Jiri’s World

Jiri Rezak is a Czech-born, London-based photographer. When he was 19 he worked as a teacher trainer for a voluntary organisation in rural Bangladesh. Whilst he was out there he picked up a camera and proceeded to change his life. He’s since become a professional photographer and judging from his work that he’s put together on his site, a damn good one.

Shipbreakers

He describes how Bangladesh, its people and perceptions of poverty affected his work and life when he was there:

At the age of 19, I arrived in Bangladesh on the 1st November 1993, to serve as a volunteer in a rural education project for a 20-month period. Never before had I owned a camera or thought of taking pictures for a documentary purpose. It was only a few days before my departure that my father persuaded me to take photos, as these would be moments captured for memory, a visual diary of the life and things happening there. At first, I was against the idea, insisting that in Bangladesh - where I intended to go to ‘help’ - I could not possibly be a ‘tourist’ and snap people’s poverty and deficiencies.

Nevertheless, I took my first camera, a Canon T70 along with one simple zoom lens, and started snapping. Bangladesh, its people and culture changed my perspective on things. No longer did I imagine a nation needing ‘help’ in some form, but what I saw was almost a mirror image of my imagination: slum children joyfully playing in the dirt, laughing more than the kids I went to school with in Germany. Landless farmers who did not know how to earn the next meal inviting me for tea and a meal in their huts. Maimed and deformed beggars asking me where I was from and preferring a chat to the few Takas I could have given them.

This is not to illustrate that there is no poverty, misery and a great lack of things we take for granted in the west. There is. However, during my 20-month stay I learned not to be judgmental about the condition people were living in. I learned that in different places, the world has different definitions, as Carlos Castaneda once put it. What I learned was to quietly observe.

It was chiefly the people, their spirit and joy of life that encouraged me to take a camera wherever I went in Bangladesh. What I became interested in is commonly referred to in photojournalism as ‘Daily Life’. Capturing ordinary things, ordinary people living their usual way of life turned into a personal project for me. It so starkly contrasted the mass-media projection of Bangladesh as a hurricane-stricken poverty trap at the margins of the Subcontinent I was fed with in the West. I do not claim to have had an ‘insider’ point of view during my stay there, but I do know that what I captured on film is life as it goes on, despite the poverty and shaky situation that prevails.

Karwan Bazar

See Jiri’s travel stories for yourself.

102 Responses to “Jiri’s World”

  1. sonia Says:

    “I could not possibly be a ‘tourist’ and snap people’s poverty and deficiencies.”

    right - from his perspective - but what could he be possibly be seen as but a tourist by the locals? one of them? obviously not. a curiosity that’s what - and a more interesting one than a rich bangladeshi.

  2. sonia Says:

    and there’s nothing wrong with that - but let’s not pretend. the voyeurism of photography/photojournalism isn’t something we can pretend isn’t there.

  3. Sid D H Arthur Says:

    Looking at Jiri’s photos, its immediately apparent just how deeply he managed to see into the daily lives of ordinary Bangladeshis. To the point of becoming invisible to them, not seeing his camera as a voyeur. I found it fascinating how his attitude to poverty changed in the bargain.

  4. Vikrant Singh Says:

    Even though i’m in middle of exams i couldnt resist a peek at your blog (facilitated by various proxy servers to over ride my father’s firewall!)

    Few years ago I read a story about this remarkable bangladeshi guy called Motalib… Check it out1
    http://www.idfa.nl/dfs_catalogueitem.asp?filmid=20213

  5. Sid D H Arthur Says:

    Hey Vik
    How’ve you been? What’s with your father and his firewalls? Good luck with the exams and thanks for the link.

  6. Vikrant Says:

    My step-dad actually…. Its pretty bad having a compunerd for a step-dad; He pulled the plug on my net when my mom started complaining about the amount of time i spend on the internet!

  7. Sid D H Arthur Says:

    Well they’re absosutely right. Go study.

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