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The Story Behind That Picture: "A Visit To Bangladesh"

By: Thorsten Overgaard

 

Bangladesh, June 18-21, 2014: I went to Bangladesh to shoot a series of pictures for a 8-page article in a magazine. I've never been to Bangladesh before, so that was exciting.

I basically flew 14 hours from Germany to Bangladesh and then had a 250 miles drive of 10 hours to arrive to shoot for eight hours, then return the same track back to Denmark before going to the US where I am now.

 


The local school headmaster in our destination city, Dinajpur, Mr. Bishwanath Roy. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

We had a guide meet us inside the airport to get us through the visa-on-arrival which was much easier and much more friendly than expected, and then we had two more helpers outside the airport to get us onto a 10 hour drive through Dhaka and beyond to where we were shooting.

We crashed over night in a cosy hotel next to the airport. Next morning I was out when the light came at 5:30 AM and shot some atmosphere of the city. When time is limited, you got to grab the moments you have.

 


Dhaka, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

"Rural country" - what does it mean?

I think Bangladesh is best described if I say it is friendly as Sri Lanka, rural and dusty as Nepal and as packed with people as India. Which also makes sense as Bangladesh used to be part of India. They separated years ago, and in 1946 they gained independance from the Empire (UK), and from East Pakistan in 1971. India is 90% Hindu, 10% Muslim, Bangladesh is the oppisite. The people we worked with were mostly Hindu.

 


Dhaka, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


The road outside out hotel early morning. Dhaka, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


10 hours roadtrip into a more and more empty landscape. But there is always people around. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 


© 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

When I googled images from Bangladesh, the majority of the first images I saw were people beaing beaten with sticks!

It is always like that: What people say and especially what the news report is never the reality of how the life and street and the people look.

Bangladesh turned out to be very friendly, and on our drive we saw the rice fields and the green, sparkling countryside with paper-thin cows and frolocking goats here and there on the fields or by the roadside.

 


Dhaka, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 


Everyone seem to use the ricksaws for transportation. I saw many women, workers and others who hired a ricksaw to get around. I would normally associate it with something for well off people or tourists. But I was wrong on that. Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


Some of the local faces that looked into the car as we drowe by. Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 

The driver would stop to ask direction, and the folks would stare so hard at us in the back they didn't notice the driver talking to them. Then the driver yelled higher, and they were sort of taken out of their intense stare and realized the window was open to the driver and he was talking to them.

 


We left early morning for our 10 hour car drive and got some sleep on the way. We had to arrive before the last light disappeared. Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 


Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 


Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 


Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 

When researching Bangladesh, I wanted to rent a car. They are all rented with a driver, even Hertz cars, and now I know why:

The traffic is both reckless and funny enough wreckless. Left-side driving as you would expect if in any country "civilized" by the British Empire, but they drive all over the road: You drive in the left side, but then you take over the middle and right side when there is space. At times there would be three lanes going left on a two-way road.

And then when a car or tuk-tuk comes the other way, they make space for that one. So a two-lane road is made into a three-land and some times four-lane. If you saw the road from above, it would be packed with traffic. And the honking is out of control! But the drivers manage to go in and out so they don't collide, even they all use all the road!

 


Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

         
 

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It's very much how people walk in India and Bangladesh: If there is an empty space, somebody will occupy that space. And this is one of the things that is hard to deal with as an European or Dane; getting into a metro for example, you wait behind someone, leaving some space so they can move around. In India, if you do the same, someone will take the empty space in front of you...because it's a space!

We get a lot of stares. I read somewhere that Bangladesh only has 4,000 tourists a year. So of course when they see some foreigner, they notice.

Well, they stare! Especially Joy gets stares, of course. Someone will stand on the other side of the street and he just stares with open mouth.

Or, as in the airport, three security people came over to us and started staring! You would expect them to arrest us or ask me to stop smoking. But no, they stare and do nothing.

 


Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 

Now, I have seen that stare a lot around the world. So I finally got an explanation.

Those people don't speak English, so they have no means of contacting us. But they want to "be part of it" and are really interested what is going on. So they stare, and often they will get closer so they can get a better stare.

It's just one of those things, like the Indian nod with the head that you think means "Yes" but means "I hear you" (which is why someone will nod with their head and then not do as you thought you had agreed).

