GMB Akash is an award-winning Bangladeshi photographer who concentrates on people living on the edge of society around the world. He captures their daily lives and stories in photographs and words that push him to places and people he would have never encountered otherwise.
Traveling gives Akash a deeper understanding of humanity and how he can improve their lives. He has also focused on the impact of the environment on unprivileged people that others rarely see.
Why Did We Pick GMB Akash as the Best Street Photographer in Bangladesh?
80% of the answer would be the same as our other interviews with great photographers from the rest of the world, 20% would be, GMB Akash is just so famous and well recognized!
Akash’s Work has been featured in over 100 major publications, including:
- Sunday Times
- The Guardian
- The Economist
- Marie Claire
- The New Internationalist
- The Sunday Telegraph of London.
- Der Spiegel
- The Fader
- Brand Ein
- Amnesty Journal
- Courier International
- Die Zeit
- Days Japan
The photographs of GMB Akash have been exhibited all over the world with solo exhibitions in the following places:
- – Bangladesh
- USA New York
- Czech Republic
Akash has received more than 100 international photography awards and recognition starting in 2002 when he became the first Bangladeshi selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands. He was the first Bangladeshi to receive the Young Reporters Award 2004 at the Scope Photo Festival in Paris.
In 2005 Akash was awarded ‘Best of Show’ at the Center for Fine Art Photography’s international competition in Colorado, USA. He won the 2006 World Press Photo award and released his first book ‘FIRST LIGHT’ that same year.
Again, GMB Akash became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the 30 Emerging Photographers (PDN 30), sponsored by Photo District News Magazine, USA. In Switzerland, he won the 7th Vevey International Photography 2009 Grant.
Akash took home the international ‘Travel photographer of the Year’ 2009 (TPOY 2009) in the UK, the most prestigious award in travel photography. Nikon selected GMB Akash in 2011 as one of the 8 ‘influencers’ in the Asia Pacific.
In 2012, Akash presented the results of his 10-year project “Survivors”, with proceeds from the resulting publication going towards helping the subjects of the book establish their own small businesses and become self-sufficient.
He founded the GMB Akash Institute of Photography in 2013 in Bangladesh teaching students from all over the world. The proceeds from his photography workshops go towards the provision of basic education for street children, underprivileged talented students, and child laborers.
GMB Akash has been invited to speak and present his work at:
- the 2008 Fifth Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Norway
- the TEDxOporto 2011 in Portugal as the first Bangladeshi to speak at a TEDx event
- the TEDxHyderabad 2017
- the TedxYouth 2019 at Sir John Wilson School in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
- the ‘7th Forum of Emerging Leaders in Asian Journalism’ in 2017, Indonesia
- the National Geographic Exodus Fest in Portugal spoke, exhibited, and gave a master class.
- the featured speaker at FINE ART TALKS in Malé, the Republic of Maldives in the FE AUDITORIUM at The Maldives National University (MNU) 2019.
- a plenary session speaker at the QATAR LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, October 2019 in Doha as well as giving a workshop.
Various international photography contests have selected GMB Akash to be on the jury including Friends of the Earth International Photo Competition (The Netherlands), The Worldwide Photography Gala, the 2018 UNESCO Silk Road Photography Contest, and the Siena 2018 International Photography Awards jury in Italy and many more.
Interviewing GMB Akash: The Best Street Photographer in Bangladesh
GMB Akash’s Photography
Q: How did everything start? Why and how did you start your street photographer’s life?
Although I did graduate studies in photography, later on, I more or less fell into photography while still deciding my future. I found an old camera at home, a Yashica fx3 that was my father’s, and that camera changed my life completely. I learned how to operate that camera by myself with the help of the manual and started taking photos without knowing anything.
I had no idea about photography or even that photography could be a profession. Knowing nothing, I started roaming around here and there taking photos.
I have always been fascinated with marginalized people’s lives and their stories. Human faces and unusual stories intrigued me very much and that camera became my passport to go to the places that I could never go to otherwise.
From the beginning of my photography career, I started working on street photography and with marginalized people of society. In fact, working with these people has fostered a deep interest and understanding of photography and life.
Slowly my camera became my best friend and I started to profoundly discover 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 them a voice when they have no voice.
Q: Other than street photography, do you accept other photography jobs?
Actually, I am a serious documentary photographer but I also do lots of street photography. I enjoy being on the streets and love the challenges street photography deals me every moment. I take images on the street almost every day. I’m passionate about meeting new people and discovering new places which are always possible in Dhaka where I live.
I also conduct street photography workshops in my photography school, ‘GMB Akash Institute of Photography’ which I founded in 2013(?). I have led numerous small groups of young Bangladeshi aspiring photographers through the streets of Dhaka. After a day’s shoot, we’d spend every evening of the workshop together assessing each of their photos of the day.
Many of my students have thrived in photography, especially in the streets after taking these workshops and having the opportunity to discuss each image with me and with other students.
