This was a super fun shoot. It was awesome to spend a few days in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and cover the activities of this awesome NGO. Huffington Post picked up a few articles with my photos about their activities, check it out here
In April I worked on this story with Ellen Barry about the effect of the barbaric political violence on ordinary Bangladeshis and the garment industry. Having lived in Dhaka for almost two years, through the severe 2013 violence, this quote stuck out at me;
“I saw the agonies of the burned people, their maimed bodies, the smell of burning flesh,” acknowledged Mahbubur Rahman, a retired army general and member of the B.N.P.’s national standing committee. “But what we say is that the government is not allowing us to talk. Not allowing us to assemble. Not allowing us to protest, to make our news. In this situation, where the democratic rights are denied, what else can we do?”
For years we’ve all been seeing the front pages here with the photos of the hartal victims, but nothing could have prepared me for stepping foot inside the burn unit. As we pulled up to the hospital there was a woman collapsed on the ground outside, wailing. Her husband had just succumbed to his injuries from a firebomb attack on a truck he was driving. Upstairs almost every bed in the unit was full. All the men had the same stories, they were just trying to make a living, support their families. Some were so badly burnt, bandages covering almost their entire bodies, I wasn’t sure if they were still alive. How can a human being throw a petrol bomb inside a truck and murder innocent, hardworking people in the name of politics? It’s beyond my understanding.
Read the story, with a slideshow of my images, here
We also worked on a story about the transgender woman who caught the suspected killers of blogger Oyasiqur Rhaman. After three days of searching, literally going door to door in a run-down Dhaka neighborhood, and dozens of phone calls, the reporter and I were ready to give up. He had been on the phone the night before with the head “guru” of the Hijra group, gently explaining to her that the brave woman who caught the attackers didn’t have to show her face in the pictures or reveal her last name, that this was an incredible thing that she did. But they were scared, and rightly so. It was 1:00 in the afternoon, “I don’t think this is going to happen. At least we gave it a shot” I said. He agreed. Not more than 5 minutes later he got the call from the Guru to come to her house and meet them at 4:00. We were ecstatic.
So a few hours later, a box of sweets to gift in hand, we passed through the bustling chicken and meat market into their tiny alleyway, up a few flights of dusty, unfinished stairs and into the Guru’s home. She greeted us with giant hugs and offers of tea, and told us that she chose to give interviews with us because the reporter, Manik, was so genuine and sincere with her. She also told me that as an American, I am a guest in Bangladesh, and she wanted to show me the same hospitality that she would like if she were to visit my country. That was so touching to hear.
As other Hijras came into the room they silently greeted her and sat on the floor facing her. It was a really interesting dynamic to see. Their community is so marginalized, and when they come out to their families as Hijras they are generally cast out, so they form little communities of their own, with a Guru as the head.
Over an hour later Labannya arrived. I hurried, with a looming deadline and fading light to make her portrait. As I led her into the previously empty room where I planned one of the shots, I found it was full of dozens of Hijra, sleeping, smoking cigarettes, gossiping and doing each others hair. Apparently they meet there for a meeting with Guru every night, to talk and divide up the days wages. I improvised and photographed her in the corner of the room, on the stairway, roof, a few other places, trying to find a creative way to conceal her identity with her scarf, the light, and her hands.
The reporter finished up the interview and we tried to rush out to file, we were way past deadline at the point with Labannya arriving so late. But we were blocked by the Hijra, “Guru-ma says your can’t leave until the meeting is finished.” The common space was still occupied by around 25 Hijra sitting in the circle around Guru, talking animatedly with her disciples. 30 minutes later we were released, and I thought the reporter would have a heart attack as he blasted down the street, trying to find a rickshaw and talking notes over the phone to the bureau chief, trying to make deadline.
This was such a special assignment, it was fascinating to catch a glimpse into the life of Dhaka’s Hijra community, and I really hope that Labannya’s brave and courageous act can help change the public perception of the Hijra.
Read the story here
I did this fun lifestyle/product shoot a few months ago for Basha ( http://bashaboutique.com/ ), they’re a boutique that employs victims of sex trafficking. I’d been keeping up with their organization for a long time and was excited to finally get to contribute in a small way to the fantastic work that they do. It was also fun to work with a stylist, Erik Otterman, who’s beautiful apartment we used. It looks like something just out of an Ikea catalogue!
As a woman, even in an abaya and hijab, this was a real challenge to cover. Women generally aren’t allowed onto the prayer grounds and are forced outside onto the pavement to pray. Every time I went inside I had work quickly and was constantly chased out by guards with sticks, but I generally don’t take “no” for an answer and I’m pretty happy with what I got.
