I am not documenting Bangladesh, although I do want to capture the grace and industry of its people. In this series I am fascinated by light and shadow, by forms emerging and disappearing along with the patterns and textures created. I look into the darkness of the stalls and markets or into the shadows along the streets, waiting for a face to emerge and be held by the light. In contrast, I sometimes find a full shadow created by a person who moves across a field of sunlight.
These images were made during a two-week trip to northeast Bangladesh with a small group of photographers. We traveled by van, climbing out when we saw something we wanted to explore, most frequently in the early morning and late afternoon when the light was spectacular, creating strong shadows and patterns. We walked through village markets and back streets and into fields where people were planting. We stopped to investigate brick factories and the harvesting and drying of rice. We followed railroad tracks where village life had materialized on either side of the tracks. We waded across a shallow river delta, watching people plant rice seedlings. We had countless cups of tea from the many tea stalls that served each community.
Bangladeshis in this area had seen few westerners and were curious about who we were. Children followed us through village streets; women looked out from their doorways. We were quick to engage each other with smiles and whatever props we could use for communication. As a tall, elderly, white woman I immediately stood out, even when I covered my greying hair with a colorful head wrap, but I was rarely seen as threatening, particularly to the other women and children. I could approach a grandma holding a baby and —with a smile on my face— rock a pretend baby in my arms. We laughed and gestured and sometimes I took a photo; sometimes I did not.
But I am a white women with a camera taking pictures of people, most of whom do not have cameras and who cannot travel across the world to take photographs of me. My ability to come to their villages and markets brandishing my camera gives me an uncomfortable power. I am the white woman who has more, part of the group who has historically appropriated or used images of the lives of others for our purposes. In the end, I will take my photos and go home.
After much thought I have decided to show these photographs and will do so at Perspective Group and Photography Gallery, in February, 2021, hoping to further a thoughtful discussion on this challenging subject that reaches to the core of who we are and what we believe. (August, 2020)
For more images of Bangladesh in color, see Faces Places > Bangladesh