Furthermore, I have established a One on One Photography program which appeals to photographers from all around the world with different levels of photography skills, equipment, and objectives. So far, students have come here to Bangladesh from 30 different countries to learn from me directly and intensively where I teach street and documentary photography.
Besides, I do a lot of portrait photography as well and I write stories about the people I meet and photograph as well as articles on environmental and social issues that impact the population in Bangladesh.
I work with international newspapers and magazines, as well as accepting assignments for NGOs. A substantial part of my time is spent in charitable activities that I organize which directly help the people I photograph.
What is your photography philosophy?
Our simple work using our photographic tools, engaging in social interactions, and intensely observing life in motion becomes my greatest inspiration to become a better human being each day. By making some effort through photography, we can engage in changing the world for the better can find our way to experience love and peace.
Through photography, I can see the beauty of people and their human souls in the pictures I take. And though the circumstances of some of the people I portray may be grim and distressing, 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 society and the world I live in, to show what can be shown, to go deep into every milieu and into every aspect of poverty, deprivation, and hardship that I encounter. I believe that the only sin for a photographer is to turn his or her head and look away.
What are your favorite parts and the biggest challenges as a street photographer?
Photography has pushed me to go to places and to meet people I never would have encountered otherwise. Each street visit gives me a deeper understanding of humanity; in particular when I encounter those souls living destitute and distressing lives who are unable to express their misery to anyone.
Today, I count myself blessed and privileged having become a photographer. To be able to articulate the experiences of the voiceless, to bring their identity to the forefront, and even to enable positive changes in their lives gives meaning and purpose to my own life.
Being a photographer is one of the best and most interesting professions, but also one of the most challenging. It’s very hard to work in a developing country as a freelance photographer. Here in Bangladesh, the renowned international magazines and other mainstream media only cover stories once every 3-5 years.
Even knowing that in a particular region, a story could be covered by a local photographer, some international organizations still prefer to send their photographers from abroad.
Thus, surviving is always a critical issue. Nepotism and personal preferences worsen the situations especially in the field of photo competitions but this also exists for getting assignments.
Furthermore, a European photographer can easily move around the world with their passports and have all the facilities of technology, fundraising, assignments, guaranteed access to everywhere, so they can cover anything in the world.
Here in Asia, photographers have to develop their projects at their personal expense without any assurance of funding, support, nor feedback. All these limitations have to be overcome or they suffer in silence. Most of the time, it’s these crises of getting work that are the biggest obstacles to developing creativity and exploring oneself.
Which is your favorite piece of work? Why?
That’s very difficult to decide. But I have a special affection for my ‘Survivors’ publication, my 10-year book project. ‘Survivors’ is a tribute to the Bangladeshi people; their incredible smiles, their extraordinary ability to overcome difficulties, and their flamboyant character.
It’s been a rewarding journey for me that portrays not just people, but the varied and undeserved circumstances they are in – a battle that is fought in a large part, with little more than a fleeting smile.
Street Photography in Bangladesh
What is the biggest difference between street photography in Bangladesh and the rest of the world?
You may travel to hundreds of countries, meet unforgettable faces in your life, but after visiting Bangladesh, your memory of this country will undoubtedly hold a permanent place in your heart. Bangladeshi people know magic; the magic of being happy in whatever discouraging situation or painful condition that they find themselves in. This makes the country the best destination for inspiration and photography.
You just need to be in the right place with the right people who are exceptionally cooperative with photographers. In short, it’s an ecstasy for Street and Documentary photographers.
Bangladesh is gradually gaining recognition worldwide in the field of photography. The people of Bangladesh are so very welcoming and hospitable, something you rarely see as an exceptional characteristic of more developed countries. Following Muslim tradition, travelers in Bangladesh are graciously treated as guests.
With over 160 million people in a country, Bangladesh has the 8th highest population density in the world. And that means there are lots of people mingling everywhere! Walking the streets of Dhaka is a very intense and interesting experience with great photo opportunities around every corner. You could say that Bangladesh is a heaven for street photographers.
Street Photography Tips by GMB Akash
Can u share with us some street photography tips?
Street Photography Tips 1:
Whatever you do, do for soul-feeding. You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, and the people you have loved. Instinct and the ability to anticipate are skills that a street photographer acquires with experience and a lot of practice.
The more you walk through the streets with your camera, the more you will be able to tune As a street photographer you are constantly scanning your surroundings. No expression or gesture can escape from you, the challenge is to record that story in your frame.
Street Photography Tips 2:
You are going to get the best light in at certain moments of the day. You will be finding an interesting element to shoot once in a while. The mood of the people changes very fast, so as their expressions. The environment of a whole scenario can change in a few seconds.
The action, reaction, speed, mood, light, energy. Color every single detail is moving with time, and you need to capture it in a fleeting moment. Freeze the moment before you miss it, you need to act in the street like a pro.
Street Photography Tips 3:
You need to be very fast to frame what you want to capture. It can be anything but anyone can read your creativity once they see how you frame elements of a picture. Street Photography is all about capturing fleeting moments, moments of tension, happiness, anxiety, relaxation, fun, and any moments which have meaning to you.
