Shahidul Alam

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Shahidul Alam
শহিদুল আলম
Shahidul Alam (38123779086).jpg
Alam in 2017
Born1955 (age 67–68)
EducationJhenidah Cadet College, University of Liverpool
Alma materUniversity of Liverpool (BSc)
Bedford College, University of London (D.Phil)
Occupation(s)Photojournalism, teaching, social rights activism
Known for
SpouseRahnuma Ahmed

Shahidul Alam (born 1955) is a Bangladeshi photojournalist, teacher and social activist. He has been a photographer for more than forty years and "his photographs have been published in almost every major western media outlet".[1]

Alam founded the Drik Picture Library in 1989, the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka in 1998, "which has trained hundreds of photographers",[1] and the Chobi Mela International Photography Festival in 1999. Alam is a visiting professor at the University of Sunderland in the UK. His books include Nature's Fury (2007) and My Journey as a Witness (2011).[2]

In 2014 he was awarded the Shilpakala Padak by the President of Bangladesh and in 2018 the Humanitarian Award from the Lucie Awards.

On 5 August 2018, Alam was arrested and detained shortly after giving an interview to Al Jazeera and posting live videos on Facebook that criticized the government's violent response to the 2018 Bangladesh road safety protests.[3] Many international humanitarian organisations and news media called for his release without charge. He was granted bail on 20 November 2018. He was one of the persons of the year selected by Time magazine in 2018.

Early life and education[edit]


Alam was born in Dhaka, East Pakistan (modern-day Bangladesh) in 1955. He grew up at Dhanmodi residential area of the same city. He was one of three siblings born to middle-class parents. His father was a scientist and his mother, a child psychologist. As a boy Alam was, easy to spot. In his childhood, he used to float through Dhaka's congested arteries atop his slight fold-up bicycle.[4] He studied at the boarding school Jhenidah Cadet College.

University studies[edit]

Alam took his undergraduate degree at University of Liverpool

Alam took his undergraduate education in the University of Liverpool. During his time in Liverpool he made a habit of walking in the streets in his lungi, a traditional South Asian garment. In his college year he was introduced to activism through his involvement with the Socialist Workers Party.[4] He graduated from the university in 1976 by earning his BSc in biochemistry and genetics.[5][6]

He relocated to London for his Doctor of Philosophy study at Bedford College, University of London. Alam started to take an interest in photograph during his time in London. At Bedford, he also worked as a research chemist to invent alternative printing processes for photographs.[7] In 1983, he won the Harvey Harris Trophy from London Arts Council for a photograph that he took. This boosted his confidence in pursuing a career in photography.[5][4] At the same year, he received his D.Phil in organic chemistry.[8]


Alam with the winners of the 2013 BOBs awards.

In 1989, he set up Drik Picture Library and in 1998, Pathshala South Asian Institute of Photography (later Pathshala South Asian Media Institute), in Dhaka.[9][10] Pathshala "has trained hundreds of photographers".[1][10]

He started the Chobi Mela International Photography Festival in 1999[10] and remains a director.[11] Alam has been a judge of the World Press Photo competition on four occasions, and was the first Asian chair of its judging panel.[12] He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2001.[13] He was a member of the jury board of The BOBs' award.[14] "His photographs have been published in almost every major western media outlet, including the New York Times, Time magazine and National Geographic".[1]

Alam set up the South Asian Media Academy.[9] He has covered news events including natural disasters, governmental upheavals, the deaths of garment factory workers, human rights abuses, Bangladeshi government and military's repression and the "disappearances" of political opponents.[2] His 2010 exhibition on extrajudicial killings[15] named as Crossfire curated by Peruvian curator Jorge Villacorta has been widely acclaimed, but was closed down by the police leading to nationwide protests.[9][16][17] The police barricade was removed after Drik's lawyers served legal notice on the government. The court's response and subsequent events enabled Drik to open the exhibition for public viewing on 31 March.[18][19]

In 2010, he co-curated the exhibition Where Three Dreams Cross at Whitechapel Gallery in London.[20] In 2012, he participated in the inaugural Kochi-Muziris Biennale held in Kerala, India.[20]

He is a visiting professor at the University of Sunderland in the UK.[21]


