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Agence VU - Munem Wasif
Munem Wasif

Having grown up in the small town of Comilla, Munem Wasif’s dream kept changing from becoming a pilot to a cricket player and then a photographer. But none of these choices made his father happy. Later in life he moved to the comparably big city Dhaka. He obtained his diploma in photography from Pathshala, a life changing experience, which made him aware of his stories, gave him a photographic voice to photograph stories such as: the dying industry and afflicted workers of jute and tea, excluded people and disrupted lands due to environmental change and salt water, and the city so close to his heart: Old Dhaka.

Wasif prefers to photograph the people he knows. Therefore his country Bangladesh is his first, and favourite field of investigation. He never finds it a problem to be treated as a storyteller of a humanistic tradition, classical in his photographic approach, as long as it shows compassion and the emotional he experiences when photographing his subjects. With an outlook of a traditional style, he goes against the clichés, going from one direction he allows himself to grow in different directions, like the branches on a tree going their separate ways, yet with the same root of humanistic approach.

Since 2008, he has been represented by Agence Vu in Paris. He was one of the curators of Chobimela VII, International Festival of Photography. Currently he is teaching documentary photography in Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute.


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Portfolio

Stories

Belonging, Old Dhaka (2013)

Puran Dhaka, or Old Dhaka, was a rather unlikely subject, it has always existed all around me since I live there. It was like trying to find the unseen within my everyday routine. Old Dhaka had made me appreciate properly cooked greasy food, the sleaziest of slang and it is where I had come to rediscover the same small town pulse of holding on to things rather than letting go. I spent my childhood in Comilla, a small district town urrounded by mostly rural settings and steep with old customs and a dated lifestyle. These years had made me not just appreciate but rather feel at home with relations which emboldened from the duration of time spent and bordered on tradition more than trend....

Shahbag Square: Protests against war crimes (2013)

On February 5, 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh sentenced Abdul Kader Mollah to life imprisonment after he was proven guilty of five out of the six charges against him. Within hours of the verdict, mass discontent broke out in Bangladesh because most people were expecting capital punishment for Mollah. In addition, there was concrete fear that the life sentence was part of a "back door" deal, which would allow Mollah to later be released as part of some alliance between Awami League and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The bloggers and online activists gave a voice to the public opinion and called for a mass demonstration at the Shahbag intersection in central Dhaka. They...

Bangladesh, Charak Puja (2012)

The last day of Bengali year is observed all over rural Bangladesh as “Charak Puja”, a carnival where people arrange village fair and rituals. The believers of the Hindu religion celebrate this day to carry prosperity and to forget the grief and sufferings of the previous year. Also known as "Nil Puja", it is a celebration to satisfy "Lord Shiva". The arrangement starts from village to village to procure the necessary components like paddy, oil, sugar, salt, honey, money and other items with the arranged cosmetics such as Shiva, Parvati and Narod. The cosmetic Shiva is locally called "Nil Pagol" or "JalKatha". On midnight, the worshippers are gathered together to worship the God...

In God We Trust, Bangladesh (2010)

Munem Wasif has been steadily pursuing the work which established his reputation from his very first pictures. He continues to work in his own country, Bangladesh, and while he travels to present exhibitions and give talks, he feels he must report on situations seen from the inside; and since September 11, Islam has become a central issue, seen from the outside, in the context of the “War on Terror,” leading to problems and prejudice. Wasif, as a bearded Bangladeshi, says he has often been aware of the way people look at him with suspicion or even hostility, for example in the Paris underground, and even more so with immigration police checking passports. This is striking as external...

Exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, London (2010)

Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh 21 January – 11 April 2010 The Whitechapel Gallery presents the first major survey of historic and contemporary photography from the subcontinent. This landmark exhibition explores culture and modernity through the lens of photographers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, with over 400 works by 82 artists. Images on show range from the earliest days of photography in 1860 to the present day. Seminal works from the most important collections of historic photography, including the renowned Alkazi Collection in Delhi, the Drik Archive in Dhaka, the Abhishek Poddar Collection in Bangalore, and the...

Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (2009)

During three years of political and ethnic crisis in East-Timor, 150 000 people were forced to avoid their villages, and more than 5000 houses were razed. The government is not able to commence reconstruction efforts before ethnic and security problems are resolved. The resumption of political and security efforts on the island has only been possible until recently (as of May 2009), by relocating police and military forces in districts under the control of looters and bandits. Populations attempt to rebuild their lives in abandoned villages. They work on foundations for the circulation of people and information: roads, schools, and barracks are still under construction. The...

IDP's camps in the South Philippines (2009)

In the South Philippines, on Mindanao Island, some 200 000 civilians are living in IDP’s camp, because of interethnic violence. Nowadays, the Philippines must contain clashes between Muslim communities of the south and their Catholic neighbours. In a recent engagement, on August 18 2008, 16 Catholics were killed in this region as a response to the local government’s efforts to stop an autonomist movement in Mindanao. Munem Wassif exposes the daily life in the refugee camps of the Mindanao region. Many of the refugees were victims of the August 18 attack, and their lives are marked by fears of new violence. Adding to this perpetual state of fear are dangerous life conditions...

Salty tears (Prix Pictet 2008), Bangladesh (2009)

The lack of drinking water in Bangladesh. In Southwest Bangladesh, in the Satkhira district, water is invading lands only to bring destruction. Beause it’s saturated with salt. Munem Wasif crosses those desolated lands, testifying the damages of global warming.

Stone Workers of Jaflong, Bangladesh (2008)

The Piyain river flows in the valley bringing water from the mighty Himalayas. On one river bank, ten thousand labourers work relentlessly- in fact 2,500 of them are women, and nearly 1,500 children. « Dhaka houses that look like palaces, where rich men live, are made from the same stones we sieve from the river. But in this day of hardship, we hardly have money for a bowl of rice," says Kulsum Begum, 52. The Piyain brings with it several million tons of stone boulders. The workers who earn less than two dollars a day, meet 90 percent of the stones required to supply the growing demand for the booming construction industry of the country.

Rohingya Refugees: Illegal immigrants from Myanmar (2008)

The Rohingya refugees are a Muslim ethnic minority who live in the Northern State of Arakan or Rakhine State near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. In 1978, a total of 167,000 Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh, following 'Operation Nagamin Sit Sin Yay' (Dragon King) of the Myanmar Army, which resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution. [Figure Source: SAFHR: South Asian Forum for Human Rights] After international pressure, the Government of Myanmar allowed most of the Rohingyas who had fled to Bangladesh to return but during 1991-92, a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. Forced out of Burma, they...

Blood splinter of jute, Bangladesh (2007)

Jute is the golden fibre of Bangladesh, and our national asset. When it wasn’t sure to maintain production at a satisfactory level, all the factories in the Karnaphuli Jute Mill LTD Khulna, the FKC and the Kaum and Peoples' Jute Mill LTD closed. This situation is due to several factors, such as the status of workers, the crisis of raw jute, the extreme financial crisis, the lack of production, and insufficient electricity. There was a time when jute was the backbone of Bangladeshi agriculture. But the radiant history of this golden fibre has been wiped out brutally from the lives of millions of people. A total of 3645 varieties of jute including Tossa, Bagi, Deshi Naillya and others...

Tale of lost paradise : Climate refugees, Bangladesh (2007)

In the last 10 years, farmers like Hatem Ali have had to disassemble and move their tin-and-bamboo houses five times to escape the encroaching waters of the huge Brahmaputra River in Kurigram. This river is swollen out of all proportion by severe monsoon that scientists attribute to global warming and melting ice in the Himalayas.. Bangladesh with a population of 140 million people crammed into an area slightly smaller than the state of Illinois is a target of the most vulnerable to global warming. Some must live with the memory of losing grip on their child when he is swept away by tidal waves at angry awakening of Sidr; Some may still view their lost crops swaying in the fields and today...

