In Conversation with Story Teller/Photo Journalist: GMB Akash

When a person of such stature such as GMB Akash consents to have an interview/conversation with you, all the hard work that you put in to maintain a blog becomes worthwhile. To describe him and his work in a few words would be nothing short of sacrilegious, also not to mention that it is virtually a herculean task to do so! GMB Akash has a lifetime of work behind him which required grit, which required a lot of sacrifices and a lot of selflessnesses. To document and catalogue the sufferings of the impoverished, the downtrodden of the society, the exiled, the banished and the outcast of the society is not a path one would choose readily.

But GMB Akash is an exceptional man who, in spite of being criticised and catcalled, worked very hard and determinedly to make his vision and dream of showcasing the stories of such rejected people in Bangladesh to a wider audience. He is not simply a photographer who clicks a few pictures. He is a visionary who puts his heart and soul into bringing to life the pain of people, the truth of the society and speak through his craft – photography. As if that were not enough in itself, he is also a philanthropist. He educates children and supports needy families all through his self-funding and in between his extremely busy schedule. The place that he has reached now doesn’t come easy and for free. He deserves every bit of it and we are truly honoured to represent a small fraction of his life and work through our blog.

Read on to know more about him

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The maestro GMB Akash
The Super Heroes of Life GMB Akash TEDxHyderabad
One Person Versus the Cycle of Poverty | GMB Akash | TEDxYouth@SirJohnWilsonSchool

P. S. – Copyright of all the captures and videos in the article lies with ©GMB Akash and reproduction of the same without prior permission is prohibited

Would you kindly introduce yourself to our reader? Along with the genre of your photography and on which project are you working currently?

Ans: Twenty four years ago, a boy from nowhere dreamed of having a life that he truly wanted to live. A life that is worth living, worth dreaming. People around me had no idea about photojournalism. At that time, parents supported you even if you wanted to be an artist, illustrator or an actor/singer. But ‘photojournalist’ did not exist in the circles that I was brought up in. I have been criticized for my dream every single day. When I was working with the gay community, people called me gay, when I was documenting sex workers, people pointed at my character, when I was documenting child labourers, people said he was selling poverty. I only listened to what my heart told me that is to bring out the truth in the light. Now I am working and traveling almost 365 days a year. I have photography assignments to carry out, personal photography projects to continue. Besides I have a Photography institute (GMB Akash Institute of Photography which has hundreds of aspiring photography students. I also take one on one exclusive Photography program (

After all my professional commitment I also have to give time to my 500 unprivileged children who are continuing education by my self-funding, there are 100 ‘Survivors’ families whom I have to look after. I pour my heart and soul to depict the incredible human’s beings and continue to write the narrative of their life experiences. I am continuing to write and capture the beauty of the people and their souls.

I am working on my ten years project ‘Heroes of life’. Heroes of life’ is about the real life experiences of some incredible human beings who encounter hardship, suffering, and struggles but always find their way to love and light. They belong to the lowest chunk of the society and their voices and stories remain unheard and undiscovered. I wanted to be the voice of the voiceless. Everyone has a story and some people have extraordinary stories. I pour my heart and soul to bring out those extraordinary chapters of human life from those people who are very ordinary to the world. I am going to publish the project in a form of book at the end of this year.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Ans: I have received more than one hundred international photography awards, my photographs have been published in more than 100 international publications and nearly sixty solo exhibitions held in prestigious galleries and museums all over the world. Every award, every publication is close to my heart. Though my second Photography book ‘Survivors’ holds a special place in my heart, which was reviewed by GEO international. By the procedure of the book, I am able to bring change in the life of 100 ‘Survivors’ family by gifting them a source of income. In that continuation, I established my institute “GMB Akash Institute of Photography”, which all income goes for nearly 500 unprivileged children foods and education. I am working on my third Photography book ‘Heroes of Life’ which will be published based on real-life experience of people at the end of this year. The little changes I am able to make in peoples life by my work, I feel that is what I keep close to my heart. And the best rewards of the work I am doing are when I am able to touch people’s heart and that subsequently bring some changes into someone’s life. My legacy is touching every soul in my journey. I have a face book page, where almost every day I at least receive 50-100 messages about how people started to see their world differently. ‘I got your name in the 30 world-famous documentary photographer’, ‘you are Picasso of storytelling’, and ‘Because of you I started to smile to strangers’. I rarely stay in the city but whenever I am walking in the street, people would stop me, hug me, greet me, share with me, how my work is inspiring them. It surprises me when I found such fan even from the remote village of Bangladesh, India or Nepal. This brings gratitude and more responsibility to me. I want you to remember me as a Photographer who is able to make you feel, who inspire you to stand beside another human.