Crossfire is a series of photographs taken by Shahidul Alam, a Bangladeshi photographer, activist, and teacher. The exhibit was curated by one of Alam's colleagues, Jorge Villacorta, and was completed in 2010 and displayed at the Drik Gallery in Dhaka, Bangladesh.[22] The photographs show locations and objects where extrajudicial killings happened because of Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).[22] Human Rights Watch has called RAB a "death squad" because of these reported killings.[23] RAB was established in 2004 as a paramilitary force to combat gangsters and thugs in the streets, but in late 2007, the battalion was accused of over 350 extrajudicial killings and the torturing of hundreds more.[24] Before the exhibit opened to the public, RAB and local police closed the Drik Gallery because they believed the photographs would “create anarchy”.[25]

Arrest and bail[edit]

On 5 August 2018, Alam was taken from his home in Dhanmondi[26][27][28] shortly after giving an interview to Al Jazeera and posting live videos on Facebook that criticized the government's violent response to the 2018 Bangladesh road safety protests.[1][26] Alam had said the protests "stemmed from anger about widespread government corruption, and not just the bus accident that initially sparked them."[29] He was shown arrested by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police the next day.[28] Alam claims he was tortured.[9][10]

Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists urged the Bangladeshi government to immediately release Alam without filing charges,[1][30] as did Mumbai Press Club, Bombay News Photographer Association,[31] Reporters Without Borders,[9] Noam Chomsky,[32] Arundhati Roy,[32] Abdul Sattar Edhi's son Faisal Edhi,[33] and PEN International.[32] William Nicholas Gomes, a human rights defender and freelance journalist wrote an open letter to Bangladesh's ambassadors demanding the release of Alam.[34][35] William Nicholas Gomes also wrote to Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the 100 days of incarceration of Shahidul Alam requesting a country visit to Bangladesh.[36] As many as 426 academics from various universities in Australia urged the Government of Bangladesh to release him immediately.[37] On the other hand, Sajeeb Wazed, the son of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, questioned those defending and demanding freedom of Alam in a controversial Facebook post.[38][39]

Alam was released from prison on 20 November 2018 after being granted bail by Bangladesh High court.[40]


Publications by Alam[edit]

  • Nature's Fury. Hibrida; London: Concern Worldwide, 2007. ISBN 978-0955029974. Text in English and Urdu.
  • Portraits of Commitment. UNAIDS, 2009.
  • My Journey as a Witness. Skira, 2011. Edited by Rosa Maria Falvo. ISBN 978-88-572-0966-1.[2]
  • The Tide Will Turn. Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2019. ISBN 978-3-95829-693-0.

Other publications[edit]

  • Blink: 100 photographers, 10 curators, 10 writers. New York: Phaidon, 2002. 2004, ISBN 978-0714844589. Alam was a joint curator.
  • Under the Banyan Tree. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Pathshala, South Asian Media Academy, 2011. Edited by Alam. ISBN 9789843334442.
  • Ways of Life. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Drik Picture Library, 2014. Edited by Alam. ISBN 9789843383099. With an introduction by Rubana Huq.



