Since starting out as a photojournalist in 2011, Bangladeshi photographer Ismail Ferdous has become known for using social media to help shed light on social issues worldwide in more immediate, powerful and innovative ways. In 2015, he was named the recipient of the 2015 Getty Images Instagram Grant winner. On February 26, 2016, one of his pictures from the massive earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015 was among the ten showed by Instagram’s CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom to Pope Francis when the two discussed the power of photography to bring people together.
A few months into documenting the legacy of the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka — the world’s deadliest industrial accident in recent years — with his “After Rana Plaza” project (supported by the Dutch Embassy), Ismail talked to SDN. He discussed the challenges and rewards of carrying out a long-term project in different formats, and the advantages of publishing on social media versus traditional platforms, in terms of audience engagement and impact.
Caterina Clerici: You’ve been working on your documentary project After Rana Plaza for eight months now (at the time of the interview, in December 2015). Tell us how the idea came about and how you got started.
Ismail Ferdous: I started the After Rana Plaza project on the second anniversary of the collapse, on April 23, 2015. I had been following the story since the Rana Plaza tragedy happened and had been documenting the garment industry. I had already done some work on the topic of the cost of fashion in a video for The New York Times, as well as a documentary and an article for a photo activism website.
More than 2,500 workers were injured in the collapse and more than 1,100 died. I thought it would be interesting to follow-up on their stories. It’s easy to forget about events like these after a while, with other news happening everywhere. But I covered the issue right after it happened, so I had a personal attachment to it. Furthermore, I see these people everyday, they are workers in the city I live in. So that’s a constant reminder for me of the importance of the project, of why their stories should be told and we should still remember what the tragedy stands for.
CC: How did you choose what format to use for the project and how did you carry it out?
IF: I asked myself what could be an interesting way to tell this story and opted for social media: everyone can access it and you don’t have to wait for traditional media to publish the content. Instagram was the preferred choice because it’s not only a fun tool, it can also be an educational one. You’re able to follow it and to hear the stories of victims directly. Then I also built a stand-alone website for readers who wanted to know more about these stories.
I decided to interview one person a day, in detail, choosing not only victims but also stakeholders in the industry, like fashion designers, producers, et cetera. My aim all along has been to act as a commentator on the issue — not judging, just letting people read and think about it. It’s also meant to create a platform for those who want to be involved in the industry, to let them know more about it and make more informed choices.
CC: Why did you decide to integrate video in your work and how has the use of a ‘mixed format’ (shooting photography and video) made your project more successful on social media?
IF: I was always very fascinated by Instagram as a platform. When they started allowing you to post 15 second videos, I thought it could be a very powerful addition to the project, as I had never seen anyone using short videos like this.
Plus, as photographers we like to say that we are giving voice to the voiceless, so I thought this would be a way to actually accomplish that: you tap on the photo and you can hear the voice of the person I interviewed that day. I didn’t want to add subtitles to the videos because it would become a completely different experience, so I just chose to add a short paragraph with the subtitles instead.
CC: Did you ever feel like you were running the risk of losing focus by expanding the project on so many social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter..)?
IF: I never felt that using social media to publish, promote and distribute my project was making me lose focus. I didn’t have to wait for someone (traditional media) to publish this project, which is already a good thing. Moreover, having different platforms makes sense at this moment because you keep your options open: someone doesn’t like Facebook and they go to Instagram, or your website, or Vimeo or Twitter. This way it’s accessible to everyone and everyone has already seen it, although I still haven’t even published it anywhere. I also want to do a book and exhibition on it, but that’s still in the works.
CC: How was your work received at home and abroad?
IF: Surprisingly, I had a bigger response internationally than locally — probably that’s because Instagram is just not that big in Bangladesh yet and, after all, the issue of garments and fashion is global.
CC: Are there any changes happening thanks to your project? Have you been able to assess its impact?
IF: Every project, every picture has an impact – sometimes it’s immediate and more visible while other times it happens more slowly or you are just creating awareness and there are no tangible effects, but I believe all projects have some sort of impact.