What attracts you to your genre? Whose work has influenced you most?

The people I photograph are my inspiration. What I find most extraordinary about the work I do is that it opens my eyes to all these little pleasures of life. There is great pleasure in meeting people who are despised by the world, in sharing a cup of tea with them, and discovering that they are still capable of affection, though they themselves go unloved.

I very much admire Sebastiao Salgado. His work is a rich resource of inspiration. James Nachtwey is also one of the most inspiring photographers as well as an influential person for me. All of his work inspires me. This photographer evokes the wars of the world but delivers the message of peace.

Is it important to have any professional training to be a photographer? Did you have any at the time you set off your journey?

Ans: I believe that the formal study of photography is necessary to survive in the industry today. But the most important things are to be really passionate and dedicated.

The formal study helped me a lot but most of the time I learned from other photographers. I have learned from painting, songs and movies as well. Every day I go through the work of other photographers and I learn from them. I have learned from many photographers.

Photography pushed me to go to places and to meet people I never would have encountered otherwise. Each visit gave me a deeper understanding of humanity. Today, I count myself blessed, having become a photographer. To be able to articulate the experiences of the voiceless, to bring their identity to the forefront, gives meaning and purpose to my own life.

After loosing her son Amena Begum’s life has no point to run for. She, her baggage and her companion street cat is now her world. As a homeless by living in the dirty street already Ameena lost everything but not her companion. The street cat and street lady Amena living together sharing the same concrete mattress daily. While Amena is sleeping by placing her baggage down to her head, the cat feels it safe to sleep in shoulder of sleepy Ameena. Dhaka, Bangladesh

When you go in one of your photo-shoots which one is your favorite lens and why do you prefer it?

Ans: I use most of the time 24mm-70 mm 2.8 lens, this one lens helps me to cover almost everything I need from Portraits to environmental images.

How do you as a photographer make sure that the thing, person or landscape you want to shoot looks the way you want it to?

Ans: I take time, a lot of time to go deeper into the milieu. During doing any project at first for many days I never take pictures because they would not be good. I would not know the people I met nor understand the place I had just entered at my photography would be bland and meaningless. But there is always that moment when it feels completely natural to open my camera. With time people relax and curiosity in their eyes is replaced with a warm welcome. Suddenly, I have a friendly conversation, or the afternoon light makes them feel at ease. Then I take out my camera and for me and everybody around me, it is the most natural thing to do. There is consent. People do not accuse me, or reject me or pose for me in unnatural ways. They are just there, doing what they normally do. Then I click away. It feels like a conversation; a conversation between me and the people, between me and the location, between me and the light, between me and the souls that make this place alive. During such moments a landscape becomes a soul scape.

Can you explain to the budding photographer what makes the good picture stand out from the average?

An image which can contribute magic! A photo which lights the heart and mind.

Unless I could not evince the feelings of the photograph through my camera, the photograph seems meaningless to me. For me the main challenge is to establish the deepest meaning of the photograph to its viewer’s heart.

