Photographers' Blog

Silent tears within the brothel walls

By Andrew Biraj

“Hashi cannot be sad ever. Sadness is a part of our lives, so we don’t bother with sadness. My parents will not be able to identify me anymore. There is a huge difference between my present appearance and the malnourished look of my childhood. I am healthier than before and fit to serve a lot of customers in a day.”
- Hashi (which means happiness), a seventeen-year-old sex worker at Kandapara brothel in Tangail

It was a quieter evening than in hectic Dhaka. The gentle breeze of spring surrounded the cold atmosphere of the small town of Tangail, a town in the north east of Bangladesh. A small walk through a calm neighborhood took me to a place which looked similar to any of the country’s slums.

The bright tungsten lights of grocery shops and the high volume of Bangladeshi pop music from the tea stalls mesmerize the whole area. Between those stalls the alleyways on the other side of wide drains are dark. Following my fixer I suddenly found myself inside one of those narrow lanes, where young girls with heavy makeup and colorful clothes were lined up. The girls of different ages, though mostly teenagers, try to draw the attention of men by laughing, chuckling and pulling their hands.

The neighborhood of around a hundred of buildings with more than 800 small rooms is one of the 14 official brothels of Bangladesh but are in essence a prison for around 900 sex workers. The young sex workers of this brothel must serve at least 10-15 customers each day. Being a “Chukri’ or bonded girl, they are bound to follow the orders of their Sardarni (House owners, who were prostitute before and purchase girls to run their business).

“When I first took a customer; I didn’t realize what was going to happen. He raped me again and again. It was bleeding severely and I was crying. I didn’t have any idea what sex is,” said Hashi, who has been working as a prostitute since she was 10.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 13, 2011

First, congratulations to Pakistan Chief photographer Adrees Latif and Bangladesh based photographer Andrew Biraj for their competition awards this week.  Adrees is the winner of the photojournalism category of the ICP Infinity Awards 2011 for his pictures shoot during the floods in Pakistan last year.  Andrew won third prize in the singles category of daily life in the World Press Photo Awards for his picture of an overcrowded train in Bangladesh.

PAKISTAN-FLOODS/

Marooned flood victims looking to escape grab the side bars of a hovering Army helicopter which arrived to distribute food supplies in the Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan's Punjab province August 7, 2010. Pakistanis desperate to get out of flooded villages threw themselves at helicopters on Saturday as more heavy rain was expected to intensify both suffering and anger with the government. The disaster killed more than 1,600 people and disrupted the lives of 12 million.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif

PHOTOGRAPHY-PRIZE/

An overcrowded train approaches as other passengers wait to board at a railway station in Dhaka, November 16, 2010. Millions of residents in Dhaka are travelling home from the capital city to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday on Wednesday. Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha to mark the end of the haj by slaughtering sheep, goats, cows and camels to commemorate Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail on God's command. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 6, 2011

Cyclone Yasi statistics were impressive, bigger than Katrina that killed more than  1,200 people in 2005, winds of 300 km (186 miles) per hour, more powerful than Cyclone Tracy that hit Darwin in 1974, killing more than  70 people and probably the most powerful in recorded history ever to hit the coast of Australia. The satellite pictures seemed to support all these claims. The expectation of devastation was high. I even began to fret about the claim that the concrete hotel that photographer Tim Wimborne was staying in was actually cyclone-proof. Experts had started to say that  cyclone proof buildings might not be. But Yasi passed and only one poor soul died (asphyxiated in his home by fumes from his own generator), a few homes had their roofs torn off, caravans were swept aside and minimal flooding. The only lasting effect that will hit us all are the increased insurance premiums, devastated banana and sugarcane crops; price rises are promised.

aus combo

(Top left) A hand painted board protects the front window of a cafe in the northern Australian city of Cairns February 2, 2011. Category five Cyclone Yasi, expected to be the most powerful storm to cross Australia's heavily populated east coast in generations, is expected to make landfall late on Wednesday night. Thousands of residents fled their homes and crammed into shelters in northeastern Australia as the cyclone with a 650 km (404 mile) wide front barreled toward the coastline on Wednesday. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

(Top right) Cyclone Yasi (top) is seen approaching the coast of Australia, at 2300 GMT on February 1, 2011, while Hurricane Katrina is seen with its outer bands lashing the Gulf Coast of the U.S. a day before landfall, August 28, 2005, in this combo of satellite images created February 2, 2011. Yasi, which has been upgraded to a maximum-strength Category 5 storm, is now moving with winds of up to 300 km (186 miles) per hour and has a 650 km (400 mile) wide front. Yasi's current strength is similar to Hurricane Katrina, which reached maximum Category 5 in the U.S. Gulf before weakening a little as it made landfall near New Orleans, causing altogether approximately 1200 reported deaths.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 23 2011

As India heads towards their Republic Day celebrations, Prime Minister Singh makes minor adjustments to his cabinet while outside on the streets people demonstrate over food and fuel price inflation and corruption. Adnan Abidi produces a great picture as a middle-aged demonstrator gets to feel the full force of a police water canon. In stark contrast, B Mathur gets a glimpse of the dress rehearsal of the full military parade planned to celebrate India's independence where the security forces are deployed in a somewhat different manner.  Danish Siddiqui added to the file this week with a well seen picture to illustrate a government spending initiative with a man pulling a pipe across a building site, the shadow creating an eye like image that almost seems to wink at the viewer.  

