Name a foreign country and then count how long it takes for the cliches to come rushing forth. Start with, say, Switzerland — what first leaps to the mind are banks, chocolate and watches. Or, in the case of Brazil, it's soccer and Carnaval. Now consider Bangladesh. If any mental picture comes up at all it probably has to do with floods and famine.
It is easy to see why those prevailing images and visual stereotypes of his homeland frustrate the heck out of Shahidul Alam. "The image of my country was built largely upon what white, Western photographers were telling," he tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep in an interview Monday.
Alam recently published a book, "My Journey As A Witness." This collection of photographs documents a career spent not just taking beautiful pictures but producing a new set of images that enable a more nuanced way of seeing Bangladesh.
Many of his portraits are of individuals living in extreme poverty and yet the portraits manifest optimism. He speaks proudly of how the poorest of the poor in his country "manage in very difficult situations coming out with some sort of a formula for survival, which really is to be admired."