When I saw his photos, I knew this man’s talent was immeasurable. But what I now know is that his passion and ambition are limitless too. GMB Akash is from Dhaka, Bangladesh and in 2009 was the overall winner of the Travel Photographer of the Year Award. I know a lot of people who think being a travel photographer might be the greatest job in the world, so I was interested to find out what Mr. Akash had to say about it.
When, how and where did you learn to take beautiful pictures?
Closing my eyes I can see myself - the first time I held my father’s old camera and started taking pictures unconsciously. I never thought the day would come when photography is what I live for! In my surroundings and the place that I was brought up in nobody could have imagined a boy devoting his life to photography. Throughout my childhood I did not have access to photographers, their work, or even a camera. Photography did not exist for me in theory or in practice. Far from actually having knowledge of photography, beyond learning this as an art, I just felt a drive inside me to take pictures of those whom we neglected consciously, who were and are neglected by fate. Every day, from every angle, in every corner of my country I went to capture those miserable souls and kept them in the heart of my camera.
In 1998, I saw a photographic exhibition about AIDS victims, entitled ‘Positive Lives’ at a gallery in Dhaka and realized for the first time how images can influence social perceptions. My first reaction upon seeing this exhibition was a complete subversion to my original perception of AIDS patients. It struck me how AIDS victims are alienated and scorned upon by us because of social misconceptions and I realized how I, as a photographer, could help dispel these misconceptions. Here, I discovered the power that images have over us.
What is the principal aim of your photography?
As a photojournalist I always feel a force in myself to make people see the unseen and use light to focus on the dense darkness that we never see in our open eyes. My images as a whole function as a story and as my voice. I want to show the world the things that should not be the way they are. I take 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. Sometimes I also face criticism for focusing on negative things in all of my images. I just want to deliver the message that it is a duty of a photojournalist to show people things we should not go through. We can’t just close our eyes and run away. I believe one day all these evil things will be removed from my country and until my last breathe I will work on it.
What did you start doing first - the travelling or the photography?
I have always travelled endlessly though I never kept my camera aside. I keep clicking both. I move from here to there. In all of my projects I never show my camera first though- I mix with people; I try to become one of them. I travel enormously, even in a single place, only to grab their story inside me, so that they can reveal their real feelings in front of my lens. In that sense travelling can be considered as first.
What is the hardest thing about being a travel photographer?
The challenge of emotions is the hardest part in my opinion. At the same time it is the most exciting and difficult task to blend yourself into a new place and again split the root unexpectedly. In all the countries I have visited I left a part of me there. My aim is to capture those faces who are silently suffering from the pain of life. Practically, I always blend in with them. I believe that to portray a community or a way of life you first need to understand it well yourself. Otherwise, the images become superficial, and neither you, nor those who look at your photographs, will be touched or moved. So this emotional mixing causes me to suffer a lot. I used to miss every face when I left one country for another.
Do you think being on the move and constantly experiencing new cultures leaves you more satisfied or less satisfied with your life? I.e. does it only serve to further perpetuate your curiosity?
This is complicated to answer clearly. My main concentration is to put the spotlight on people who are suffering eternally. Countries which are similar to mine portrait the same scenario, but whenever I travel to privileged countries I find an echo inside me. In this planet people are living in two circles - one is a very privileged party, and the other is one of affliction. Through my profession I encounter both; it endorses my knowledge and gives me satisfaction of acquaintance, but this experience equally fills me with emptiness. Do you think your thirst for exploration will ever be quenched? I am in an endless journey towards an infinite route, only to find a real world of humanity. This thirst is eternal.
What is next?
Keep walking, touching every face that drops through my lens. I will show the world unknown stories. If a single hand comes to give them shade that is the real honour of my sweat.
PHOTOS 1 - From the series Life for Rent:
1 - From the series Life for Rent:
Kandaportte Potitalow is home to 1500 prostitutes and their families. This place is all they know and it has its own micro infrastructure of grocery stores, teahouses, hairdressers, and doctors. The women themselves only know the other world through the men who come here; they know rickshaw pullers, truckers, businessmen, policemen and priests. Low social status and a lack of opportunities for both education and employment, have forced many Bangladeshi women into prostitution or exposed them to other forms of sexual exploitation. An estimated 150,000 women are involved in prostitution in Bangladesh.
3, 4, & 5 – From the series Nothing to Hold On To:
Nearly three thousand kilometres of railroad tracks crisscross the delta lowlands of Bangladesh, connecting the capital, Dhaka, with Chittagong to the southeast and Calcutta to the southwest. The system was built largely by the British and began operations in 1862, more than a hundred years before Bangladesh became an independent nation. Bangladeshi rolling stock now carries more than forty million passengers a year in three ticketed classes: air-conditioned, first, and second—and then there are the passengers who can’t pay. These riders, many of them daily commuters going to and from work, cling to handles, crouch in doorways, perch on the couplings between cars, and climb onto the roof.
2 - From the series Lonely Home in Nepal:
The Pashupati Bridhashram is the largest old people’s home in Kathmandu and is run by the government. There are 230 residents, 140 of them women and 90 of them men. It always has a lack of funds and food. Several old aged homes have been developed in Nepal in recent years to rehabilitate the rapidly increasingly elderly population.
For kilometres in every direction, there is not a hint of colour. Everything is a greyish brown, soot-blackened and dust-blown. On the banks of the Sitalakhya, Bangladesh, the only signs of life are the workers of the 250 or so brick kilns on either side of the river. Everyday, work starts at six in the morning, carting head-loads of eight bricks from the furnace to the supply pile. Each trip back and forth is allotted a little over a minute. Any more, and the entire cycle will fall behind.