Tainted tea, Bangladesh (2005)

Estate — maybe just a word, and yet words have their own tales. Picturesque plush green fields, healthy livestock grazing, and that grand mansion, are all etched in popular history. Yet, there are tales of lives which have remained shaded, in fact shadowed, under clouds that caress either the fertile fields, or for that matter the flowing hills of Tea Estates of Assam in India, or Sylhet and Hobiganj in Bangladesh. They are the tales of cornered lives, chronic poverty and chained hope. This is the tale of ‘Tainted Tea’. prawling green hills, petit women in colourful saris, picking tea leaves and throwing them into the tukri on their back — the image we are shown. A picture...

Books

Belonging

Having grown up in the small town of Comilla, Munem Wasif’s dream kept changing from becoming a pilot to a cricket player and then a photographer. But none of these choices made his father happy. Later in life he moved to the comparably big city Dhaka. He obtained his diploma in photography from Pathshala, a life changing experience, which made him aware of his stories, gave him a photographic voice to photograph stories such as: the dying industry and afflicted workers of jute and tea, excluded people and disrupted lands due to environmental change and salt water, and the city so close to his heart: Old Dhaka.

Wasif prefers to photograph the people he knows. Therefore his country Bangladesh is his first, and favourite field of investigation. He never finds it a problem to be treated as a storyteller of a humanistic tradition, classical in his photographic approach, as long as it shows compassion and the emotional he experiences when photographing his subjects. With an outlook of a traditional style, he goes against the clichés, going from one direction he allows himself to grow in different directions, like the branches on a tree going their separate ways, yet with the same root of humanistic approach.
Text by: Christian Caujolle

Publisher: Editions Clémentine de la FéronniÚre (2013)
160 pages
Size: 16,8 x 21,8 cm  

Larmes salées / Salty Tears

In the far south-west of Bangladesh, the remarkable and gripping photographs of Munem Wasif show the consequences of the global warming and of the intensive culture of prawns on his country’s ecosystem. The salinity raised and traditional agriculture is not a possibility anymore. Birds, fishes, insects; every creature that lived on this soil has been burned by the tyranny of the brackish water. That is how 6 million persons suffer from this
catastrophe caused by the lack of fresh water.
Text by: Pavel Partha et Francis Hodgson

Publisher: Images Plurielles (2011)
120 pages
Size: 22 x 22 cm
ISBN :2919436015   

Bangladesh, Standing on the edge

Looks, hands, bodies, and the presence of pain, sorrow, and anxieties, light
and meetings, interrogations and determination, with many other things,
cross over Munem Wasif’s pictures. We could sum up his own photographic
practice in two points: people and frame. Indeed, he is part of a humanist
tradition, totally contemporary, of focusing on people and on what they
live, suffer, and endure because contemporary world is pitiless, shook by
climatic disruption and economical calculation. A world that leaves people
on the side for the sake of speed and profits. It’s good that the look of a
Wasif remembers us that they exist, that they are men, women, and children,
“people of modest means” like us who suffer more than us. In photography,
the approach, or the representation of suffering and exclusion, is often
stuck in a jumble of finer feelings, moreover generous, which produce
maudlin call for compassion, and pictures which end up tiring us, and,
because they repeat themselves, which complete to anaesthetize our capacity
to react. Wasif is the opposite of that: he questions and mobilizes us. It’s
nothing and yet essential. We can’t cast doubt on his commitment to those
whom he photographs, excluded people, victims taken in the panic of a world
governed by the profit race, and blinded by immediate goals and market
purposes. He embodies it, in a radical way, he imposes and shows us this
form. It’s here that the frame is important. A way to cut out the world, to
sum up it in a series of strict views, classical in their composition, and
which oblige us to see and perceive the words. Munem Wassif frames curtly,
clearly, almost harshly. Without flourishes. He asks us to watch, to see, to
take a stand.

