Magnum Foundation

Magnum Foundation

Shehab Uddin's Commitment to Empowering Impoverished Subjects in Bangladesh


Photographer Shehab Uddin, a 2010 Emergency Fund Grantee, recently discussed his photographic process with The New York Times’ LensBlog while documenting poverty in Bangladesh.

LINK: “An Embedded Photographer Empowers the Poor” - NY Times LensBlog

Over the course of three years, Uddin immersed himself in various poverty-stricken communities in Bangladesh, living with his subjects in order to accurately - and with their consent - capture intimate moments of daily life. His process is in stark contrast to how he feels photographers most frequently operate in impoverished areas like Bangladesh:

“When photographers visit a country like Bangladesh we don’t bother to ask permission from the people we want to photograph,” Mr. Uddin said. “We have the power, with thousands of dollars of gear, nice clothes and a good education, and we think we have every right to photograph.”

His engagement within these communities extended beyond making pictures and into collaboration as he involved his subjects in the editing process. The result was a series of exhibitions of large scale canvas prints hung in public spaces where Uddin and the people he documented lived and sometimes even slept. 

“Usually when we photograph poor people, they’re never allowed to see how we photograph them,” he said. “They had never seen a photo exhibit — here I bring the gallery to them.”

Uddin was awarded a Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund grant in 2010, the inaugural year for the grant. With it he photographed the pavement dwellers of Bangladesh, a rapidly growing segment of the country’s population. Pavement dwellers are homeless persons who have migrated to cities in search of jobs, to flee crippling debt, or as climate refugees.  

LINK: “Pavement Dwellers” - Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund

Kawran Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2010. – Babu steals vegetables off the backs of rickshaw-vans, trucks and from wholesalers to sell them for a living. When it rains, he finds it easier because drivers are in a rush and pay less attention to him. He spends much of his earnings on his drug addiction. Like Babu, many young pavement dwellers are addicted to substances of some form. (photo by Shehab Uddin)