People & Politics

Shahidul Alam: Lessons in unlearning

By Alisha Sett

12 October 2018

The eye that challenged the status quo.

In 1993, Shahidul Alam, a Bangladeshi photographer, wrote a letter to the managing director of the World Press Photo awards, asking her to consider changing the name of this renowned photographic association to Western Press Photography. It seemed evident to Alam that, although the photos he had seen were extraordinary, the World Press jury members and most of the photographers chosen as their awardees did not represent the majority of the world – Asians, Africans and Latin Americans. In an interview on Iranian television, Alam explained that when he visited the touring exhibition he was galled to see how casually a Western model, awarding Western photojournalists, was projecting a universal umbrella. The director decided to call Alam, making an equally audacious suggestion: would he bring the exhibition to Dhaka in a month? Three weeks later, the World Press Photo exhibition came to Bangladesh for the first time, displayed in Alam’s own Drik gallery. The paint on the walls was still wet when the first viewers were let in. Alam went on to become the first Southasian to chair the international jury of World Press.

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