Dhaka Brick Factory

Photo Essay: The Brick Factories of Dhaka

18 comments
Bangladesh, Photo Essay, Photography

I stood on a bluff on the outskirts of Dhaka and looked out over a bleak scene – fields of bricks, punctuated by chimneys coughing up black smoke, stretched out to the horizon. I walked down the hill and went into the first brick field – totally unannounced and uninvited – and started taking photos. In any other country, a stranger would not be allowed to visit or take pictures in this dangerous work environment, at least not without a permit and a hard hat. But this is Bangladesh, and it isn’t like most places.

Not long after I arrived, a friendly man started giving me an impromptu tour of the grounds. Each factory employees about 200 people who work throughout the dry season, making cheap bricks for the growing city of Dhaka. Most of the workers live on the perimeter of the brickfields in makeshift huts. The workers toil in unfair conditions, lifting heavy bricks and breathing dust and coal ash, for just a few dollars a day.

After I toured the first brick factory, I continued walking down the road visiting other kilns and meeting more friendly people. At one kiln, a group of people on lunch break waved me over and offered me food. At the next kiln, the boss manhandled me into a tin-roofed shop where we drank tea, took selfies, and exchanged contact information. We are now Facebook friends.

I left the brickfields feeling happy and sad at the same time. These are some of the poorest people in the world working in some of the most brutal conditions imaginable, and yet everyone I met was exceedingly friendly, cheerful, and generous. The people I met will likely spend their lives in poverty, but they are confronting their predicament with a positive attitude and hard work.

Bangladesh Brick Factory Photo Tour

Step 1 – Making the Clay

On the perimeter of each factory, workers mix water and mud to form a thick clay. Men with wheelbarrows collect the clay and transport it to nearby fields.

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Step 2 – Molding the Bricks

Next, workers pack the clay into molds and set the wet bricks in the sun to dry. Each kiln has a different stamp on the mold to identify where the blocks come from.

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Step 3 – Bricks are Stacked in the Kiln

Once the bricks have dried in the sun, they are stacked in massive kilns.

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Step 4 – Baking the Bricks

After the bricks are stacked, they are covered in dirt, and the spaces are filled with coal. The coal is ignited, and a hot fire bakes the bricks.

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory Fire

Step 5 – Removing the Dried Bricks

Once the bricks have baked in the kilns, they are removed by hand, stacked in trucks, and sent off to construction sites around the city.

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Dhaka Brick Factory

Have you been to the brickfields or a similar place?

 


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Currently living in Bangkok, I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~ planetbell1@gmail.com

18 thoughts on “Photo Essay: The Brick Factories of Dhaka”

  1. It’s hard to imagine “a day in the life” The friendliness and spirit of the people is amazing. As we head off to work with a guaranteed minimum wage and safe working conditions, it’s easy to forget it isn’t like that everywhere in the world. Great essay.

    • At some kilns I saw three generations working side by side, and many people were barefoot. The air is toxic. It is a tough place. Yet, the people take pride in themselves and their work. You may have noticed the women wearing colorful saris and jewelry while working. As you say, we take things for granted. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I love everything about this post Jeff—the narrative, the photos, the message. It really is inspiring that those who have the least are often the most positive and generous. I am struck by the grace of the workers, beautifully captured in your photos (especially the ones of workers balancing those heavy bricks on their heads).
    Your post reminds me a bit of my experience at the sulphur mines at Kawah Ijen in East Java. Brutally difficult work conditions in a dangerous environment, but unlike the brickfields, scenically gorgeous and dramatic.

    • They are very graceful. The women wearing jewelry to work in these tough conditions and the men with bricks on their heads make it a very photogenic scene. Thanks for the comments on the narrative – I’ve been struggling with what to write about the experience.

      You are right, it is similar to the Kawah Ijen. At Ijen one of the workers was taking a break and I asked if I could lift his load. I got under it and squatted like a bar at the gym and I could barely lift it, much less carry it up a volcano! These people are amazing.

  3. Marilyn says:

    GREAT posting Jeff. Your pictures reflect how hard life can be, and yet they seem happy. Thank you for sharing ‘life in the brickyard’.

    • Thank you Marilyn. I think they are happy overall. They are doing the best they can in spite of the situation.

  4. Excellent photos- many are quite beautiful, Jeff, despite the brutal conditions. From your story, it sounds like people were friendly and welcoming. You described and documented the process so well. Thank you for enlightening me.

  5. Wonderful photos as usual Jeff. You really captured the feel of the place. I recently watched a group of workers creating a long ghat (steps) down to the Ganges in Rihikesh. Very similar conditions I would expect. they too had workers huts nearby, and the loads both men and women carried on their heads was almost painful to watch.
    Alison

    • It is incredible what people are capable to doing. It would be interesting to see the resting heart rate of some of those workers – I bet their fitness is on par with top athletes. In so many parts of the world, humans do the work of machines. Thanks for commenting.

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