I have always believed to become an excellent photographer, I need to become an excellent human being first. We are not robot, we will do mistakes; will have emotions that might be destructive for us or others. But we need to always have the power to stop ourselves, while producing any art work or documenting things that may harm the people we are portraying. Honesty is something which requires a quality that makes us able to look into the mirror and look through our eyes and say ‘I am honest.’ You do not need any validation as a photojournalist from anyone. You have to ask yourself a couple of questions to continue your journey. Is that your producing work is portraying the right weight of the truth? Does your creative thirst is pouring out with every work you are presenting? Are you cherishing every moment of your photography journey? If yes, this is your path. Be honest, hardworking, be a dreamer, be a one kind of Photographer. I have learned that a beautiful soul is always beautiful. No amount of dirt can stain a pure heart. So, always do what your heart wants. Because you can go thousands miles, can go far from the world but you can never escape from your heart.

What is so important in documenting something or in photojournalism? How to capture the story behind every photograph?

Ans: With every picture you take, you enter a space that is unknown to you as a photographer. In the beginning it feels like forbidden territory, a place you are not supposed to enter surrounded by borders of privacy you are not supposed to cross. You, the photographer, are there at a factory, an old home or a brothel with your simple black bag hanging from your shoulder, eyeing everything around you as you are eyed by the people there. The first days following these intrusions I never take pictures because they would not be good. I wouldn’t know the people I met, wouldn’t understand the place I had just entered – my photography would be stale and meaningless. But there is always that moment when it feels completely natural to open that bag. And also there is no way of telling why it comes. Suddenly, I have a friendly conversation, or the afternoon light makes everybody around me relaxed and mellow, or someone looks at me in a trusting yet familiar way.

Then I take out my camera, and for me and everybody around me it is the most natural thing to do. There is consent. People don’t accuse me, or reject me or pose in unnatural ways. They are just there, doing what they normally do. Then I click away, and it feels like a conversation, a conversation between me and the people, between me and the location, between me and the light, between me and the souls that make this place alive. In such moments a landscape becomes a soulscape.

Two child laborers are eating their lunch during a break at the factory where they work. Down in these deadly factories the word, “childhood” disappears as early as the age of five. Rapid maturity is all that will keep them alive. Their silent cries echo from wall to wall in their Hell which is considered a blessed place for them because they can earn bread. Dhaka, Bangladesh

After such moments, life where I am working becomes trivial again, and the next day everybody asks for their photographs, and there is no difference if the people are girls from a brothel, children who work in a factory or farmers from the countryside. But these little exchanges bring us closer to each other, and the ties between us, which started with small talk and conversation and continued with the first pictures I took, will begin to become deeper and more meaningful, and so will the pictures I take. And the closer I get to them and the deeper our friendship becomes, the simpler my photography gets. I am no longer looking for special angles or artistic points of views; I just open myself to these people, take a good look, frame and wait for the right moment. When I walk home, I have all the moments that I missed in my head, and they will become my source of inspiration in the days to come.

I see the beauty of people and the human soul in the pictures I take. And though the circumstances of some of the people I portray may be grim, back-breaking, depraved, the people themselves are always remarkable characters and souls. And it is my duty as a photographer and artist to point with my pictures at every aspect of existence in the society and world I live in, to show what can be shown, to go deep into every milieu and also into every aspect of poverty, deprivation and hardship that I encounter – because the only sin for a photographer is to turn his head and look away.

Q. When you are out and about on a project what subjects or things do you seek out? 

Ans: In all of my projects I never show my camera first; I mix with people and I try to become one of them. I travel randomly, sometimes repeatedly to one single place only to familiarise myself with their stories. My main intent is to focus on people who are suffering perpetually and dying every day from their struggles.Moreover, countries which are similar to ours portray the same scenarios. I think in every country all those who suffer are living the same lives. Whatever the culture is, the pain is the same.

I travel to cover all the hardships of their lives – of existences all around the world. Any human story which strengthens me is my project. I am on an endless journey following an infinite route, only to find a real world of humanity. This thirst is eternal. I will keep walking, touching every face, through my lens. I will show the world – those unknown stories of suffering. If my single hand comes to give them shade, that will be the real honour for all my hard work and sweat.

A “Good Camera can make a Picture perfect” do you believe this myth?

