“Selfie, selfie. Selfie please!” the giggling group of girls called to us as we were about to pass them on the street. It was a greeting we had to come to hear often throughout our travels in Bangladesh. Almost as often as “Which country?” and “What is your name?”
Something we learnt the moment we started exploring the streets of Dhaka was that Bangladeshis love having their photograph taken.
The Oxford English dictionary defines selfie as ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone …’. However for Bangladeshis the definition appeared to extend to any photo of them. Bangladesh is a poor country and smart phones are financially out of reach for most, so it seems the meaning of selfie has been adapted to ensure the population doesn’t have to miss out on the phenomenon of selfies.
Our best people shots from Bangladesh are on Kathmandu and Beyond Photography but we thought it would be fun to post a few of the many selfie photos taken on our iPhones during our travels around the country.
Most frequently the request for a selfie was simply for us to take pictures of them with our camera. Often they weren’t even interested in seeing the results.* Sometimes they wanted one or both of us in the photo. Sometimes they wanted their friend to take the photo on their phone. Then the friend wanted a photo with him or her in it. And, strangely, many times they pointed at someone else and said “photo” as if it were a way of playing a joke on their friend: ”Ha-ha, they’re taking your photo!” I concluded it might be a vanity thing – secretly they want their photo taken but were too shy to ask and by getting us to photograph their friend, they hoped we would also snap them.
* One of our ice-breakers when taking photos of people is to show them the picture on the screen of our camera.
Often we felt like we were being crowd-mobbed for the sake of a photograph. Regularly we would spot out of the corner of our eye selfie stalkers approaching. On more than one occasion motorcycles drove up on to the pavement and cut us off dead in our tracks to request a selfie. In fact in wasn’t always a request.
The biggest mobbing we experienced was when we were sightseeing near the town of Kushtia. We were visiting Kuthibari, the former residence of the revered Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Despite taking quite a lot of effort to get there (a walk across a river bed followed by a bumpy auto rickshaw ride), Kuthibari didn’t have a massive amount to offer as a sightseeing site. We had a cursory look around the old house and then, because we’d spent an hour getting there and didn’t want to leave within ten minutes of arriving, decided to take a stroll around the gardens.
It wasn’t long before a group of girls approached us, phones at the ready. Soon it became a swarm. “Photo, photo”, “Selfie please”, the buzz began. The usual photo session followed and then got bizarrely out of hand. One of the more outspoken girls in the group began by wanting photos of herself with one and then both of us. She then moved on to holding hands, first with me and then with Mark. It was quite forward behaviour for a young woman in Bangladesh. Her finale was to ask Mark to pose for a photo kissing her on the cheek! Mark obliged, reluctantly I think!
Like so many similar situations in Bangladesh, the photo game is fun for a while – it’s a great way to interact with the locals and often provides the opportunity to find out a bit about their lives. However, if you’ve got somewhere to go in a hurry or are still smiling for blurry Nokia pictures twenty minutes down the line it can get a bit tiresome. But in Bangladesh people were so welcoming and friendly I didn’t like to say no to having my photo taken. After all, we are often the tourists wanting to take photos of the locals. Whenever taking close up photographs of people, we always ask permission and are never consciously intrusive. But for all those tourists we see who rudely stick their camera in someone’s face, I would like to transport them to Bangladesh so they can experience how it feels to have people walk up to them and take their photo without asking!
Anyway, I digress … Here are a few more Bangladesh selfies