When Pathshala started, I remember, Dhaka's photography circles reacted by forming two
camps. One was thrilled at the prospect of 'real' photography education starting in Bangladesh for the very first time; the other
remained strongly sceptical about what Shahidul Alam was getting up to next.
The school's first students came from the former camp, and I was one of them. Our
group had two women, Munira Morshed Munni and myself. As students, we wanted to revolutionize the face of photography as
we knew it in Bangladesh, South Asia, and the world. Drik and its philosophy was our inspirational starting point.
Our initial excitement dried up somewhat as we discovered that our school was not
perfect. It was going to grow with us, and that meant many things would not go as smoothly as we would have liked. But as the
first students, we enjoyed a tremendous amount of autonomy in deciding how our study would progress. Specific topics were
introduced because we asked for them. Tutors were refused because we didn't like them. We freely argued with tutors on
media, politics, morality, the environment, feminism, religion, issues of representation. This level of interaction was truly unheard of in Bangladesh. Coming from an education system where students rarely question their teachers, we were spoiled with attention. As it turned out, at least in my view, the students who were the most vocal and rebellious also produced the best work. This was Pathshala, and we didn't believe in encouraging the herd mentality.
The informal environment at Pathshala made sure many friendships were formed and
tested. Sometimes our egos would get the better of us, but there were critical discussions on each other's work, plans for
what to do next, disappointment over projects not working out, chatter about the next big camera, impromptu singalongs, and
many, many cups of tea under the campus mango tree.
As a student, then a tutor, and now a wellwisher of Pathshala, my view of whether the
school has been successful had its own ups and downs. We former students often end up discussing this among ourselves. Were we
successful as professional photographers? Many of us have won international accolades, and publish our work around the
world. Did we change photography as it was practised? Did our photography change the world? It certainly helped the world to see
Bangladesh differently. With time that will force its own changes.