The Architecture of Cities: Dhaka

Memorial for Martyr’s.

I arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh after nearly six-teen hours in the air. The entire flight from New York, my mind was consumed with “what will I see, what can I see, how will I see”.

Racing along in Dhaka.

I always feel a bit dazed and confused when I deplane. I knew I had only a few hours to collect my thoughts before my lecture. The lecture was about my architectural photography and the world of architects I had photographed.

I wanted to be calm and informative for my lecture. But I was coming out of my skin to see what I could see in Bangladesh. I was planning a camera assault on Dhaka. I had lots to prepare for, lots to do.

On the streets of Dhaka.

When I finally hit the Dhaka streets I felt like Disney’s Steamboat Willie. I felt like I was leading a parade of 49,000 naked centipedes with 9,800,000 legs in tow. Dhaka’s population may be 23 million, but I felt at least half of the city’s eyes were on me.

Mosque at dusk.

I needed to fly. There was not a street that I could ignore. I just had to see everything. I am a discretionary photographer. Just because something is there, it does not necessarily qualify for a snap. It is the way I have engaged architecture in cities from my very first point and shoot to my Minox spy camera and everything that followed.

Interior of of National Assembly Building designed by Louis Kahn.

I became obsessed with checking off my wish list. No, no, no I am not psychoanalyzing myself. Photography is a heart and soul game; but it is also a numbers game. When I first used my Minox, I became obsessed with numbers: if you cannot grasp the understanding of numbers, you cannot become a photographer: Aperture marries shutter speed and engages f-stop: then a picture is made. Without the complete comprehension of the aforementioned formula there is no history of photography. Photography is an art, but it is also science and math. Sometimes I feel like I am nearing the end of the line, but that does not stop me from organizing my imagery with a touch Merlin’s potion of heart, soul and numbers.

Modern high-rise, Dhaka.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, was a chance for me to witness a city amidst an incredible economic growth, and come to terms with A sad but soulful poverty ladened land. I wondered  if my lens could trace the area’s history back a thousand years. What could I see that was modern; what could I see that was a stand alone historical artifact or an example of mankind’s origins. I might have been hoping and dreaming, but what fun that is for me.

National Assembly building (detail).

I was hoping to see history as it had never been seen before. I might boldly exaggerate: but that is what partly motivates my mind and stimulates my eyes: Dhaka has/had secrets. Want not try to capture all that stands before you. Maybe I would find the first Noah’s Ark, not the one from the Bible!

How ridiculous the above may sound. But then, Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Building stood before me. Then the National Martyr’s Memorial stood before me. Then I was on the streets at dawn and dusk. Then I felt myself shake  a bit. Then I was alone with my thoughts. Then I realized something  spectacular had happened to me: every frame the camera saw stopped my heart and concurrently set my electrolytes afire.

There could have been so much more to see. But my camera cannot capture a nation in a nano second.

I was introduced to so many things; sadly I was not aware of the proper way to eat with your hands; If you had seen the expression on the 49,000 centipedes you might have laughed at my 50,000 shades of red.

Martyr Memorial, Dhaka.

All photographs by Richard Schulman.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.