a woman's war, photography, research

in memoriam: Fauzilla Tunnesa Bulu

Fauzilla Tunnesa Bulu, known to many as Bulu Khala, was born in 1919 in then-India. Fifty-two-years old when the Liberation War broke out, she is the oldest woman included in “A Woman’s War” from any country thus far.  Bulu Khala was a key driving force throughout the Liberation War, working to maintain the Kuchbihar refugee camp, as well as recruit and prepare mukti bahini (Bangladeshi guerrilla fighters) for battle. Last week, at the age of 93, living in rural Rangpur with her children and their families, Bulu Khala passed away.

When I met Bulu Khala in June 2011 at her home in Rangpur, in far northwest Bangladesh, she could barely speak – her family and friends provided much of this information on her behalf.  Though she found it difficult to move without assistance, just before we were leaving, she took my hand, kissed it, and quietly said I love you.  She then took my face and kissed it three times. Right, left, forehead. I love you.

She had barely known me for an hour.  I’ll never forget it.

Continue reading

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a woman's war, editorial, photography

GlobalPost: Bothaina Kamel

“Writing’s Egypt’s history, with revolution in her DNA,” a profile on Bothaina Kamel, Egypt’s first female presidential hopeful, out in GlobalPost today.  I shadowed Ms. Kamel on a recent trip to Tanta to speak at a TEDx event there.

On the precipice of these presidential elections, Kamel recognizes how definitive this time is in Egypt. No matter who wins, she says, “we’re writing our own history.”

Click here to view the full article.

Image at top: Bothaina Kamel greets supporters after her TEDx Tanta talk, May 2012.

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a woman's war, photography, research

a woman’s war: Bangladesh

An updated version of “A Woman’s War: Bangladesh.”  As featured on FotoVisura and as FotoVisura’s Photo of the Day.

A Woman’s War

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the birth of Bangladesh, a nation that emerged from a bloody fight for independence from Pakistan. The story of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle is one that is well told and well remembered by the nation; the official narratives are retold and exchanged often – and often by heart.  Stories of the origins of the movement, of its key players and events, of its Freedom Fighters, or mukti juddha, who came together to fight for Bangladeshi independence and emerged victorious in December 1971 after nine months of intense guerrilla warfare, are recounted in schoolbooks and events across the country, month after month, year after year. Continue reading

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commentary, photography

Samira Ibrahim: her journey through Tahrir

On March 9, 25-year-old Samira Ibrahim was arrested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square while participating in a protest.  Along with 172 other demonstrators, including 17 women, she was forcefully removed from the protests and brought to the Egyptian Museum on the edge of the square, where she and the others were bound and tortured for seven hours before being loaded onto buses and eventually brought to Heikstep, a military detention center.

There, she and the other women were forced to break themselves into two groups: virgins and non-virgins. Continue reading

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commentary, photography

women of the revolution: cairo, egypt

 

Back on the blogging train, and this time with a recent piece I did for GlobalPost.  The photographs were published here, the words are up only on this site.  This continues an exploration that I’ve been working on for the past few years, on the role and experience of women in conflict, previously done in Vietnam and Bangladesh, and now here in the United States.  This is the chapter from Egypt, centering on what Cairene women had to say on being female and immersed in the recent political uprisings in Egypt.  They spoke both to the events themselves, and to the representation of women in the revolution by the media; their responses were impassioned and highly varied – read on to learn more.

Women of the Revolution

The events of Tahrir Square in January and February 2011 have been hailed as everything from a boon to a bust for the women of Egypt, with countless reports covering and recovering retrospectives on women’s role in the continuing Egyptian revolution.  But what do the women themselves have to say, about their own stories? Continue reading

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photography

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!

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commentary, photography

magnum expression award: yvonne venegas

A bit of old news, but just going through old files and came across this post, which I meant to put up quite a while ago.

The winner of Magnum’s Expression Award this year, announced a few months ago, is Yvonne Venegas, a photographer from California.  Her work that claimed the Expression Award, entitled Maria Elvia de Hank, is very quiet, very thoughtful – and very compelling.  She describes it as:

…a view into the life, family and environment of eccentric millionaire and former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rohn…a work that reflect[s] on identity and a way of thinking, a state of mind that the couple of Mr. and Mrs. Hank have created together.

One of the things that struck the most about her work was not the images itself, but rather the way she speaks about them.  Her entire artist statement is fascinating, but the words that struck me the most were these:

I understand that the intimate will consist only of the instants that I can locate behind those that are camera ready.

There are countless times that I’ve found myself, or other photographer friends have said that they’ve found themselves caught in a situation that seems far too cliched, to known to photograph. They can be varied in content, from formal wedding portraits, to a news conference, to even the release of Durga Puja statues into a river in Bangladesh, but they are similar in that they appear unoriginal, insincere – seen before.  As Venegas says, to be able to look beyond and underneath these photo-ready moments is the job of the photographer, to convey emotions and content that extend beyond the actual edge of the frame.

It’s wonderful that Magnum’s award, designed to allow for the creation of a body of work that is purely the expression of a photographer, went to a woman who does that so beautifully – a photographer who can not only find striking moments within timelines, but who can also articulate why they are so.  I hope to be able to take a few pointers from her.

For those interested, see more of Venegas’ work here.

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