Monthly Archives: August 2012

Child Labour: Children and Machines

A young boy operates a lathe in a small machining shop in Sadarghat, Dhaka.

I found this boy working in a small shop in Sadarghat. The shop was about two metres squared and contained nothing but this machine and a wall of mounted tools. There were no safety guards of any sort on the machine, and he was regularly sticking his fingers into the gears to brush out small pieces of metal. Even the belts in the foreground were dangerous, randomly flinging small metal shards into the air.

If you haven’t seen it yet, have a look at my full story on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

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Dhaka: Places People Sleep

For most people I know going to sleep involves closing the door to their bedroom, setting an alarm clock and turning off the lights. But for the lower classes in Dhaka, recently voted the world’s most unlivable city, sleeping is often done when and where possible. On the side of a busy intersection, inside their rickshaws, or on a piece of cardboard on the street; these are just a few of the places people sleep in Bangladesh’s capital. Follow the link for my full project on Dhaka Life.

Sleeping on a bench at the side of the road near the Sadarghat boat terminal, Dhaka.

A man sleeps under a desk in a small workshop in Sadarghat.

An elderly woman holds a baby tight as they sleep on the street near the Kaoran Bazaar, Dhaka.

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Child Labor in Bangladesh: Auto Worker

A young boy repairs a car engine in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

With Ramadan (the biggest religious Muslim holiday) in full swing, the traffic has evolved from the ordinarily terrible to utter insanity. The newspaper announces dozens of new dead daily, killed in bus and rickshaw crashes. Two photographer friends of mine who are in the city now witnessed the unceremonious dumping of a 16-year-old boy’s corpse into a garbage pile in Old Dhaka yesterday, the result of a motorcycle taxi accident. Commuting to and from shooting sites has been predictably stressful.

I found this auto repair shop on a side street near the train station, staffed almost completely with child workers. He looked to be about 7 years old, yet he seemed more competent in engine maintenance that I will likely ever be.

This is part of a larger project on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

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Bangladesh: Child Labor in Dhaka

A young boy washes recently machined metal parts in a small factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. These shops are ubiquitous in the city and many young workers earn as little as $40 per month.

“Sir, why do you take photos?” asks the shops foreman.

“I am trying to show the life of the people,” I reply, somewhat avoiding the real focus of my project.

“Child labor?” he asks, knowingly.

“Well, yes.”

“Very good Sir!” he replies, smiling broadly, “In Dhaka there are many good photos for you.”

This sort of conversation has become commonplace while documenting the child workers found throughout Bangladesh’s capital. At first I was taken aback by the total transparency with which people were willing to talk about an issue that I felt they would naturally avoid. But now I realize that this is the reality of Bangladesh: incredibly resilient people who do what they have to do to survive.

The shooting has been simultaneously very easy, and incredibly difficult. Access to the child workers, which I imagined would be very difficult to get, has been completely free. Factory owners wave me into their workshops with smiles and then stand patiently as I make images of the dreary conditions from multiple angles. At first I thought that they didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but I now know that they understand completely. This is just part of life in the world’s most densely populated country.

What has made this project challenging is the fact that there are simply no tourists in Bangladesh. Apart from a group of South Korean volunteers, I have seen virtually no one I can distinguish as foreign. As a result, whenever I stop somewhere to shoot, people crowd the scene, eager to have their photo taken. Isolating a subject becomes almost impossible unless they are backed into a corner, and since I only carry a 17-35 mm wide angle lens, portraits of a single person are mostly out of the question. I’m shooting upward of 700 photos every two hours just trying to get 2-3 usable ones.

But Bangladeshi hospitality is some of the best I’ve ever experienced. For all the headaches I couldn’t have imagined a more welcoming people, and for that I am grateful.

I recently met the inspiring and talented Bangladeshi photojournalist GMB Akash who gave me a copy of his wonderful book Survivors. I’m working on a full length post just about him and his book, the product of 15 years of shooting in his home country. More on that later.

This is part of a larger project on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

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Bangladesh: Dhaka and Child Labour

A young boy, working in an engine repair shop, shows his oil covered hands.

I’ve been trying to make a post from Bangladesh for the last few days but have been stopped by a terrible Internet connection and a hotel staff that, though exceptionally friendly, seems oblivious to the problem.

Two days ago I asked the manager if it was possible to improve the connection, to which he replied “no problem Sir, I will send the internet cable to your room”. By 10:30 p.m. no one had shown up so I gave up and went to bed only to be woken up at midnight by an urgent knocking at my door. One of the cleaning staff, who I think is about 17, greeted me politely and proudly offered me an Ethernet cable. Half asleep I thanked him and shut the door, only to realize after ten minutes of searching that there was no place to plug it in to.

The next morning I returned the cable to the manager, who then immediately asked me to add him to Facebook.

Bizarre service aside, Dhaka has been an intense and visceral experience. It is the middle of Ramadan, so traffic is suffocating. I spend a minimum of two hours a day commuting to and from locations, and the shooting is arduous. Because there is essentially no tourism industry here, especially so in the areas I am visiting, I am a huge spectacle for the local people. If I stop walking for more than one minute an audience gathers around me, often as many as 20 people standing in a semi circle and staring. It is unnerving to look away from the viewfinder and find myself totally surrounded.

But the Bangladeshis are incredibly photogenic and very open to having their pictures taken, so the images have been great, though the subject matter is heavy. Child labour is endemic in Bangladesh, though I am learning the issue is not as cut and dried as I thought.

The Wi-Fi seems to work for a 20-30 minute window at 7 a.m. every morning, so I’ll try and keep the posts more regular from now on.

This is part of a larger project on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

A slum along the train tracks near Kaoran Bazaar, Dhaka.

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