Tale of Frames
Tomal Samad talks to celebrated photographer GMB Akash. The conversation starts with photo-talk but ends as a tale of passion.
What is Photography to you?
For me, photography is light. With this light, I see things differently and I
profoundly. In the journey of light, I go into the deep milieu of human existence. I am a light bearer who sees beauty in ugliness, strength in fragility, and love in the lost. Without photography, I have no existence.
You are undoubtedly one of the best travel photographers Bangladesh has, what has motivated you?
I have a vigorous soul. I do not know where I will be waking up the next morning. I move from place to place, cities to cities and countries to countries. In still moments of life, I can travel time on my own. I see how different seasons are in the different parts of the world. The taste of food and faces of people all are different in different regions. However, in the end, every human soul resembles each other somehow.
The grandmother of a Kasikasima smiles to me and I find that same smile form another grandmother in Netrokona. This fascinates me most. I have travelled more than fifty counties, most importantly, thousands of nameless streets.
My inspiration is every face I met in my journey, the music I hear on road, and the struggles I face and overcome.
Every sunrise is a new hope for me to live another day and shoot another story. I do not know where I am going but I know I am on my way.
How would you define a good or bad photograph?
A good photograph will have a lasting impression on you. This kind of photograph has the ability to make you feel. It can make you cry, compel you to laugh or it will give you a feeling to look back again and again.
A good photograph is universal. It will tug heart beyond borders.
What is your aim in photography?
When I shoot, I always ask two questions to myself: why I am taking this photo and what message do I want to convey. Above all, photography is my passion and then it is a tool to influence 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.
I have seen many of my colleagues who hardly share their photographs and keep them all for competitions, grants, or exhibitions. I am very clear about the fact that I take photographs to show people, to convey a message, and to make a change. As long as I can spread my message until I share stories of broken hearts until I show how brave my subjects are, nothing else matters more.
Do you think your works creating any influence over the lives of the struggling people?
On my Facebook page, I receive hundreds of messages every day. Some say, "You changed me and my thoughts, thank you", or 'After seeing your photo I cried at midnight. What can I do for the brave lady?"
Sometimes, hundreds of wishes and prayers are sent to me and that is what matters to me more than any achievement. I believe that if my photographs can make way to the heart and can influence people to take a step for humanity, then I have achieved my goal.
What inspires you to continue your journey?
Human stories inspire me most. The strength of a six-year old to feed his sick mother or courage of a refugee grandmother who crossed an ocean in a rubber boat to search for her grandchild are my inspirations. The soul that never loses hope in vulnerability is giving power to my journey. The smile that survives through pain is the canvas of my work.
I cannot deny the love of a brothel sister who cares to keep food for me from her portion. The refugee who travelled six months, crossed a mountain, ocean in barefoot cared to stop me to take rest and shared food. These experiences made me feel that the biggest joy of life are the small moments of miracles when you can laugh from heart, give without keeping anything and live knowing death can come any moment.
Which of your work is your favourite?
My project Survivors, it depicts the invincibility of the human spirit to survive against all odds. It focuses on the people at the bottom of societies-- those who must struggle on a daily basis, simply to survive. Deprived of even life's barest necessities, these people still manage to live each day with a smile on their face.
The reasons behind it being your favourite is?
I have given years of my own life to this project and through it, I feel I have taken on a responsibility for the people I photographed. It has been a journey that portrays not just people, but the varied and undeserved circumstances they are in-- a battle that is fought in large part, with little more than a fleeting smile.
Survivors remain close to my heart not because it was a long challenging project I carried long. I still bear this in my heart as I am able to change the lives of people depicted in the book.
When I see the book changed their life by making them self-sufficient, by breaking the vicious circle of poverty, I take pride at that moment. It feels like I gave less but received a lot more.
Do you find photojournalism a difficult profession in Bangladesh?
I came from a background where there was little space for adopting a creative process and that created difficult circumstances for me. People around me had no idea about photojournalism.
Yes, despite being known as one of the renowned, still it is very hard to work in a developing country as a freelance photographer.
International magazines and other mediums cover important stories here once in three to five years. Some international organizations still prefer to send their photographers abroad or hire photographers from abroad. Thus, surviving is a crucial issue. Mostly, crisis of work is the obstacle for developing the creativity and exploring new work.
As being a photojournalist from Bangladesh-- a developing country, what are the problems that you have faced?
In the issue of travelling, a European photographer can easily move around the world and have access to everywhere but for a Bangladeshi photographer, it is always difficult to get that access. I could not attend many of my exhibitions as we do not have Embassy for many countries here. Thus visa was a problem. I know what have I gone through to reach where am I now. Seeing the flag of my country beside my name is always a pride moment for me.
And how did you deal with these difficulties?
I am always working and have never rested for a day for many years. This is possible because I pour my heart into my work. Once a client works with me, they always keep coming back because of the content I am always providing.
To participate in my workshops in Bangladesh, participants have travelled from different parts of the world. When you are true to your work, your work will remain true to you.
What is the secret of your success?
I never compromise with honesty, hard work and dedication. My work has helped me to believe in living a very simple life. After receiving more than a hundred prestigious awards I remain the same simple photographer who loves to have lunch with labourers. I have had exhibitions in the world's renowned museums but my thirst remains on discovering darkest alleys of Survivors.
What are your advices for the young photographers?
The moment you start doing photography only for yourself, you get the best reward of your life. You will be no longer be alone. With time you will start to enjoy little moments of your life on your own.
One day photography will become your loyal companion. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and it will make you love. That is how photography will become your existence. This is how Photography gives meaning to your life. Hold on there until you can make your kind.