Photography trailblazer passes away | The Daily Star

Sayeeda Khanam, the first female professional photographer of Bangladesh, passed away in the capital early yesterday.

She was 83.  

She had been suffering from old-age complications and breathed her last at her Banani home around 3:00am.

Born in Pabna on December 29, 1937, Sayeeda completed her masters in Bangla Literature and Library Science from Dhaka University. In 1956, she started her career as a photographer at Begum, fortnightly mews magazine advocating the rights of women. She covered many national and international events.

She worked as a photographer with renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray in three of his films. Sayeeda was a librarian at Dhaka University’s Bangla department from 1974 to 1986.

After the Liberation War, she volunteered as a nurse at Holy Family Hospital for a while.

Sayeeda had her first international exhibition in 1956 after participating in the International Photo and Cinema Exhibition in Germany’s Cologne. In the same year, her photos were displayed in an international photography exhibition held in Dhaka and later exhibited in international competitions in Japan, France, Sweden, and Cyprus.

In an interview with The Daily Star in 2012, Sayeeda recalled her first camera and how she became passionate about photography.

Her first camera was a small Kodak box-camera, gifted to her by Lutfunnessa Chowdhury, a close friend of Sayeeda’s elder sister eminent academic Hamida Khanam.

“I took my first photo in Kolkata. I was about 13 or 14 then. My first subjects were two Kabuliwalas who were passing by the Victoria Memorial,” she fondly remembered. “Rabindranath’s ‘Kabuliwala’ had made an impression on her my mind. As a result, I wanted to take a photo of a Kabuliwala,” she said in the interview.

Once she was visiting Kolkata for treatment, she went to see an exhibition, “Life” by an American photographer. There she first came across the artistic aspect of photography. “There were lots of pictures of people — photos of their life, their feelings — laughter, sorrow, and grief. While watching those I began to comprehend that a photograph is not only a picture, it is an art,” she said.

Her work on Mother Teresa, Rabindra Sangeet singer Kanika Bandopadhyay, and Satyajit Ray were also exhibited in Dhaka.

In 1960, she received an award in All Pakistan Photo Contest and in 1985, she was honoured with the Unesco Award for photography. She received many other awards from several national and international organisations and was a lifetime member of Bangladesh Mahila Samity and Bangla Academy.

KM Khalid, state minister for cultural affairs, expressed deep shock and sorrow at the eminent photographer’s death.

Bangla Academy and National Awami Party (NAP) also expressed shock at her demise.

“Sayeeda Khanam was not only prominent in Bangladesh, but also was a name of photography movement in the entire subcontinent,” said Bangla Academy Director General Habibullah Siraji in a statement.

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