INDIA/

Police use water canons to disperse supporters of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during a protest in New Delhi January 18, 2011. Thousands of the supporters on Tuesday in New Delhi held a protest against a recent hike in petrol prices and high inflation. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

INDIA/

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers ride their camels during the full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi January 23, 2011. India will celebrate its Republic Day on Wednesday. REUTERS/B Mathur

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 16 2011

Our thoughts are with photographer Lucas Mebrouk Dolega who was covering the street protests in Tunisia who is now in a critical condition after sustaining head injuries on Friday from a tear gas canister fired by a nearby police officer.

AUSTRALIA-FLOODS/

A passenger in a car waves for assistance as a flash flood sweeps across an intersection in Toowoomba, 105 km (65 miles) west of Brisbane, January 10, 2011. Tsunami-like flash floods raced towards Australia's third-largest city of Brisbane on Tuesday, prompting evacuations of its outskirts, flood warnings for the financial district and predictions that  the death toll is likely to climb.     REUTERS/Tomas Guerin

Rupert Murdoch's iPad only newspaper "The Daily" is getting closer to launch (reports say the proposed launch of January 19th was delayed due to technical glitches) and others are  launching similar pay-for publications. Along with rumours of an imminent iPad2 and Apple's competitors rushing to launch their own tablet devices, it seems to me much more likely that people will once more expect to pay for their news as opposed to expecting  to get it free. They will now have a device to easily download and read news and look at pictures and video immediately. Maybe the much heralded notion that the sometimes faster, but unsubstantiated, social media generated news would be the death knell of main stream media (why should I pay for the news when I get it free from the net quicker?) might have been a little premature and could actually be one of the factors that contribute to people expecting to pay for quality news viewed on hand held devices. What do you think?

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in Pictures 17 October 2010

Only days after the world watched the 33 Chilean miners emerge from the bowels of the earth, triumphant, an explosion at another mine, half a world away, is making headlines, but on a much smaller scale. The blast in China is reported to have killed 26 miners and trapped 11, with rescue attempts hampered by coal dust. Last year over 2,600 miners died in industrial accidents in China, whose mining industry is considered the deadliest in the world. The access given to the photographer is quite amazing in the circumstances.

CHINA-MINERS/

A rescuer is seen in a tunnel of the Pingyu No.4 Coal mine in Yuzhou, Henan province October 16, 2010. An explosion in the Chinese coal mine killed at least 20 miners in central Henan Province on Saturday, state media reported. REUTERS/Stringer

Looking at the file from last week I got the sense that Asia seemed strangely calm - maybe the calm before the storm of Super Typhoon Megi that is bearing down on the Philippines.  Winds of over 250 kph are expected along with flooding, landslides and possible injury and damage.  Our team are waiting, poised and ready to jump into action; one of the hardest things to do for photographers is to wait and watch until the danger has passed knowing that safety must come first - no point becoming the story yourself by being injured or worse killed, but always in their minds are the pictures they are missing.

On the roof of a train, picking up speed

Every year, millions of residents in Dhaka travel to their hometown from the Bangladeshi capital to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Thousands use public transportation. I was determined to travel with them to experience this hectic mode of transport.  I went to a local train station opposite the national airport in Dhaka on September 20, the last day before Eid.

I reached the station early in the morning and found thousands of people waiting on the platform. There were trains arriving but they were fully packed with people. There was not even space on the rooftop of the trains. In spite of this, people were crawling on top and inside the carriages like ants, sometimes even fighting with each other.  Twice I failed to get onto the train. Finally, I managed to get on with the help of a young woman. The woman struggled to get on the train with her 4-year old child. I was just behind her, and as soon as she got on she pulled me up.

While sitting amongst the crowd, I started taking pictures with my 5D camera and a 16-35mm lens. After a few shots I tried using a slow shutter speed, but as the train was jerking it was difficult to capture a sharp frame. Then I tried different shutter speeds, changing the f-stops from 11 to 22. Suddenly, I spotted a woman in the middle of the two carriages. At first I framed the shot with the woman at the top. I managed to maneuver my way among the crowd and lay down to keep my hand steady. I composed the picture with the men’s feet and played with changing the f-stop and shutter speed on alternative exposures. I kept my ISO at 100 as I knew that a fast ISO would not achieve the blurred effect. The f-stop was narrow as I tried using slow shutter speeds. I was getting a huge depth-of-field to keep my subject in focus. I shot several exposures on different f-stops from 1/4 to 1/60. The train was jerking so much that half of my shots were blurred. I was continuously trying to find the right shutter speed on the right moment.  Finally I found it. A shutter speed of 1/6 at f/16 was the best among the few perfect exposures.

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