Jeremiah Rogers

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bangladesh
Sun, Dec 27, 2015

Airport, Dhaka Bangladesh.

Arriving at the airport in Dhaka was so intense. The men at customs interrogated me: how long will you be here, what are you doing here, why have you been to so many countries, why do you have so little luggage? There aren’t a ton of tourists visiting Dhaka, and my usual “only two weeks” excuse meant I got exactly 15 days on my visa instead of the usual 30. The man selling visas sensed my frustration at paying a $7 tax on top of a $50 visa fee and handed me a $1 coin from the USA. “I have no idea what this is. Is this your money? Take it.”

I exited the airport by foot. Since my Canon 6D had drowned in Chiangmai, I only carried the tiny Ricoh GR. My first photo was of family members of people arriving clinging to a fence outside the airport. But there were so many police around, seemingly everywhere, that I was afraid to get close. The photo didn’t work, but this second one of a man also exiting the airport in front of me did.

Sun, Aug 23, 2015

A man on a small boat in a light rain storm as oil spills into the Buriganga River through Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Two weeks ago I spent five days in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On my second day in the city proper I made my way down to Shadurghat port by rickshaw. Shadurghat is a fantastically busy port with over 1.5 million people arriving every day by boat.

The almost one hour long ride to Shadurghat cost such a small amount of money, only 100 taka (about $1.28) that I felt badly for the rickshaw driver. He was happy to get the money and my small tip, but it shows just how poor some of the people in Bangladesh are.

At Shadurghat port I was quickly mobbed by curious locals, repeatedly asking me “What country?”, asking me if I had cigarettes for them, and men in blue shirts with red sleeve markers asking me if I wanted them to show me around.

Men on a ferry boat in Dhaka, Bangladesh look on as oil spills into the Buriganga, River.

One man stood out from the crowd, a man who’s name I would later learn is Juwul. Juwul asked me if I’d just like to accompany him into the port and look at a few of the boats — a hard offer to turn down — but then he led me on a kind of magical two hour tour through the boats, across the Buriganga River in a small dinghy, and through the ship destruction yards and propeller manufacturing plants of South Dhaka.

Juwul opening an umbrella as storms gathered and showing me where we were headed, the yards in South Dhaka.

This wasn’t a reporting project. I had no specific goals in mind except seeing what was in the city that I may find interesting to come back and photograph later.

This was the beginning of what I’d hoped was a one month long road journey between Dhaka, Bangladesh and Chennai, India. I ended up cutting that journey short because of illness.

My primary lesson from this trip, which I think was incredibly valuable, is that I want to be operating from a home base going forward. I love travel, I love the open road, but the fortitude needed to push into more and more remote areas comes more easily to me when I know that there’s a home and friends to return to. Being sick in Bangladesh and wanting to go home and not knowing where home is was tough.

Left: Man working to destruct a ship in a South Dhaka, shipyard. Right: Oil spilling into the Buriganga River.

Workers banging on ships with small hammers in South Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Welding propellers in South Dhaka, Bangladesh.

On the technical side, all of these images were captured with a pocketable Ricoh GR camera. In this series they’re all shot at 28mm and uncropped. The Ricoh GR is a marvelous camera for something that fits in your pocket. I’m stunned at the image reproduction it creates. I’m also in love with the mechanics of the camera.

Operating the Ricoh GR:

  • For me I generally keep the Ricoh in shutter priority (TV) mode with snap focus set to 1.5 meters. In daylight I often set exposure compensation to -13 stops so that it will retain detail in the sky.
  • I use the Fn1 button (left on the D-pad) to switch quickly between snap focus and autofocus. The effect button is set to snap focus distance, and the Fn2 button is set to ISO.
  • On this trip I didn’t have a laptop so I created JPEGs in camera for Instagram and Facebook. Generally those JPEGs were created after the image was captured using Raw Development mode, which does a good job at letting me change exposure up or down one stop.
  • In Lightroom or Capture One the Ricoh GR raw files, which are standard DNG, have a lot of latitude. I’m able to get up or down 2.5 stops without substantial noise in the shadows or errors recovering highlights.
  • For such a small package camera I think that the lens is remarkable. As with all cameras this really depends on getting the exposure right. Once the exposure is nailed, and especially in good light, the Ricoh GR shines to make some amazing photographs.

Left: Young men destroying a mould of a ship propeller in South Dhaka. Right: Men casting a new ship propeller in sand on the ground.

Looking north at Dhaka city from a ship yard in South Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Thu, Aug 20, 2015

One

I slept for the better part of two days with periods of empty staring at the ceiling mixed in. Dreams came and went, my processing of memories of Bangladesh mixed with fevered paranoia.

