NGO Photography | Bangladesh

There is nothing like starting off 2019 with looking back at 2017. Oops. I was out at dinner the other night and some friends pointed out that they hadn’t seen many photos from this trip. So, I finally got it together to share.

I have traveled with Heifer International in the past for NGO photography to Peru. This time, Jason Woods and I headed to Bangladesh. For more organizational stories, please read his article on the work being done there or watch the video below:

But, I wanted to make this post from my point of view. I’m just trying to write as someone who is interested in culture, taking photos and meeting people around the world. The thing that most struck me about Bangladesh was that there were people everywhere. It is the most densely populated country on the planet with 164 million people living in a country about the same size as New York state. Obviously, that means in urban centers, the density is huge, but where it most struck me was out on rural dirt roads, miles away from the highway. We would still be passed or passing hundreds of people who are trying to make their lives.

One thing that was really fun for a photographer was that cameras and photos were very normal in the culture. I am sure that photos of me are on hundreds of cameras across the countryside. But, because of the ubiquity of cameras, most people were really open to having their photos taken. As an outside in a culture, I really value making some sort of asking gesture (because I don’t speak the Bangla) before taking photos, but it was one of the most natural settings for portrature that I’ve every worked in.

Often when making portraits, people either smile or become totally stoic. I’m not usually trying to make photos of people in a pose, but of them in their natural state. I was amazed at how often I would be able to walk up to someone, show my camera in a questioning fashion and just get a simple nod without any other change to their body language.

For me, one of the hardest parts of these trips is driving past things I wants to photograph. Luckily, when we passed these fishermen working on the Padma River, everyone wanted to get out and look at them working. It was harsh light, which created an etherial and almost purgatory setting for the photos, like you didn’t know what else was outside the haze we were in. But, it was fascinating to watch them move, adjust and use these massive bamboo structures to cantilever the nets up and down, scooping fish from the river.

Fishermen work on boats and nets on the Padma River
I’m particularly fond of these images because both were made from the back seat of a moving vehicle.

This was one of the most fun families we got to interview during the trip. They were open, warm, hospitible and happy to be photographed. Jason even played snakes and ladders with them. Joly Begum and Mohammed Hanif Khan used their land to grow a wide diversity of crops including papayas, limes as well as chickens and goats. It was incredible to see what a small gift from Heifer had done to kickstart their livlihood.

Heifer International – Bangladesh, October 2017. – Joly Begum (29) and Mohammed Hanif Khan (40) tend to their papaya grove

It’s hard to write a summary for a trip like this. So, I’m not really going to try. It was beautiful, wonderful, fascinating and humbling. I’m so honored that Heifer and the people we met allow me to help tell their stories. We’ll be off to Ecuador in February for another trip. So, I can’t wait to see what stories come from the Andes.

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