Text by Christian Caujolle
Text by: Christian Caujolle

Publisher: e-center (2008)
54 pages  

Awards


    2010 - Honorary mention for his work « Salt water tears » in Anthropographia award

    2010 - Prize for Excellence in the category of « News Picture Story – Freelance-Agency » for the Pictures of the Year International Competition.

    2008 - Honourable Mention in "Envrionmental Picture Story and Entreprise Picture Story" category of " the best of photojournalism"

    2008 - Silver Prize in the Daily Life and excellence award in War and Disaster news category of China International Press

    2008 - International Award for concerned photography F25 of Fabrica (Italy)

    2008 - City of Perpignan Young Reporter’s Award for his work "Bangladesh, standing on the edge"

    2008 - Pictet Prize

    2008 - Scoop International Festival of Angers, Young reporter Award.

Exhibitions



Belonging (Paris)
From 2013-10-17 to 2013-11-17

Puran Dhaka, or Old Dhaka, was a rather unlikely subject. For it existed all around me. I live here. It was almost trying to find the unseen within the everyday. Through the frames, my Old Dhaka started to divulge unseen lives and throw back at me more agonising questions of assimilation, and even worse, deletion. As I started to see, the world that was just ordinary and domestic started to unravel in an intricate web of ages-old wisdom and tradition. Festivals, like Holi celebrated with all its grandeur at Shankharibazaar, which had seemed as just fun with throwing colors at one another...

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Bangladesh, standing on the edge (Foncquevillers)
From 2012-05-27 to 2012-09-30

Munem Wasif's documentary photography looks at people at the margins of society, left by the wayside, ignored, forgotten or oppressed. His topics range from migration to climate change to urban life. In this exhibition, Munem Wasif has taken on serious issus in his native Bangladesh and exposed them to the world. These are critical subjects that dare audiences to pause and face difficult moments. The Burmese regime, near the border with Bangladesh, makes the Rohingyas suffer untold atrocities and deprives them of citizenship rights in their native country. In Bangladesh, Rohingyas refugees...

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Salt Water Tears (Saint-Leu)
From 2012-05-25 to 2012-09-30

Munem Wasif found a region where changes to a single measurable fact - salinity levels in the water table - can be seen to have affected every part of the matrix of balances. His images testifiy the damages of global warming in the everyday life of a specific population.

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Chobi Mela VI international Festival of Photography 2011 (Dhanmondi Dhaka )
From 2011-01-21 to 2011-03-02

Salt Water Tears- "Rippling sea waves, dried river beds and endless fields. Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. A family needs about six pitchers of water a day, and they have to walk seven miles to get it. There is no fresh water any more, only a salty, rotten corpse. Shrimp farming has choked off the very foundation of coastal agriculture. Birds, fishes, insects-- everything on the land has been burnt away by the tyranny of brackish water.”

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Salt Water Tears (Rotterdam)
From 2010-09-04 to 2010-12-05


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In God We Trust (Perpignan)
From 2010-08-28 to 2010-09-12

Islam is the religion of Bangladesh, practiced by over 130 million Muslims (almost 90% of the population and the fourth-largest Muslim population in the world). Religion has always been a strong part of the national identity and atheism is extremely rare. Misguided perceptions of Islam, usually via western observers, are often based on prejudice and ignorance, seeing the religion as fundamentalist, extremist or terrorist. Here is a non-western perspective. It is how we Muslims see our religion and how 9/11 has affected us.

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The Prix Pictet Laureates (Lausanne)
From 2010-06-18 to 2010-07-25

MusĂ©e de l’ElysĂ©e presents the first exhibition of the winners 2008-2009 of the The Prix Pictet. Sponsored by Pictet&Cie, it’s the world’s first prize dedicated to photography and sustainability. Munem Wasif’s commission was shot on location in South-West Bangladesh where Pictet were supporting the work of Water Aid. The result was a series of searing photographs of forgotten lives.