By doing After Rana Plaza, for instance, I found out that a lot of people didn’t even know that the place had collapsed and found out about it through the project. Many people who are working in sustainable fashion have contacted me because they want to use the work to promote social corporate responsibility, and even the International Labour Organization reached out saying they were interested in using the work to raise awareness about the cost of fashion.
Once some guys in Bolivia saw a post on Instagram about a girl who lost her mother in the collapse and asked me how to get in touch with her directly and I redirected them to the Rana Plaza compensation fund. It’s great to give people the opportunity to contribute if they feel like doing something to help out the victims and their families after they’ve read their stories. I really feel good when I get a response like that, on such a personal level. It makes me think that this is actually getting to people, that they’re touched by these stories.
CC: What is the most memorable story you’ve encountered and documented, or the one that struck you the most?
IF: It’s hard to say, because all of the stories are extremely touching. I remember once photographing a man who had lost one of his legs in the collapse and was wearing a prosthesis to walk. As soon as he started talking he burst into tears and it seemed like it was still a very heavy story for him. Only after a while he told me that he had lost his girlfriend in the collapse — and it was obviously harder for him to get over that than having lost his leg.
CC: How do you get people to share their stores with you? Is it getting more or less difficult now that you’ve kept this going for a few months, both for you and for them?
IF: To do a project like this you have to gain their trust — they have to open up — so you have to build a relationship with them. I keep in touch with many of the people I interviewed, they still call me sometimes, just to chat. Most of their stories are very sad and the whole process is very traumatizing, for them but also very draining for me too. So far though, everyone I talked to has been very welcoming to me. Society tends to forget things easily, even a catastrophe like this, so it’s always good for them to see that someone else other than them hasn’t forgotten.
Ismail Ferdous is a Bangladeshi photographer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, whose work has been featured in The New York Times, New York Times Magazine, MSNBC, National Geographic, New Yorker and TIME Lightbox, among many others.
ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with more than 1,500 photographers from around around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,000 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website, www.socialdocumentary.net.
Spring 2016 Vol. 2/No. 1
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Editor: Barbara Ayotte
Copy Editor: John Rak
Intern: Emma Brown
Social Documentary Network Advisory Committee
Barbara Ayotte, Medford, MA
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
Management Sciences for Health
Kristen Bernard, Salem, MA
Marketing Web Director
EBSCO Information Services
Lori Grinker, New York, NY
Independent Photographer and Educator
Steve Horn, Lopez Island, WA
Ed Kashi, Montclair, NJ
Member of VII photo agency
Photographer, Filmmaker, Educator
Reza, Paris, France
Photographer and Humanist
Jeffrey D. Smith, New York NY
Contact Press Images
Steve Walker, New York, NY
Consultant and educator
Frank Ward, Williamsburg, MA
Photographer and Educator
Jamie Wellford, Brooklyn, NY
Photo Editor, Curator
ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2016
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibted on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Cover photo by Daro Sulakauri. Georgia. Leila fell in love with a boy that she met online. She escaped from her home and crossed the border from an occupied territory of Georgia to marry.
Photographers and writers featured in this issue of ZEKE Magazine.
Photographer Jan Banning was born in Almelo in 1954 and currently lives in Utrecht, Netherlands. He studied history at the Radbout University of Nijmegen before becoming a photographic artist. He puts the social and political environment at the fore of his work and often features subjects that have been neglected within the arts and are difficult to portray: state power, consequences of war, justice, and injustice. His project “Bureaucratics,” a comparative study of government officials, showcases his academic, socially conscious approach. This exhibition earned Jan worldwide recognition, and it was shown in museums and galleries in some 20 countries on five continents.
Among Banning’s books are Traces of War (2005), Comfort Women (2010), and Down and Out in the South (2013). Among Banning’s many awards is a World Press Photo Award. His documentary artwork has been widely published and is featured in both private and public collections, including the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Lisa Liberty Becker
Lisa Liberty Becker has written 90-plus articles for publication in Boston magazine, Boston Sunday Globe, Boston Globe magazine, Sports Illustrated Women, Women’s Basketball magazine, and others. She also has one published nonfiction book.
