x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Labours lost, recorded with love

A group of workers who lost their jobs after one of their company bosses was jailed and another absconded to India were given a camera and the chance to record how their lives had changed. The results form an exhibition that opens next month.

Some of the pictures taken by Kosar Miah, Rowshan Ali, Farid Miah, Sonnat Ali and others after they were given a camera and asked to record their lives in the abandoned work camp.
Some of the pictures taken by Kosar Miah, Rowshan Ali, Farid Miah, Sonnat Ali and others after they were given a camera and asked to record their lives in the abandoned work camp.

DUBAI // An unlikely group of artists will display their photographs at the Gulf Photo Plus gallery in Al Quoz next month.

The series - Inside Sajja, A Labour Of Light - was shot by 11 workers from the Sajja labour camp, all of whom were abandoned by their employer in 2009.

Rowshan Ali, a 22-year-old Bangladeshi, used to work as a carpenter before he was given a camera by the documentary, news and travel photographer Karen Dias.

He said he tried to capture different images of the men going about their daily tasks. "I clicked photos when the men were carrying water to the labour camp and clearing used cans. We also went to Al Jazeera Park in Sharjah and took some pictures," he said. "It is a reflection of our sad lives after the owner ran away," he said.

"The condition of the labour camp was pathetic when these pictures were taken. There was no water and electricity. We used to sleep on the rooftop to escape the heat. I took one picture when two men were trying to sleep on the roof. We had to walk a long distance to fetch water. It was very difficult."

Mr Ali and his co-workers were left without pay for 18 months after one of the owners of Emirates Quality contracting company was jailed and another fled to India.

They had to make do at their labour camp in Al Sajja, an industrial area in Sharjah, without any basic facilities like running water and electricity.

Fellow worker Farid Miah, 24, said they had not been paid for eight months when they were approached by Adopt-a-Camp and Ms Dias to take part in the project.

"The company owner ran away leaving us in the lurch," he said. "The photography project gave us some relief from our hard life."

Ms Dias, who is currently in Istanbul, had the idea for the project after reading about the men in a newspaper. She approached Saher Shaikh, the founder of the charity group Adopt-a-Camp, for help.

"The project gave them an opportunity to earn their own living," said Mrs Shaikh, who explained that Ms Dias had collected three used cameras for the men to share and trained them in the basics of photography.

Over the course of the two-week project, Mrs Shaikh said, the photographs taken by the labourers progressed from posed snapshots to compelling storytelling images of their everyday lives.

Kosar Miah, 20, said he shot images of men eating together or sitting around. "They gave us cameras and asked us to take as many pictures as possible. I took more than a hundred photos but many have not come out well." He said it was the first time he had used a camera. "I felt nice when I saw the pictures of my friends in the photos. It was a new thing for me," he said.

All three men now have jobs. Mr Ali has found a new job in Abu Dhabi with the help of Adopt-a-Camp, but he said he had three sisters and two brothers living in Bangladesh and was yet to send some money home as he had not been not paid by his previous company.

The end result of their project will be on exhibition at Gulf Photo Plus gallery from January 18 to February 16.

"The labourers themselves will be present at the opening to connect with visitors and encourage further dialogue about the project," said Mrs Shaikh.

Large prints (57x38cm) will be available for Dh400, and postcard-sized prints will be sold for Dh20.

All proceeds from the print sales of the photographs will be distributed evenly among 11 workers involved in the project.

frahman@thenational.ae