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Salt Water Tears (Hanovre)
From 2010-06-16 to 2010-06-20

Munem Wasif est parti Ă  la rencontre de la communautĂ© de Satkhira au sud-ouest du Bangladesh, rĂ©gion touchĂ©e par les ravages des changements climatiques. Il a photographiĂ© ses habitants, recueilli leurs tĂ©moignages, rĂ©vĂ©lant les nombreux problĂšmes d’approvisionnement en eau et les risques rencontrĂ©s par ceux-ci au quotidien. L’avancĂ©e de la mer sur les terres anĂ©antit les cultures et pousse toujours plus loin la recherche d’eau potable. Salt Water Tears est Ă©galement prĂ©sentĂ© du 23 avril au 8 mai au Free Word Centre dans le cadre du London International Documentary...

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Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 years of Photogrpahy from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (Londres)
From 2010-01-21 to 2010-04-11

This landmark exhibition gives an inside view of how modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been shaped through the lens of their photographers. From the days when the first Indian-run photographic studios were established in the 19th century, this exhibition tells the story of photography’s development in the subcontinent with over 400 works that have been brought together for the first time. It encompasses social realism and reportage of key political moments in the 1940s, amateur snaps from the 1960s and street photography from the 1970s. Contemporary photographs reveal the reality...

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Water salinity in Bangaldesh - Pictet Commission 2009 (Londres)
From 2009-03-09 to 2009-03-21

Munem Wasif was recognized by the partners of Pictet & Cie for his humanitarian aid project WaterAid Bangladesh during the Prix Pictet in 2008. Munem Wasif has made two trips to Satkhira, where WaterAid works regularly with the delivery of drinking water, and construction of a permanent health clinic in the Shyamnagar Upazilla region. Munem Wasif’s images reveal the daily impact of the shortage of clean drinking water on the people of southwestern Bangladesh.

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The blood splinter of jute ()
From 2009-02-03 to 2009-02-12

Once upon a time, jute was the life-giving force in Bangladeshi agriculture. But the radiant history of this golden fibre has been wiped out brutally from the lives of millions of people. A total of 3645 varieties of jute including Tossa, Bagi, Deshi Naillya and others are found in this country; an impressive possession of natural resources for a small country like ours. The history of exporting jute from this region is quite an ancient one. Centring on Dundee of Scotland, jute industries of this Bengal region flourished. There were 77 jute mills in the country in Pakistan period. But, at...

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Rohingya Refugees, Illegal immigrants from Myanmar (Siem Reap)
From 2008-11-23 to 2008-11-28

Munem Wasif's documentary photography looks at people at the margins of society, left by the wayside, ignored, forgotten or oppressed. His topics range from migration to climate change to urban life. In this exhibition, Munem Wasif has taken on serious issus in his native Bangladesh and exposed them to the world. These are critical subjects that dare audiences to pause and face difficult moments. The Burmese regime, near the border with Bangladesh, makes the Rohingyas suffer untold atrocities and deprives them of citizenship rights in their native country. In Bangladesh, Rohingyas refugees...

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Old Dhaka ()
From 2008-10-06 to 2008-10-31

Puran Dhaka, or Old Dhaka, was a rather unlikely subject. For it existed all around me. I live here. It was almost trying to find the unseen within the everyday. Old Dhaka had made me appreciate properly cooked greasy food, the sleaziest of slang, and it is where I had come to rediscover the same small town pulse of holding on to things than letting go. My own childhood years in Comilla, a small district town surrounded by mostly rural settings and steep with customs and old world lifestyle, had made me not just appreciate but rather feel at home with relations which emboldened from the...

More information...



Bangladesh, standing on the edge. City of Perpignan Young Reporter’s Award (Perpignan)
From 2008-08-30 to 2008-09-14

Munem Wasif's documentary photography looks at people at the margins of society, left by the wayside, ignored, forgotten or oppressed. His topics range from migration to climate change and urban life.Munem Wasif has looked at serious issues in his native Bangladesh where a population of 140 million is crowded into an area smaller than the American state of Wisconsin.

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