In addition to being a writer, Lisa is also an editor and a writing instructor. She lives in the Boston area and is currently working on her second book.
Caterina Clerici is an independent multimedia journalist based in New York. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she’s currently a freelance photo editor at TIME and the Special Issue Editor at SDN. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, La Stampa, Libération, Die Zeit, among others. You can follow her at @caterinaclerici.
Ara Oshagan’s work revolves around the themes of identity, community and bearing witness. Since 1995, he has been photographing and recording the oral histories of survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 — a collaborative work with Levon Parian and the Genocide Project, iwitness. For over eight years, Ara photographed extensively in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia for Father Land, a book project with his father, author Vahe Oshagan. Father Land was exhibited at the LA Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park from December 2010 to Februrary 2011 and at the powerHouse Arena Gallery in NY in December 2010.
Ara received a California Council on the Humanities Major Grant in 2001 to photograph the Armenian experience of Los Angeles. This work, “Traces of Identity,” was exhibited at the LA Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park and at the Downey Museum of Art.
Ara has received a grant from the California Council on the Humanities to photograph Ethiopian life in Los Angeles. In 2012, Ara spoke at the TEDxYerevan event, presenting a talk on “The Documentary Image as Identity.” That same year, he did a photographic/ architectural installation on the theme of “(Re)Population.” Ara’s work is currently in the permanent collection of the SouthEast Museum of Photography in Florida, the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, Downey Musuem of Art in Downey, California, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Yerevan, Armenia. Recently he has published A Poor Imitation of Death, a collaborative portrait of youth in the California prison system, and Mirror, reviewed in this issue of ZEKE.
Jordi Pizarro Torrell was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1985. He is a freelance documentary photographer currently based in New Dehli, India. He is mostly interested in his personal reportages, but also covers breaking news in South Asia. He currently is working on a long-term project entitled “Believers” which looks at traditions, cultures, and religions from an anthropological perspective in many different regions globally. He was awarded an honorable mention for this work from SDN in 2015.
The emphasis of Jordi’s work is largely focused on current social and environmental concerns that affect different communities, most of them not covered by major media. His main goal is to aid and increase awareness of issues affecting people and their environments in the world we live in, and he hopes that his photographs will contribute in some small way towards creating a more critical reflection of this world. He has been published in many international magazines including The New York Times, National Geographic, Time, Sunday Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Forbes, and El País. His work has been shortlisted for many awards and scholarships, earning recognition from Pictures Of the Year International (POYI), PDN Storytellers, Sony World Photography Awards, Burn Magazine, San Jose Foto, LensCulture Exposure Award, and Lucie Foundation, among others.
Margaret Quackenbush is a freelance reporter based in Boston. She graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University in January 2016. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Business Journal, The Dorchester Reporter, Eater Boston and other publications in the Boston area.
She was the 2016 coordinator for Boston University’s annual Power of Narrative conference, and was previously the managing editor of the Boston University News Service and a teaching assistant at BU. Margaret received a BA in English and history from St. Lawrence University in 2010 and previously worked at WGBH, Boston’s PBS station.
Probal Rashid is a documentary photographer and photojournalist working in Bangladesh, represented by Zuma Press, USA. He earned a post-graduate diploma in photojournalism at the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism (ACFJ) at Ateneo De Manila University in the Philippines through a World Press Photo scholarship program. He also holds an MBA.
His work has been published in many national and international newspapers and magazines such as National Geographic, Forbes, GEO, New York Post, Days Japan, Paris Match, The Wall Street Journal, Stern, RVA, The Telegraph, Focus Magazine and The Guardian. Moreover, his photographs have been exhibited in Bangladesh, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, UK, and USA. Additionally, the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts selected some of his works for their permanent collection.
