process: on the street

Sylhet City, Sylhet, Bangladesh.

I recently started something of a photo mini-series called “On the Street,” which involves setting up a makeshift studio – or, three pieces of white paper taped to a wall – on the side of some road with nice light, and taking portraits of whoever passes by and will let me.  Thus far I’ve done this little experiment in Dhanmondi, Dhaka at the end of my road, in Sylhet City (far northeast Bangladesh), and in Comilla (about four hours east of Dhaka).  Each time has been an interesting process – of watching people react, first uncertainly, then excitedly, to the prospect of having their portrait made; of seeing which individuals become the unofficial ‘helpers,’ of taking it upon themselves to wrangle new subjects and make sure that they provide the right information (name, age) afterward; of noting patterns that emerge, seeing who steps forward in the first place, who chooses to look – or not look – my way.

While this process is slightly complicated by my lack of fluency in Bangla, and by my being a female photographer, it is otherwise pretty much the most ideal environment and set up for this sort of project.  Overcast monsoon days make for perfectly even light – no artificial light used in any of these shoots – and roads that are always jam packed with people.  Most Bangladeshis that I’ve come across during my time here have wanted their photo taken if I’ve had my camera out, have often not let me pass until I do, so it’s no surprise that so many people willingly step up to the little white backdrop.  Doing this in New York, or Paris, or Lagos, or anywhere else would yield all sorts of other challenges (and advantages, certainly – more women willing to be photographed, for example), but that is exactly what’s making this interesting.  Seeing how this process unfolds, how the street sessions become little parties in and of themselves.  They’re a great way to mobilize a crowd, if you should ever need one.  Just fyi.

Still working on the edits and getting the photos online, but will post them here as soon as possible!