2015 — student runner-up
Rahul Talukder is a documentary photographer born in Bangladesh in 1991. What started as a passion for street photography later turned into a career choice. In 2011, he joined Pathshala to study photography. Since then, he has been documenting the political unrest and major national events. In 2013, he followed up on the protests for and against the accused of The International Crimes Tribunal (Bangladesh). His recent works illustrate the various issues related to the garment industry. He is currently a second-year student at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute.
His works have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and several other international media. He was selected as a finalist in the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards Student Focus.
On 24 April, 2013 an eight-story building collapsed in Savar, near the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, killing more than 1,134 people and 2,420 have been rescued alive; many of them now live with permanent disabilities. Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories, had been designed with only six stories and intended for shops and offices only. Two further stories had been added, and the collapse was in part blamed on the weight and vibration of the garment factories’ heavy machinery. Rana Plaza had been briefly shut down the day before, when cracks appeared in its walls and pillars, but factory workers had been called back in, hours before the building fell. Rana Plaza collapse is the second largest global human-made industrial disaster after the Bhopal tragedy.
Workers in Rana Plaza made clothes for popular Western brands. The disaster highlighted the hazardous conditions workers face in Bangladesh’s €16 billion garment industry, where many are paid as little as €30 a month. Only a few of the brands using the factories attended a meeting of the world’s largest retailers in Geneva, in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza collapse, and four made contributions to a compensation fund for victims and their families.
I had reached Rana Plaza within the hour after the building had collapsed. After reaching there I saw thousands of people gathered around the collapsed building. I saw injured people being rescued, fire brigadiers running, people crying, some people are running with oxygen cylinder. The total scenario was a massacre. The rescue work continued for 19 days. I went in there almost every day. I had photographed dead bodies, persons being pulled alive from the rubble, rescuers screaming for help, victim’s relatives weeping, I had taken photographs inside hospitals, morgues and grave yard. I had also photographed the “Missing” posters pasted by the victim’s relatives in the walls of nearby localities especially in hospital and temporary morgue. Scenes at the sight were nothing you would come across anywhere. The smell of rotting corpse mixed with cries of relatives and constant shouting of rescuers made it seem almost out of a war book. After the initial shock had passed, one heart bleeding story after the other rose from the ashes, almost all of untimely deaths and loss.
It’s been more than 1 year and I am planning to follow up on the victims of the tragedy. I have already started to visit and work on some of the victims nearby Dhaka. But most of them came from the different portions of the country. This work will require me to track down the people in their community which involves a lot of national level travelling. I will try to portray the survivors and dependents of those who died. I will focus on their presence in community and family as well as their current livelihood. A tragedy is felt on different levels. Now that the worldwide and national level shock and grief have been absorbed, as a photographer it’s very important for me to document how this disaster lives on through the life of the survivors and the families who lost their earning source. I believe this grant will not only financially support my envisioned work but also inspire other photographers who have longitudinal scale in their work.