The William Gross and Jennifer Stengaard Gross Scholarship

Scholarship winner Mushfiq Mahbub Turjo defines himself as an artist and image maker who likes to combine photography, collage and painting. After graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Turjo attended a 3-year photography program at the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka, and then studied photography at the Danish School of Media and Journalism (DMJX) thanks to the 2019 Shahidul Alam Grant, a scholarship funded by the VII Academy. Eight months into this two-year program, Turjo shares with us some of his experience as a VII Academy scholar of the MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography. The course is delivered entirely online predominantly through live web conferencing.

‘’It was Sarkar Protick, my teacher and mentor at Pathshala, who first introduced me to this scholarship opportunity at the University of London Arts. The application process was simple although quite time consuming. The key requirements were a portfolio of my work, a proposal for a project study, a motivation letter and a reference letter. The most complex and demanding part of the process was the study proposal: I had to provide the layout of the final project I’d propose to work on in the Masters program, if selected. This had to be an important project, which had to remain relevant two years from the moment I submitted my application. This study proposal did require a lot of research and motivation! I’ve been attending the Masters program for a semester now, and it has clearly taught me how to develop visuals through extensive research. I’ve also learnt to develop short-term journalistic projects, which were entirely new to me. One of the courses I’ve particularly liked this first semester is the Rethink course, for which we’ve had to re-work on our own projects with a completely fresh angle. I’ve also found the assignments given within the History course very helpful: we’ve had to research books, newspaper, articles, etc. on a topic of our choice, then discuss our research in class and finally develop our own article.

We have guests lectures every Wednesdays: these are very interesting because the artists often discuss their own personal journeys. I particularly enjoyed Max Pinckers, Sohrab Hura, and Chloe Dewe Mathews. In terms of team work, I just started attending the Collaborative Unit – I’ll tell you more in a couple of months! I am attending all courses online and my classmates and teachers keep me updated through email. They’ve all been very helpful and we stay connected through social media groups. Some of them have shown interest in visiting me in Bangladesh–I really hope we’ll make this happen or that I get a chance to visit them. I have been in lockdown at home for two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, this hasn’t impacted my studies too much as I’m currently working on a Rethink assignment which I can easily document from home. In the next semester program, I’m looking forward to learning how to develop a long-term project and how to reach an audience. I really love long-term projects and I know I’ll continue these even after graduating. I’m also happy to share with my students at Pathshala all the knowledge and experience I gather from LCC.”

”Last semester I polished and edited one of the main works I had been working on since 2017, called Mother Died and Time Passed (see the gallery below). Before joining the MA program I approached photography mostly through its practical side. The Photojournalism Practice course taught me the theoretical and research aspects of visual narratives, enabling me to see the gaps in my initial project, and identify the opportunity to add depth and layers.”

Rohingyas: possibly the world’s largest stateless population. Almost a million Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh, fleeing persecution and unimaginable suffering in their own country (Myanmar). In Bangladesh, they have found shelter in a few refugee camps in the Teknaf area. The biggest one of these camps is Kutupalong located in Ukhiya. I have been working in Ukhiya for more than two years. I witnessed how a person loses her identity and gets reduced to just another number. The ID cards that had been issued by the Burmese military to some of these people some 20 years ago fascinated me. All Rohingyas were supposed to get one of these cards, but this promise never materialized. The ID card had decayed over the years. Paper weathered; ink faded. It appears that the identity of the Rohingya has faded with them too.

This ID card became my key image and I started making portraits. In every portrait, I keep a white background and take a long exposure photograph using flash on both the person and the background to recreate or give a sense of that ID card which shows loss of details. The images have been taken with a digital camera. Later on, I make negatives on normal A4 papers and make a contact print in the darkroom. It is then scanned again. In the entire process, there is a loss of detail at every step. This is done intentionally, as I am talking about the faded identity of a forgotten community. My techniques and the aesthetics of images should represent the same. Meanwhile, the number of refugees in the Bangladeshi camps grows. All at once, these people became homeless, lost their land and identity. In general, they are Rohingya. A vast number of them, this number spans. Moreover, they remain in a large number with no identity. ©Mushfiq Mahbub Turjo.

On top of following this demanding Masters curriculum, Turjo is also busy working as a teacher at Pathshala. See more of Turjo’s work and awards on his website. To be eligible for The William Gross and Jennifer Stengaard Gross Scholarship, you must be accepted on the MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography (Part Time/ Online Mode) at the London College of Communication, UAL, starting in October 2020. Please see this webpage for full details and  this pdf on how to apply.