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Documenting a Drowning Culture

In 2007, a Bangladeshi photographer set out to meet his country’s fishermen and ended up on a sinking island.

Khaled Hasan just wanted to meet the people who make shutki, fish caught and dried by Bangladeshi tribal fishermen. But when he arrived at Ashar Chor, a small island in the Bay of Bengal, what the Dhaka-based documentary photographer actually found was far more poignant. As he writes in the project statement for Ashar Chor, a Vanishing Island, the island has become increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels and the cyclones that plague the area, weather that Hasan and climate scientists attribute to global warming. The entire community relies on the shukti trade and doesn’t want to leave the only home—and way of life—they know. Yet dwindling access to fresh water and land (due to rising sea levels), and the devastating Cyclone Sidr, which decimated a third of Ashar Chor’s population, have left many islanders bereft. "We used to think of the sea as the thing that gave us our living. Now we are scared that another cyclone like the last one will mean we will be washed away completely," fisherman Sharif Uddin told Hasan. "I don't know what to do if this happens again." For his part, Hasan photographed this vanishing culture as a way to document it and also bring awareness to the impact of climate change. “Being a visual artist and a very small part of the society, I tried to bring out the hardship and hassles they face everyday in their life,” he wrote.

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