  1. ^ a b c d e f Safi, Michael (6 August 2018). "Photographer charged as police crackdown in Bangladesh intensifies". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Estrin, James. "Wresting the Narrative From the West". Lens Blog. Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  3. ^ Sarwar, Beena. "Here's why the Bangladesh government made a huge mistake by jailing Shahidul Alam". The Washington Post. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Shifting the Lens: Shahidul Alam's radical ways of seeing Bangladesh". The Caravan.
  5. ^ a b "Shahidul Alam's new show combats Islamophobia, extremism". The Punch Magazine.
  6. ^ "Shahidul Alam Bangladeshi contemporary photojournalist". Artsome.
  7. ^ "Shahidul Alam: His Journey as a Witness". The Daily Star.
  8. ^ Karim, Elita (8 February 2008). "Changing the Face of Photography". The Daily Star. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e "An Acclaimed Photographer in Bangladesh Says He Was Tortured". The New York Times. 8 August 2018. Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Estrin, James. "Shahidul Alam: A Singular Voice in Photography for Dignity and Human Rights". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Chobi-Mela". Asia Pulse. United News of Bangladesh. 6 December 2004. Festival director for Chobi Mela Shahidul Alam presided.
  12. ^ Fariha Karim (April 2009), Shahidul Alam, Nafas Art Magazine, retrieved 31 March 2015
  13. ^ "Honorary Fellowships – RPS". Royal Photographic Society. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  14. ^ "DW Award: "The Bobs" names its winners for 2015". Deutsche Welle (Press release). Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  15. ^ Gonzalez, David. "Where Death Squads Struck in Bangladesh". Lens Blog. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  16. ^ Gonzalez, David (16 March 2010). "Where Death Squads Struck in Bangladesh". Lens Blog.
  17. ^ Bayazid Akter (22 March 2010). "'Crossfire' exhibition sparks angry police reaction". Demotix. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  18. ^ Rahnuma Ahmed (n.d.), Representing 'Crossfire': politics, art and photography, retrieved 31 March 2015
  19. ^ Mariátegui, José‐Carlos (2010). "Re‐interpretations in Crossfire and the Global Voice of Resistance: An installation by Shahidul Alam". Third Text. 24 (6): 760–763. doi:10.1080/09528822.2010.517928. S2CID 143018461.
  20. ^ a b "Arts and human rights organisations denounce arrest of Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  21. ^ "The Guardian view on Shahidul Alam: Bangladesh should let him go". The Guardian (Editorial). 8 August 2018. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  22. ^ a b Gonzalez, David (16 March 2010). "Where Death Squads Struck in Bangladesh". Lens Blog. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  23. ^ "Bangladesh 'death squad' trained by UK police resumes extrajudicial killing". The Guardian. 26 January 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  24. ^ Bergman, David. "Rapid Action Battalion: Bangladesh's notorious paramilitary force". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  25. ^ "Bangladesh: Allow Photo Exhibit of Crossfire Killings". Human Rights Watch. 24 March 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  26. ^ a b Arifur Rahman Rabbi (5 August 2018). "Photographer Shahidul Alam picked up from his home". Dhaka Tribune.
  27. ^ "A Bangladeshi Photographer's Arrest Is a Worrying Sign for Press Freedom". Time. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  28. ^ a b "Joy: Shahidul Alam's claim of torture, another ill motive against govt". Dhaka Tribune. 11 August 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  29. ^ "Photographer Shahidul Alam jailed for comments on Bangladeshi government corruption – British Journal of Photography". 15 August 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  30. ^ "Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam detained after post about Dhaka protests". Committee to Protect Journalists. 5 August 2018.
  31. ^ "Journalists condemn abduction of renowned photographer Shahidul Alam". India Today. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  32. ^ a b c "Pen International campaigner on arrest of acclaimed Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  33. ^ Yasmin Jaffri (22 August 2018). Humanitarian Ties: Why Shahidul Alam Admired Pak Philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi The Wire. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  34. ^ "Bangladesh: Release Mr. Shahidul Alam immediately from arbitrary detention". News Ghana. 8 August 2018. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  35. ^ "Release Shahidul Alam immediately from arbitrary detention". Countercurrents. 9 August 2018. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  36. ^ "Bangladesh: Letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the 100 days of incarceration of Shahidul Alam | News Ghana". Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  37. ^ "Statement from Australian academics urging the Government of Bangladesh to free RMIT University Adjunct Professor Dr Shahidul Alam – RMIT University". Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  38. ^ "Sheikh Hasina's Son Has Exposed the Deceit in the Case Against Shahidul Alam". The Wire. 14 August 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  39. ^ "Joy questions demand to free photographer Shahidul Alam". Bdnews24. 14 August 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  40. ^ "Bangladeshi Photographer Shahidul Alam Released on Bail". Time. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  41. ^ "Shilpakala Padak 2014 conferred". The Daily Star. 21 February 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  42. ^ "The Lucie Awards". Lucie Awards. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  43. ^ "Drik, Pathshala founder Shahidul Alam wins Lucie Award". Dhaka Tribune. 21 June 2018. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  44. ^ Sun, The Daily. "Shahidul Alam selected for int'l photography award". Daily Sun. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  45. ^ "Photographer Shahidul Alam wins Tribute Award from UK". New Age. 15 October 2018. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  46. ^ "Shahidul Alam wins ICP photography award". The dhakatribune. 9 February 2019. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  47. ^ "2019 Infinity Award: Special Presentation—Shahidul Alam". ICP. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  48. ^ "Shahidul Alam among winners of CPJ's 2020 International Press Freedom Awards". The Daily Star. Retrieved 14 July 2020.

External links[edit]