It hurt to move my eyes off a center line, it hurt when I coughed, my skin was so sore that it hurt when I walked and it hurt when I wore clothes or bathed.

I’d go downstairs to get fresh air, or water, or food, and the door guard at my hotel would launch into a series of questions.

“Do you need an umbrella sir?”
“No I’m fine thank you.”
“Are you sick sir?”
“Very. It’s hard to talk.”
“Ah where are you from sir?”
“Let’s talk later ok?”
“Oh is that a Samsung phone sir? That phone is beautiful!”

He hovered two feet away from me, watching everything I did on my phone. So I left, stumbled down the street to buy water, and came back.

“Fresh drinking water! Are you still sick sir?”

I smiled and went upstairs to sleep again. While sleeping they called my room phone four times in four hours to check on me. I eventually unplugged it.

Two

In the no man’s land between Bangladesh and India there was a goat sitting on the ground. Stuck in a void without clear citizenship. There was also a line of five men screaming for me.

“Right here sir! Right here sir!”

It didn’t make sense why they cared so much. I was ready to stop at the third guy in line — who was already very insistent — when the fifth man yelled

“No! No! NO! Me! ME!”

I was convinced by his urgency and gave him my passport.

A tall man with a mustache stood over his shoulder, smoking a cigarette and watching as the fifth man fabricated a local hotel (“Hotel VIP”) and a local phone number to put on my arrival card.

The fifth man finished my card promptly and handed it and my passport back to me. I thanked them and took off.

”Tip sir? Come on SIR tip!?”

It was my first time being asked for a tip at a border crossing. I didn’t give him one.

Three

There were two customs officers, one seated and one standing. The one seated opened my bag and went through my belongings one by one. He held up a pelican-type case where I store memory cards.

“What is this for?”
“My camera.”
“You put a camera into this? But it’s so small.”
“Not exactly.”

The standing officer looked through my passport.

“Oh you have been to so many places. Oh you went to Vietnam. How did that go?”
“The people are very nice.”
“Didn’t you lose a war with them? But they still let you be a tourist?”

The sitting officer pulled out a bag I use to store power banks, cables, toiletries, and vitamins.

“What is in this bag?”
“Many things.”
“Hmm?”

I really didn’t want to tell him that there were condoms in the bag.

“Personal things… nothing to be sold in India.”

The standing officer made it to the page with Cambodia passport stamps:

“You’ve spent a lot of time in Cambodia. As a tourist or a business person?”
“I worked for an NGO.”
“But you have a business visa.”
“That’s how it works in Cambodia.”

The standing officer then read my Indian visa aloud to me:

“Five years. Multiple entries. Not eligible for employment in India. Each stay not to exceed 180 days.”

He paused and looked at me, then kept reading:

“Change of purpose not allowed.”

I have no idea why this was funny but both men broke out in laughter. It took a few seconds for them to collect themselves, then they handed my passport back to me and wished me good luck.

Four

Across the border soft music played from every direction. The music combined with wonderful smells and elaborately hand painted signs into a Wes Anderson reproduction of India — a film set, perfect in every way — not an actual country where I had just arrived.

Men were in stalls on the side of the road drinking tea. A man walked by me and wobbled his head side to side so smooth that it looked to be supported by a spring.

I approached a taxi stand and saw five men. Five arms pointed at me and five arms pointed at taxi cabs. Five heads shouted.

“THIS cab Kolkata 2,000 Rupees!”
“THIS cab no air con 1,500 Rupees!”

A different price every time.

One driver pulled me aside and offered to take me to Kolkata for 1,400 Rupees — about $20.

“That’s a reasonable price.”
“Ok sir but now the price is 2,000 Rupees.”
“But you just said 1,400 Rupees?”
“No 2,500 Rupees is the best price!”

I’d never had negotiations where the prices go up.

Five

“These people are not good.”

A yellow shirted young man, 21 years old, was talking to me through a fresh melee of taxi drivers.

“You should take the bus. No one will drive you. Find a tuktuk and he’ll drive you to the bus stand.”

Then, thirty seconds later, he changed his mind.

“I’ll take you to Kolkata for 1,400 Rupees.”

I threw my bag in the back seat and hopped into his cab.

Six

This young man, whose name I can not remember, drove me the length of Petrapol to Kolkata, India. It’s about 100 kilometers. His comments on life in India were amazing.

“In India the way you tell the classes is that the poor people only eat twice per day. The middle classes look like me, and the rich classes have attitude.”

“I am a Muslim, but most people in India are Hindu. They worship everything, everything is a god. If a tree grows near a river then the tree is a god. You cannot cut down the tree because you will go to jail for killing a god. I’m serious.”

“I eat cow, but many people do not. I forget why….”

“Oh that’s right! That’s because the cow is a god! Everything is a god.”