Probal is the recipient of numerous awards for his work including the Pictures Of the Year International (POYi), Days Japan Photojournalism Award, China International Press Photo Award (CHIPP), NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism Awards, Yonhap International Press Photo Awards, KL International Photo Award, FCCT/OnAsia Photojournalism, “Zoom-in on Poverty” Global Photo Award, CGAP Microfinance Photo Award, WPGA Annual Pollux Awards in UK, International Year of Biodiversity Award, and the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar Contest.
Anne Sahler is an internationally published writer, photographer and graphic designer who divides her time between Japan and her homeland of Germany. She holds a master’s degree in Cultural Studies, History of Art and Religious Studies which fuels her interests in Japan, art and social activism. Her curious nature and never ending need for travel helps lend a clarity of prospective to an evermore complicated world.
Paula Sokolska is a freelance journalist in the Boston area and the Strategic Communications Associate at Health Leads. She has a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University where she specialized in science and narrative writing.
She has written for BU Today, BU News Service, Zeke: The Magazine of Global Awareness, and Spotted by Locals
Jamey Stillings, originally from Oregon, earned a BA in Art from Willamette University (1978), and an MFA in Photography from Rochester Institute of Technology (1982). Over three decades, Stillings built a commercial photography business, integrating both fine art and documentary work. In 2009, Stillings embarked on a personal project, “The Bridge at Hoover Dam,” documenting its monumental construction over the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Work from the bridge project has been published in over twenty magazines around the world and has won many awards. It has also been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the 2013 London exhibition “Landmark –- The Fields of Photography,” curated by William Ewing.
Stillings continues to seek new opportunities to integrate his aesthetic interest in the human-altered landscape with concerns for environmental sustainability. In October 2010, he commenced aerial photography over the future site of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert of California. “The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar” has received The Epson Creativity Award in the PDN Photo Annual 2015, First Place Fine Art in the APA Awards 2014, and First Place in the 2013 International Photography Awards (IPA) in the Editorial Environmental Professional category, among others. First published in June 2012 by The New York Times Magazine, this work has since been published around the world. Photographs from the project have been exhibited in the United States, the Netherlands, and Colombia. “The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar” is now both an exhibition and a book (Steidl, 2015). Stillings’ extended project, “Changing Perspectives,” will build upon the Ivanpah Solar body of work by expanding his look at contemporary energy development. Over the next few years, Jamey’s goal is to develop “Changing Perspectives” into a global study.
Daro Sulakauri was born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1985. After obtaining a degree from the Department of Cinematography at the Tbilisi State University, Daro moved to New York to study photojournalism at the School of the International Center of Photography (ICP). Before graduating in 2006, she was awarded the John and Mary Phillips Scholarship and recognized by the ICP Director’s Fund. Upon finishing, she returned to her native Georgia and continued doing photojournalism. She earned second place in the Magnum Foundation’s Young Photographer in the Caucasus contest for her series “Terror Incognita.” She was recognized by PDN as one of their “30 Under 30 / Women Photographers.” She also has won many other awards, including the 7th Julia Margaret Cameron Award, LensCulture Visual Storytelling awards, the EU Prize for Journalism, Human Rights House in London, shortlisted for the Magnum Foundation’s Emergency Photographers Fund, OSF grant, and more.
Daro is now based in Georgia, where she documents social issues of the Caucasus. Her work has been published in many well-known publications such as Forbes, Mother Jones, Sunday Times, New York Times Lens, Saveur, The Economist, Vision, and Bloomberg.
Jan Zychlinski was born in 1961 in Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) in the former GDR/East Germany. He studied history and German philology and, after the end of the German Democratic Republic, social sciences and social work. For more than 15 years, he has been involved in many activities such as social work, urban development, and flood relief projects in East Germany and after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Since 2007, Jan has been a lecturer in Social Urban Development at the Berner University of Applied Science, with an additional focus on social photography. He is a self-taught photographer who has taken his humanitarian perspective around the world to document human experiences during crises and in everyday life. From September 2014-February 2015, Jan travelled through the South Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan) to document the fate and living conditions of refugees from the conflicts after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The resulting book, Beyond the Borders, focuses on people whose stories are representative of the millions of other “forgotten” refugees. In his work and travels, Jan insists on being human first, and photographer second.