 


When scouting for a location for a portrait, this fellow stopped up and simply looked at me. I noticed his t-shirt, so I returned his interest with a picture of him. "Beach Girls". Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

An informal conversation

Early 7 AM in the morning outside the hotel in the capitol I was out taking some atmosphere photos that I also needed for the story. A guy walks close to me and stares. So I look at him and say "Hi ... Do you speak English" and he points his finger in the air, circles it, and says "Bangladesh!", then smiles and leaves.

Cute in a way. We didn't have a talk, but we did meet and have a talk. And that's all there is to it.

The people who speak English will usually also ask a lot of questions and tell a lot about them self. That's another story. As a photorapher you prefer the silent stares. It's easier to get work done when you don't have to listen and answer.

 


The neighbour boy having a look, Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

 


Dhaka, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

 


Joy was given special jewery and local dress, called "Sari" and made an honorary "Princess of Bangladesh" in Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

The amount of people and their unhidden interest is a challenge doing photographs. I tried it some years ago in India where we were doing both stills and video. We had to go to a rooftop to shoot video, and even then we had 50 people following us to see what we were up to (which was better than the 1,000 we had on the ground).

In Bangladesh the attitude is the same. We start lining up for a portrait, in the street or inside a compound. In a matter of minutes there is a crowd. In front of the camrea, behind the subject. For some reason people generally think the best view of what is going on is if they go in front of the camera and look into the lens, like if it was a television screen.

 


After 5 minutes inside a compund the crowd of bystanders was so big we had to line them up so they didn't get into the background of the image. Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


Dhaka, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

 


A neighbour boy poses in a resort outside the town of Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

 


A small quiet place in Dinajpur, Bangladesh. We had a break and some fresh fruit. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

 


Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 

 

Joy sang her songs to a packed room of school kids! It wasn't planned, and it was a national holiday. But the rumor was out that a singer was in town, so it happened. Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


We visited the footbal field in central Dinajpur, Bangladesh just before we left. It was during the world cup, but somehow Joy Villa seemed more important. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


The final goodbye when we left in the car. New friends and fans forever... Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

What to shoot

When I arrive I have a shot list, and in this case it was very tight timewise. I had specific persons I had to get a photo of, as well as reportage photos that was important for the story.

When you get there some things look different than you expected. Some people are not there as planned. For example the actual shooting day was a national holiday ... which we realized in the morning. So some photos of a crowd that would have been easy any day was not possible.

You have the story in mind, and then you improvise. The people that might be missing, you find new ones to replace them. The only thing you can't do is come home with only 70% of what the magazine sent you to do.

I find that every moment counts. When ahead of the time schedule, don't slow down. And when you see something that is a great photo, you shoot it. I know that general atmosphere photos will be needed to establish and overview of the country or the scene. So I look for them all the time. Especailly I like if I can get photos that may change a wrong concept of a country or people.

 

 


Dinajpur, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

But one important thing that one easy forget is that you know how it looks. So many obvious photos you wouldn't take. But you have to, because remember that other people don't know how the place looks like. You can tell them , but why not just lift the camera and make sure to get some "normal scenes" of street life.

Other people can't know that they have many bicycles. Or that the houses are built of stone and in bright colors. One forget that difference easily. It's important to take photos of even the obvious.

But also to be realistic. For example we stopped midway in a rather lofty lunch restaurant by the road. It was hot and I just woke up. I open the door, and ther is a guy in uniform saluting me! What the heck, are we under arrest or what? It turns out the parking guard there salutes the guests. So did the young kid who cleaned the toilets.

That's a thing worth taking pictures of, but some times you just have to give it a rest and realize you can't photograph everything, all the time.

Focus on the story and have an idea what might be valuable to have. I also have the rule that when I photograph for 8 hours, I will ned another 8 hours to edit and finalize the photos. That alone give you an idea that you have to economize with time.

If you photograph all the time you will get nothing finished. If you photograph half the time you will produce a lot!

 


Dhaka, Bangladesh. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 


Thorsten Overgaard, July 24, 2014

   
   

 

 
 

 

 

   
   
   

Above:Bangladesh early morning 7AM. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 





 


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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

Feel free to e-mail to thorsten@overgaard.dk for
advice, ideas or improvements.

 

 
           
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