“The Bishwa Ijtema in Tongi, Bangladesh, is the second largest gathering of Muslims in the world, after the Hajj, and is organized by World Tablig Council, which preaches teachings of Islam and prophet Mohammad.”
This was so much fun to cover. It was the first every Hijra pride event in Bangladesh, and people came from all over the country to celebrate in Dhaka. You could really feel the happiness and excitement.
“Hijras (transgenders) participate in the first ever Hijra Pride celebration in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In 2013 Bangladesh officially recognized Hijras as a third gender, though homosexuality still remains illegal. Despite these strides Hijras continue to face violence and harassment as part of their daily life in Bangladesh.”
Last year I got these two assignments for Bloomberg in India. It’s so shocking that things like this still happen in 2014. Both of these ended up being included in the series that won the Asia Society Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Journalism on Asia
What’s Killing the Children in Jadugora, India?
“For years, these desperately poor people living in scattered villages in the shadow of these mines have been tormented by a mystery: What’s causing the wasting diseases that are deforming and killing so many of their children?”
Check out the full report by by Rakteem Katakey, Rajesh Kumar Singh and Tom Lasseter here
Toxic Pool Creeping Across India Kills Thousands of Kids Day by Day
“One by one, children began to die, often in agony and exhibiting similar symptoms: convulsions, burning pain in the extremities, nausea, vomiting, fever and diarrhea. By the end of 2011, parents buried 53 of them in this forested hill country village.”
Full report by Rakteem Katakey and Rajesh Kumar Singh here
I stopped taking my “real” cameras out with me when I’m not on assignment long ago and the past few years Instagram has been a sort of diary for me. I find writing almost as fun as a root canal, so Instagram has been a great quick and fun tool to document my daily life. Here’s a few highlights from May onwards of this year.
May in Dhaka was a bit slow with work but pretty busy with friends and goodbye parties. This town is almost as transient as New York was. I got a last minute assignment in India for Bloomberg and it led to almost 6 weeks of wandering around India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was a breathtakingly beautiful, fun and epic 4 weeks. Met lots of old and new friends and got one shit show failure of an assignment that I hope to be able to talk about publicly one day.. Then back to Dhaka. Right back to work and signed a lease on a new apartment with 3 awesome new flatmates. Spent a good two weeks around Manikganj and Pabna, one failed Bede story turned into a pretty successful 10 days covering mental health. I hope to publish that story soon. Child marriage, Pabna, then back to India for an assignment from Cosmopolitan magazine and a (finally) successful visa run. Some snapshots of flooding in the north of Bangladesh, the surf girls, camera repair, a fire in Gulshan and 1/2 of my Frenchie flatmates My cameras drowned in an assignment up north so I took the opportunity while they were being repaired to go down to Coxs Bazar to hang out with Venessa, Rashed and the surf girls. Hadn’t seen them since April and it was awesome to get to spend time with them again. A different dynamic not to have my cameras on me!
A family shelters from the rain under their roof while they move their home that is threatened by river erosion in the Kalashuna village in Gaibandha district of Bangladesh. In the past month Kalashuna village has had 600 homes washed away due to river erosion. In August severe flooding displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to rapid and severe river erosion which continues to wipe away hundreds of homes each week. The country’s inter-agency joint needs assessment described the situation as ‘the most severe floods the country has faced since the mega-flood of 2007’. The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society recently put out a report asking the international community for 2.3 million dollars for relief aid.
Women who lost their homes during flooding sit outside their temporary tents in the Karpasia village in Gaibandha district of Bangladesh.
Women wait for the Emirates Friendship Floating Hospital to open its gates in Chilmari district, Bangladesh. Friendship floating hospitals dock for up to 5 months at remote islands, or “chors”, in the north of Bangladesh with a full medical team and stocked pharmacy, providing health care at affordable cost. About 3 million people live on geographically isolated islands, known as “chors”, with no roads, no electricity, and no medical facilities. Every year, the nation is inundated with monsoonal rains which can flood up to two thirds of the country. Approximately 10 million people live in parts of Bangladesh lying less than a meter above current sea levels.
Garment workers in Dhaka were on a hunger strike inside their factory from July 28th until August 8th demanding three months of unpaid wages and Eid bonus from their employer, Tuba Group. The protests were finally broken up by the government with rubber bullets and tear gas. It’s unclear whether or not all the workers were paid the salary they were owed.