Arafat Bin Siraji
Living To Tell The Tale

Arafat Siraji took up photography at a young age. He was looking for his family albums, for pieces of the puzzle that could tell him something about his own family and cultural history. This vision shattered when he found out that his sister had burnt up all the albums in a moment of childish carelessness. It was as if all Siraji’s childhood memories had been erased. During his studies in Dhaka, far from his home town, Siraji felt isolated from his family. He started to look into his family history. Everything he discovered – mediocrity, despair, pain and vulnerability – aroused in him the desire to capture it all in pictures from his own point of view. The result is not his family history, but rather a story of people, home and events that Siraji has experienced. It is a story of eccentric relatives and a place where everyone comes together again. Above all, it is a story of the great longing to become a photographer.

  • Bangladesh
  • Family
  • Loneliness
  • Memory
3 Questions
1. The door opener: Can you describe a formative moment in your career as a visual journalist?

First of all, it is still not clear to me if I am a visual journalist or not. I think I am still looking for the moment where I can find myself to say who I am.

2. The decisive moment: When did you first encounter your topic and why did you decide to cover it photographically?

I first encountered this topic while I was studying in school and I had to do an assignment on portraits. Primarily, it started as a project for school, which I had continued to do for the last five years or so. I decided to do it as an extension to finding out my own identity and culture from where I belong. At the beginning of studying Photography my parents never wanted me to be a photographer, it was very much less identical as profession to be a photographer and most of the people don’t care about. I don’t know how it came to my mind to be a photographer. But while studying, I felt it was easy to study but to become one is so difficult. In this process of being a photographer I wanted to explore my own family through photography. In that way, I began intercepting their daily routine through my camera. As time went by I felt it was more necessary for me, when I heard our family albums were burnt by my younger sister out of anger when we were just children. I never wanted to make the same memory from the family album before but I wanted to see them as a photographer. Something very strange was happening till then.

3. The future: What could the visual journalism of the future be like?

There are a thousand directions to go. I think visual journalism has a limitless possibility to explore and the future will be more dynamic and have large scope for acknowledging different perspectives of the individuals and communities.

»In this failed social system, family is the only reliable and interesting place we had for ourselves.«

 Arafat Bin Siraji
Photographer Arafat Bin Siraji speaks about his perspective on the society in Bangladesh, his doubts about the meaning of family and how photography helped him.

While studying and exploring photography in different perspectives like anthropology, history and politics, lots of things were happening in my mind at that time. There were a number of influences which helped me to start this project. And most of all, it is always inexplicable and very hard to acknowledge why one does what they do. This social and economic structure of our country had a great impact on families on many different levels. The family values and ideology that built this society in terms of developments and needs was quite offensive for me. It was a kind of society where most of us lived in the same faith and belief. But we did’nt believe in each other so easily. But we were always supposed to say that we live together and we are there for each other. In that condition, families are our only hopes most of us really believe in. In this failed social system, family is the only reliable and interesting place we had for ourselves.
But my family life was getting complicated when I wanted to become a photographer. My father was a strong man and involved in business and politics. He was totally pissed off when he got to know I wanted to be a photographer and he often called me a communist. There was a reason behind this, my response to their so-called moral values was declining at that time and I was feeling completely like an alien and outsider. I was only 26 years old at that time and there was lots of personal struggle already there which I had to deal with but the best way to deal with it was to blame the family which I did because I couldn’t figure out who to blame.

In that situation, I started this project and kept in mind that this time I had to participate both as a witness and as a creative person. I started taking photographs of my family members and tried to see how the family worked together and most of all where I belong to. To me it was very important to understand what I am dealing with. I tried to figure out how we function or don’t function on a daily level. Different issues on family and relationship, success, failure, and disappointment. And the everyday life was the plot for this work. I wanted to catch it with affection, rather than with expulsion. And slowly I realized that my family has their own imaginary pursuit. Those were established by time, historical facts and rapid social and structural changes.
By this changing nature of our so-called developing country and society, I was not seeing them as sufferers anymore. They were the performers and they have to perform according to what’s happening around them. And as time went by, all I wanted was to show them as beautiful and also powerful subjects in the photographs. Which could possibly become the part of a larger narrative of our time.
Those lenses made me discover things beyond this pain and anger. Photographing my family is a way of resisting my doubts about what is the meaning of a family in our culture.

Curated by Magdalena Vidovic

© for all photos by the photographers
© for videos Lumix Festival Hanover, if not indicated otherwise.

*1989 in Chittagong, Bangladesh
Arafat Bin Siraji gave up his studies of Management Science in order to devote himself to Photography at the Pathshala South Asian Institute of Photography from 2014 to 2017. In his work, he focuses primarily on questions of personal and collective memory as well as the destruction of the environment, traditions and spaces. He lives and works in Dhaka.


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