Ans: The first question all beginners ask me is about my camera. I say that the camera is the medium, but do not take it more seriously than your eyes. It is your third eye that will capture the image and camera will only convey them. Do not become a camera-junkie with many big varieties. The second question beginners ask me is how to earn a living. I advise to be strategic, to consider things that can bring you money – they could be part-time jobs, small assignments, friend/family party shooting etc. Think about how you can continue to live in your dreams and can survive until you reach to your goal. The third question that I often face is “my parents are against my photography/my girl friend threatened to leave me.” I answer them that the convincing power of a photographer has to be marvelous because you have to convince the people whom you want to shoot. So start doing your homework. If you cannot relate your passion to those closest to you, then how far can this passion take you?

Lastly, be honest, respect others, do not enter into groupism, work hard, travel near and far, and never underestimate your inner power.

What is that you have adhered and learned through photography over the years?

It’s amazing to travel the distance between where I was and where I stand now. I keep moving with life very fast and my every journey surprises me magnificently. Yes, nothing is more beautiful than having a life which is completely different every single day. I am fortunate to be able to become a Photographer, a light bearer and having the chance to portray people’s life. Photography rarely needs word. When I was documenting my project ‘Life for rent’ I started to document life experiences only to inspire myself. I penned down human stories and spend hours to read during traveling. And then realized it was worth to collect, it was worth to write. And that was making the picture more compelling. And then a different kind of world revealed though my eyes. With every picture I take, I enter a space that is unknown to me as a photographer. Every person I meet has a story. Everyone has something to convey through their photograph. The person I will be photographing isn’t just a subject. They have their say; they have their emotions. Their consent is equally important to allow me to be their storyteller. I never take out my camera at the beginning. Time is the most precious thing of all to build relationships and it works silently. Time helps to take away anxiety, fill up gaps, and bring validation. I would say that I am a very good listener.

What do you think of B&W versus Colour with  photography?

 Color arouses my work for getting the depth of the sight. I got color in different mood in the different part of the world. But I discover people who are fighting endlessly for surviving are more colorful than any part of the world. Because of this, color is more challenging to me. I take this challenge to explore the unrevealed spirit through every capture of mine. I realize I have no power to deny the color of these colorful people who are straggling in a colorless, hopeless world, nevertheless they live & smile. So I can not ignore the yellow balloon of a homeless child or even a red bowl of a beggar of the street. This inspiration inspires me to work with color. And, I continued my journey in the path of a colorless world to meet with all these colorful souls.

Which post processing software you use for your pictures?

Only Lightroom. It’s easy and very simple to use.

Many of the photographers ask us where they find out about the salon news or exhibition news. Can you please give them some idea?

I do not take part of the photo contest any more. I have no interest on contest any more. But you easily find them with google search.

Name the last photography book/journal that you read.

Ans: Inferno by James Nachtwey, Alex Webb Suffering of Light, Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, edges by Harry Gruyaert

The textile factory machines produce an intolerable degree of uproarious noise and piercing echoes at the working place of Sobuj (13 years old). Further suffering is endured from the excessive heat; a daily and miserable factor. Textile factory workers start their day at 8 AM and finish at 8 PM. During these working hours these children try to heal the pain of the noise and the heat by knowing that they will be rewarded with earnings of 1’200 taka per month (about US $15). Dhaka, Bangladesh

Any quick message for our blog? Thank you for your time!

Ans: Dear audiences and fellow companions: our simple work may be our greatest inspiration to become better human beings each day. By making some effort through our work in changing the world even if just a little for the better, we can find the way to love and peace.

Belal (10 years old) finds it hard to carry the leather piles on his small shoulder. He recently joined the tannery to augment the income of his elder sister after the death of their mother. He will get 50 taka (US 65 cents) per day as a trainee for the next three months. He is not very hopeful about his working capabilities because of the smell of the place and the physical strength that his job requires. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Thank you, Akash Sir, for your valuable guidelines and for sharing your thoughts with us. We look forward to seeing more of your extraordinary work…!

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