The framing of any moment depends on how you are connecting different elements into one photograph. If those elements complement the atmosphere of your street photo then it will create magic.
Street Photography Tips 4:
When you will master the art of seeing, you will start to see things from your inner light. Street Photography is an art of observation. It is all about having the right of amount patience with energy to enjoy. It’s a representation of how you see things. Every moment has something beautiful, some amazing things that are happening all around you, you just need to open your heart to see that with your eyes. Try to capture what you feel not just what you see.
Street Photography Tips 5:
It is very obvious that you will be very uncomfortable at the beginning. But after some time you will be okay with it. But of course, you have to overcome your fear. You have to overcome the feeling that everyone is noticing you and you might have to face several rejections. Stay focused, accept rejections, enjoy walking and be very confident!
Street Photography Tips 6:
Please smile. Smiling is a kind gesture. It allows you to alleviate nervousness and it makes a connection with your subject. Whenever you are going to take a shot of any person, nod and smile.
Street Photography Tips 7:
Be very confident in the street. Act like a professional. Feel like you have been doing it for many years. When you will be confident then the people around you will feel confident about yourself. Finally, you will face less rejection.
Street Photography by GMB Akash – The Gears
What cameras and lens are you using? Why them?
I mainly use these gears, Canon 5d mark 4, 24-70 mm, 24 mm, 35 mm lens.
These lenses cover almost everything I need, from portraits to environmental shots.
Do you think mirrorless cameras would be great for street photography? Why? If you don’t think so, then why not?
I believe, there is no specific camera for street photography and gear alone will not make your street photography better. You should not stop because you only have a compact or a DSLR or smartphone. I tell people to pick up the camera they have and make a step in the right direction and start practicing.
We need a camera to take photos and certain lenses for our style. But besides the camera also buy photography books and participate in a photography workshop. If you do not have any technical knowledge of photography, you will continue to make the same mistakes without improving anything.
It will be in vain if you invest everything for only gear and not for knowledge. Do not become obsessed with gear. Keep one camera, one lens specifically. Take some time every week to practice adjusting your camera controls, focusing distance, and exposures.
Be bold and give yourself your first assignment on the street: discover the world right outside your front door.
Can you recommend some great photo spots in Bangladesh?
Dhaka is a city full of emotions. It’s a city that never gets tired. You will see a colorful city, bursting with happiness and excitement in all their forms. The people are exceptionally expressive, welcoming, and passionate. For photographers, coming to Dhaka will be the best investment.
Dhaka is a reigning sovereign over more than 16 million people – one of the most densely populated cities in the world and full of activities. It has many interesting streets and bazaars, especially in Old Dhaka, all of which constitute a paradise for photographers who like street and portrait photography.
Can you give us some traveling tips to Bangladesh? Like your favorite food, must-see attraction…
You should hire a guide or you should have someone with you who knows places, cultures, and people. Then you have the maximum experience. Alone could sometimes be difficult as not everyone speaks English very well and it’s easy to get lost in all the excitement.
Roaming around alone everywhere is not always safe. Petty theft is an issue – particularly of mobile phones. Cycle rickshaws are an open target and are best avoided during darkness. Robberies on the streets are increasing, so you need to be careful.
Bangladesh has six seasons, each with its own flavor and mood that reveal themselves within two larger periods of dry and rainy weather that has intermittent variations.
The dry, cool season from late September to early May is the most popular season for most westerners. The rainy season begins in June and continues more or less until September. Every season has something different and unique to offer. Therefore, any visit to Bangladesh would prove most memorable to you in any season.
You will find delicious food and meals available and cooked in different western and traditional styles. Bottled beverages are quite available, but homemade beverages are more prevalent. You can have a good time here in Bangladesh when it comes to enjoying the meals and beverages.
Unsurprisingly for such a waterlogged country, fish have always been on the menu. Rice and lentils are staples too. The so-called ‘honey’ months of June, July, and August spawn some seriously tasty fruit (mainly mangoes, jackfruit, lychees, and green coconuts).
Bangladesh is without a doubt one of Asia’s undiscovered jewels. Bangladesh can also be raw: along with the beautiful landscapes, people, and places, you need to expect to see a lot of poverty and a huge amount of pollution and dirt in the cities.
Don’t come if you’re not comfortable with dressing conservatively, sitting in crowded transport, and experiencing a variety of conditions you’ve never encountered before. But do come if you want to absorb the beauty and graciousness of the Bangladeshi people and to take back home your discoveries of another world that you have captured in your camera and your heart.
How can people find you and your work?
People can find my work here:
- Website: www.gmb-akash.com
- Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/gmbakash
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/gmbakash
- Blog: www.gmbakash.wordpress.com
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/GmbAkash
Interviewing GMB Akash, The Best Street Photographer in Bangladesh – Final Words
I really, really enjoyed this interview. The work of GMB Akash is just impressive and he is just so willing to share his knowledge. GMB Akash is someone who can make you want to travel to his country, learn more about their culture via sharing his photos.