Gmb Akash is a well known documentary and photojournalist photographer from Bangladesh that has travelled intensively in 22 countries and received more than 70 international awards. His work has been featured in over 80 major, international publications including: National Geographic, Vogue, Time, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times, Newsweek, Geo, Stern, Der Spiegel, The Fader, Brand Ein, The Guardian, Marie Claire, Colors, The Economist, The New Internationalist, Kontinente, Amnesty Journal, Courier International, PDN, Die Zeit, Days Japan, Hello, and Sunday Telegraph of London.
Interested in social issues and the life of underprivileged people. G.M.B. Akash does not only limit his work to document suffering and injustice, His purpose is to be able to articulate the experiences of the voiceless and to bring their identities to the forefront.
Is an honor for Encuadre Global to have a talk with Gmb Akash.
Question.- What does travel mean for you?
Answer.- For me traveling is breaking my boundaries. As a travel photographer every new place has a different value to me. Every place is different so as its color, smell and sound. Traveling brings me closer to understand life of different people who belong to different cultures. It opens a new world to me. From the beginning of my photography career I always save money for traveling. I kept my savings to explore world of unseen. Like as travel photographer we create bridges with peoples’ feelings – with their joys, with their sorrows. We merge with their cries, laughs. We travel and collect untold stories of people from different part of the world. Every amazing travel starts with impossibility. I just follow my maples heart and that takes me to the place that gift images I dream. Travel makes me a gypsy soul. Wild, free and unafraid – this is how a gypsy soul live fully with thrust to discover.
Q.- Tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you became a photographer…
A.- Coming from a background where there was little space for adopting a creative process created difficult circumstances for me. People around me had no idea about photography. I held my father’s old camera and started taking pictures without giving it much thought in 1996.
I was always passionate about poking the ‘spinal cord’ of the world and treasuring all the souls within it. I discovered that I could underline our lives and our awareness by transforming suffering into photographs. For me photography became my language, to access, to communicate, to identify and mostly to be heard. I learned that I had a fanaticism for storytelling which takes me anywhere and everywhere. My searching mind was driving an innate curiosity and sense of wonder to know the world around me. My photographs began to speak for the people I discovered.
Q.- How do you define your style?
A.- My style is simple. I believe the simplest things are the most extraordinaire and only the wise ones are able to see them. I do not miss the image that pass a signal from my eyes to my heart. Patience is my rule. When I go for shooting I actually forget everything. People and their stories is my premise. I learn from faces that I meet with my camera. As a stranger it takes time to merge with the people, with the community and this is the biggest challenge for me as a photographer. By building relation with my subject I fill in the gap between us and thus I pick up untold stories which world needs to be acquainted with. Also I want to project simplicity in my image because I take images to show it to the general people, people from all classes. I want to make them think, I want to make the conversation between them. And me and my camera is medium.
Q.- Can you tell us how do you prepare your projects?
A.- When I shoot I always ask two questions to myself: why I am taking this photo? And what message do I want to convey? First and foremost, photography is my passion and secondly it is a tool to affect positive change. I shoot almost every day because I love to do it. I do not see photography as competition, nor do I thrive for status or reputation. I want to show my pictures to my audiences. Before started a project I do a lot of research. I gather information from books, magazines, news, and internet. Then I try to find out possibilities to tell the story. I repeatedly visit the community or the place I will be shooting. I start building a relationship with people. I introduce myself with as many people as I can. I build an emotional connection that helps me to go to the depth of the story. I use simple equipments mainly one lens and one camera. I dress up very ordinary so I can mingle with people easily. I always keep smiling and keep talking with people I am working with.
Q.- You are capable of seeing beauty in ugliness thought your work.Its necessary to have an emotionally space to connect your camera and to capture what already is?
A.- As a human I seek to see beauty in ugly truth. I think if I do not have any emotional connection with the story that I am telling then actually why to project it? Without your emotion, without your understanding how you will be able to tell a story on behalf of a people that you are shooting? When I did the story ‘Life for rent’ I wake up nights to listen to stories of girls who are abandoned by family and society. Until I cannot feel their pain or at least understand them how I can bring the reality in the frame. It will look fake and soul-less if I cannot connect my emotion with the story. That is what I feel. I shoot in colour because we do not see anything in black and white. People I photograph have lot of color in their life, without color I feel they are pride less. The colors in their life represent their beauty and pride. The red lipstick of the brothel girl has an impact in her life, the yellow balloon of the street kid has its own story, so I cannot eliminate those. Without color those images will tell a half story.
Q.- What is the most hardest picture you ever took?
A.- It is not just a certain picture. The difficulty was my topic. In 2002 I started working with gay community. That was one of the difficult moments because I was the first photographer who works on them. People never spoke about it and even discussing this issue was prohibited. Being a gay was a sin for the society. It was very very hard for me to get access in their community. I was committed to know about their life beyond the curtain. I spend one year with them without my camera. I give them time to understand me and for building our relationship. During working on this topic I overcome such situation that helped me to become a photographer. I can remember few of my friends started calling me gay, only because I was mixing with them. If we fear to face hardest difficult in the path of our dream then how long we can go? I keep continuing my journey without fearing anything, anymore.
Q.- Can you tell us more about a project that you are still working on?
A.- I aspire to do many things. I am working on my next photo book and continuing to do my long-term projects. My happiness is being able to bring a smile to a face. My book ‘Survivors’ is spreading happiness among survivors’ families as I am continuing to give an opportunity to elevate their lives. More than 15 families are now happily working in businesses that I set up for them. My desire is to give more. I am currently working on my recently founded school, First Light Institute of Photography. I founded the ‘First Light Institute of Photography’ (www.firstlightphotoschool.com) in April 2013. I wanted to take photography door-to-door, and heart to heart. My mission is to give quality knowledge at minimal cost to unprivileged photography students. The dream is very simple: it is ‘keeping your light alive’.
First Light recently organized the event ‘Inspiring Light’, in which we brought aspiring individuals to share their unique treasures with an audience. ‘Inspiring Light’ is an event in which to exchange inspiration; where people learn, are inspired and where ideas will take shape. The event is free for everyone. We recently organized an exhibition at the nearby Narayanganj train station to make the general public aware of photography. More than 50,000 people were our viewers. At the inception of our school, we made a wish! We wished to ignite the dark-velvet realities of many lives.
We are aiming to educate unprivileged children: children who are living in the streets, children who are working as child labourers, children who are dropping out from schools and children who have no access to 21st century education. In short, we want to ignite the minds of the unprivileged in many different ways. We have started providing informal education of the basic subjects. Our groups of children belong to factories, the streets, slums and villages. In last Christmas to until 1st January we gifted 500+ new toys to more than 500 unprivileged children of our society to inspire them to motivate them. Besides this non-profit contribution to young children, we are charging minimal fees for photography workshops that will provide the fuel for the institute to function. Our mission is to go beyond our dreams and we believe we surely will.
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