GMB Akash, a man recognized for his outstanding photography skills and storytelling all over social media, not just nationally but internationally. He was born in 1977 and subconsciously started taking pictures from 1996 until now when he says he has not spent a single day without taking pictures. Akash is an award-winning international photojournalist and documentary photographer whose work has been exhibited worldwide and published and featured in over 100 international publications, from National Geographic to Newsweek and several others like Vogue, Time, Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Economist, PDN and several others. He spent over two decades establishing a reputation as one of the top professional photographers in the country and deserves every bit of the recognition. The TINDS team had the fantastic opportunity to talk with the maestro about his journey of coming this far.
TINDS: Tell us a little bit about your childhood.
AKASH: I was born in Dhaka. My father was a freedom fighter, and he was very creative as a person. He was a government employee, yet I grew up seeing him reciting poems, singing songs, and even performing in theaters. He inspired me, but I needed help figuring out what I wanted to become. Being a government official, my father often had to relocate due to his job, and we’d visit several districts with him; that’s how I guess I got fond of traveling.
TINDS: 3 words that describe you the best.
AKASH: Simple, Honest & Emotional.
TINDS: How did everything start?
AKASH: I more or less fell into photography while still deciding my future. I found an old camera at home that belonged to my father, a Yashica Fx3. I learned how to operate that camera by myself with the help of the manual and started taking photos without knowing anything. I wasn’t good at English, so I bought a dictionary to understand the manual better. I had no idea about photography or that photography could be a profession. I have always been fascinated with marginalized people’s lives and their stories. Human faces and unusual stories intrigued me, and that camera became my passport to go to places I could never go to otherwise. From the beginning of my photography career, I started working on street photography and with marginalized people in society. Working with these people has fostered a deep interest in and understanding photography and life. Slowly, my camera became my best friend, and I profoundly discovered meaning and purpose in my life. Photography became, and still is, my mission. I want to change people’s lives through photography. I want to inspire them and give a voice to those with none.
TINDS: When and how did you decide to pursue this as a career?
AKASH: I fell in love with photography as soon as I started. After I finished my B.com and the two years diploma in Computer Programming, I got admitted to doing my MBA. In the meantime, I was aware that there were photography institutions that taught people photography. I was lucky enough to be the last student of Manzoor Alam Beg sir in his institute. During my MBA, I would probably not excel in anything but photography because I enjoyed it. I had to decide if I wanted to do something I immensely loved or settle for a comfortable life.
TINDS: Being the wonderful storyteller that you are, have you ever witnessed any interaction that was different in some way that you’d like to share with us?
AKASH: I have had countless interactions with numerous people. Every picture I take is not just a picture; behind it is a detailed session of me getting to know the person, talking to them, and being aware of the hurdles they face. It would not make sense to stand inside a factory, a nursing home, or a brothel with my camera if I did not try to know the people I met. I think my photography would be stale and meaningless then.
When I was in a slum of Kawran Bazar in Dhaka, I noticed a random girl standing in front of her house when I asked her permission to click a photo of hers. As soon as I did, she asked me to wait for a while, went inside, and got ready for the shoot. She put on her gold earrings and lipstick and made me promise that I would give her the photos I clicked. Later, when I went and gave her the portraits, her face turned pale because the photos were black & white. She accused me of clicking pictures for myself and not for my subjects because she wasn’t as poor as she seemed in the picture. She also added that the black & white effect erased the colors of her surroundings and the gold earring she had worked very hard to earn. She refused to accept the picture, and I was forced to ask myself who I was clicking photographs for. I stopped taking photos for a few days and was perhaps depressed up to a certain extent as well and thought to myself a lot and later figured I did not want to victimize my subjects but instead portray them as the hero that they are, fighting the war of life every single day of their lives with the hope for a better tomorrow.
TINDS: What keeps you busy other than photography daily?
AKASH: I am often faced with one question that is asked by myself and audiences: what have I done for the people I photographed? At the beginning of my career, I saw that the lives of people whose photographs I had taken were the same years later. I worked very hard to change that, and gradually, there was a transition of interest from photography to helping those in need. I have helped over 500 individuals by establishing small businesses that enabled them to become self-sufficient. This is not a micro-loan but a gift from me that I continue to give to these families and others with my earnings from photography assignments, workshops, special projects, publications, and fundraising. I run a school where around 120 kids have free education, and it fills me with great joy to mention my prior students are now in esteemed institutions like Notre Dame College and Medical colleges in our country. There is no end to helping another individual; all that’s needed is the willingness to do so. I would like to mention a quote by Helen Keller here that has impacted me a lot –
“I AM ONLY ONE, BUT STILL I AM ONE. I CANNOT DO EVERYTHING, BUT STILL I CAN DO SOMETHING; AND BECAUSE I CANNOT DO EVERYTHING, I WILL NOT REFUSE TO DO SOMETHING THAT I CAN DO.”
TINDS: Tell us a little about your One on One workshop.
AKASH: The One on One Photography workshop program appeals to photographers worldwide with different levels of photography skills, equipment, and objectives. So far, students have come to Bangladesh from 50 different countries to learn from me directly and intensively, where I teach street and documentary photography. I spend six days with them roaming our country’s streets, and the feedback has been phenomenal. It is beautiful how people from abroad come to me to learn, whereas we are accustomed to seeing the children of our country going abroad to study. Every one of my students who visited fell in love with our country.
TINDS: What have been your biggest challenges coming this far?
AKASH: Photography has pushed me to go places and meet people I would never have encountered otherwise. I count myself blessed and privileged to have become a photographer. To articulate the experiences of the voiceless, bring their identity to the forefront, and even enable positive changes in their lives gives meaning and purpose to my own life. Being a photographer is one of the best and most exciting professions, but also the most challenging. Surviving is always a critical issue. Nepotism and personal preferences worsen the situation, especially in the field of photo competitions, but this also exists for getting assignments. Photographers must develop their projects at their expense without any assurance of funding, support, or feedback. All these limitations have to be overcome, or they suffer in silence. Most of the time, these crises of getting work are the biggest obstacles to developing creativity and exploring oneself.
TINDS: What would your advice be to young photographers?
AKASH: Click, click – keep clicking until your thirst becomes eternal. Photography is a means of existence, and it is a challenging profession requiring a lot of hard work and dedication, like any other profession. I would advise younger people not just to see this as a profession but instead use it as a medium of change that impacts society. One should not do it to be someone known over social media or make a name for themselves; instead, do something beneficial to others.
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/gmbakash
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