
I can’t see this show, but if you do, please send me a photo!
Until 4 May
The Rubin Museum of Art 150 West 17th Street New York
All images courtesy Shahidula Alam/Drik/Majority World