Making my way through the streets of Dhaka on the back of a rickshaw, Bangladesh reminded me of my first impressions of India. Raw, chaotic and intense – Dhaka was a heaving mass, with people, cars, buses, rickshaws, tuctuc’s, even horse-drawn carriages, all vying for an inch of available asphalt. This is what I had come to expect, but it was on my third day that I realised things were very different here. There were no tourist areas, no tourist amenities, and importantly, there were no tourists. In India I could expect to see a handful every hour at the very least, but in 18 days I saw no more than five in total. Five tourists in 18 days of solid shooting in one country, unbelievable. Wondering the streets we were faced with many curious glances and inquisitive stares, making the kind of natural, documentative photography I love to take, initially very difficult.
Two weeks before my arrival I decided to fill my family and friends in on my plans, and whilst there was a lot of positiveness, especially from fellow photographers, those in the unknown were confused and unsure of my intentions. ‘Why?’ was a reply I heard a few times, yet I understood the doubts, because I had them myself – what was there to ‘see’ in Bangladesh? Why was I going there? There are no traditional tourist sites, and if the views of the Western media are to be believed, the country was a poverty-stricken, floodplain mess.
I wanted to give it a chance and see if the fears were true, so for 18 days Maciej Dakowicz (whom I travelled with, and really is the man when it comes to travel/street photography in my opinion) and I woke up early every day and explored every major city and small town that we could. We headed to the river banks and beaches, the homes and offices, the markets and temples, and anything else that we happened upon, to document and give an impartial view of the country we saw before us.
What we saw were people who wanted to be seen, photographed, and recognised. Bangladeshis are incredibly friendly and helpful, and though at first my barriers were up, I came to realise that my new ‘friends’ weren’t trying to take advantage somehow, but were genuinely meaning to help and assist. There was a real curiosity about us and why we were interested in them. Most people walked up and asked ‘Which country?’, but for those that spoke English more fluently there was astonishment that we had flown out just for the sole purpose of visiting Bangladesh; that they weren’t an afterthought – that we were there to explore and see how they lived their lives, what they did to pass the time, where they worked, and who they were.
So, this is Bangladesh, as I saw it.