The capital city of Bangladesh offers a unique metropolitan experience, with remnants of its royal and medieval history existing alongside modern urban infrastructure. Dhaka was one of the urban settlements of the first millennium, populated since the 17th century as it was one of the commercial centers and also the capital of the Mughal Empire in South Asia. Now, with its social and economic diversity, it is seen as a megacity and is listed as a beta-global city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. In this installment of Around the World in Analogue, photographer Alfonso Aguilar walks us through the life and locality in Dhaka, through his words and pictures.
The trip to Dhaka was quite a journey. We flew from Los Angeles to Dubai and that was a 15-hour flight, then had a 4-hour layover to continue our second leg from Dubai to Dhaka for 4 hours and 40 minutes. Bangladesh is a country that does not have a lot of tourism from western countries so arriving in Dhaka and getting past customs with 10+ pelican cases with camera gear was also time-consuming. After our touchdown, it took us two hours to wheel our cases out of the airport
We went to Dhaka to shoot the first part of a documentary on how new technology is improving world health. This technology is a cloud-based platform that allows users (bio-chemists) to perform analysis without the need for a significant on-premise computational infrastructure, amplifying scientists abilities to detect infectious diseases outbreaks around the world.
I did get to see quite a bit fo Dhaka and its outskirts. Dhaka is in the top 3 most densely populated cities in the world so moving around was sometimes a challenge, especially during Ramadan. There was a day when we spent 2 hours stuck in traffic to travel less than 4 km! Aside from that, the people in Bangladesh are quite amazing and extremely friendly and curious. Especially when they see a full crew of westerners with cameras running in town they looked at and approached us with surprising curiosity.
The most remarkable thing about the trip is the contrast between the cityscape and how people dress. The city scenery and buildings have a very dull color palette, mainly gray and a dark brown color from old bricks. This contrasted immensely with how people dress in beautiful super vivid and saturated clothes. It felt like people there express much of their inner energy through the colors of their outfits.
One of the photos that impressed me the most is from a young male on his motorcycle in an alley looking up at someone in a building. I have several reasons for that photo to be one of my favorites. First of all, the photo is marked as shot number 00 so that means that I loaded the roll perfectly and had 38 exposures out of that one, starting at 00, 0 and 1 through 36.
This is a gamble because if I don’t load the film perfectly I will flash those frames and sometimes I don't get anything on them or I get half a frame properly exposed. So having a film roll perfectly loaded and that first frame in sharp focus was an amazing surprise for me. It also happened right before breaking fast so he was stood there only for a few seconds.
Overall, the people in Bangladesh amazed me. Seeing people living in conditions so different is always an amazing experience. Everyone was so friendly and opened to being in front of the camera and the hospitality of our hosts was also amazing.
I did try some local dishes, my favorite was all the deserts they made with jack fruit. I have experience jack fruit before but mostly as a meat substitute. As for dessert, it was a super sweet and unique texture. Almost like tasting cotton candy bubble gum which I have not tasted!
Since Bangladesh does not receive a lot of western tourism, my tip to someone who wants to travel there is to make an extremely thorough research on the places they want to visit and find beforehand how to move around the city. It is extremely necessary to have a guide or know someone who knows how to move around the city and the country in general.
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