Tag Archives: Bangladesh

Interview with G.M.B. Akash

Many people could have lost everything in this fire if Sumon (27) had not jumped to stop the roaring flames all by himself. The site near the Buriganga River in central Dhaka has long been used as a dump for rubbish from the textile and othere industries. It only took the dropping of a cigarette butt to produce a severe fire, engulfing the whole neighborhood of shacks and makeshift homes. But Sumon immediately ran from his scrape-shop nearby, splashing water to save his livelihood and that of others. No one helped him. It is fitting to end this photographic hommage to the many “survivor“ — characters in South Asia with this picture of this courageous fighter, who valiantly took things into his own hands. Dhaka, Bangladesh

 G.M.B. Akash is one of my favourite colour photographers of all time. He has won more than 40 international awards and his work has been published around the world. Beyond that, he is the rare breed of photojournalist who cares deeply about the people he is documenting. While many commoditize their subjects, feeling that the relationship is over after they have gotten the right frame, Akash goes much further. I know from personal conversations with him that his self-published book “Survivors” was incredibly difficult to produce, and yet he used most of the profit to open small businesses for the people who appear in its pages – keeping almost nothing for himself. I don’t know many others who would have done the same thing.

I had the pleasure of meeting Akash last year in his home city of Dhaka, and found him to be an incredibly warm and open person, as well as being extremely talented. I wrote to Akash to see if he would be willing to share his knowledge with a wider audience, and he graciously agreed. We can all learn something from his compassion, his motivation, and his lack of ego. Enjoy!

Nowadays there seems to be a talented Bangladeshi photographer around every corner, but when you were starting out, what was it like to break into the market? Did you face challenges because of where you were from?

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 photojournalism. At that time parents supported you even if you wanted to be an artist, illustrator or an actor/singer. But ‘photojournalist’, this genre did not exist in the circles I was brought up in. Today one click of your mouse takes you to the sites of your favorite photographers, their recent works, and there are opportunities to get your work published. We didn’t have an internet connection or any digitalized facilities. With the only camera I had, I could hardly manage to take the pictures that I imagined. Yes, now a days the field is competitive but there are opportunities too. In my early career, the challenges were where to find inspiration, how to get a mentor, and how to live my dream. I grew up in a place where I saw massive number of sex workers, child labourers, and people living on the edges of society. At that time my friends were filling out forms for higher education to become doctors or barristers, but I had chosen my path. Everyone said I was heading for disaster. Many days I did not eat to save my pocket money for my photography. I used my tuition to buy films. Even sometime when I had no film in my camera and had no money in pocket, I never stopped clicking. I kept clicking knowing I had no film inside my camera. Because I know I had to achieve my dream. Nothing could stop me except myself, so I kept walking. And see, now I am halfway to my dream.

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You shoot all the time. I see images from you on social media almost every day. Where do you get the motivation to work so much?

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. 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. Until I can spread my message, until I share stories of broken hearts, until I show how brave my subjects are, I do not bother with anything else. On my Facebook page, every day I receive messages. Some are like ‘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?’ and sometimes hundreds of wishes and prayers. That matters to me more than any achievement. I believe that if my photographs can connect with the heart, then this is the ultimate achievement.

Why did you decide to start the First Light Institute and what do you hope it will do for photography and Bangladeshi journalism?

I founded the ‘First Light Institute of Photography’ in August, 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 25,000 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. 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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Angel in Hell

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The journalism/photojournalism industries are undergoing some huge changes. It’s hard to make money, let alone support a family. How have you managed to stand out and carve a niche for yourself?

Frankly photojournalism is not a money making field. It is very hard now and was tougher in 1996 for me when I started. My mother used to say, ‘when you will not have any penny in your pocket, your love will fly through windows.’ That love was and is photography. My father told me, ‘settle with one: money or dreams?’ I replied, ‘dream and money both’. Now I have enough to live my life and live my dream. It did not come in a blink of an eye. You need time to build your name, your reputation and to prove your devotion. If you are looking to drive a Ferrari and living in a studio duplex, photojournalism is not for you. Yes, competition in the field makes everything complex. A lot of groupism and biases are slowing down promising photographers. Often new photographers are providing images to website and magazines for free, and that is creating more problems. In this respect, I try to be honest to my profession, to my work, and to my clients. That is the simple rule I am following to a make a niche for myself. I hate to be greedy because I learnt from my photography that a family can be happy living under a plastic sheet, while another  family can be unhappy living in palace.

What do you think the future holds for you and the profession of photography?

I believe in saving for my tomorrow but not wasting my today worrying about it. By the grace of God photography has brought me much respect, affection and love. For me, photography is my past, present and future. More and more people are entering and taking photography professionally. By the next ten years competition will be triple but I truly believe it will open doors that we can’t imagine now. So cheers to the people who will bring more to the table and will ask the world to wake up.

Now that so many people want to become photographers, what advice would you give to people who are just starting out?

The first question all beginners ask me is about my camera. I say that the camera is the medium, but do not take it more seriously than your eyes. It is your third eye that will capture the image and camera will only convey them. Do not become a camera-junkie with many big varieties. The second question beginners ask me is how to earn a living. I advise to be strategic, to consider things that can bring you money – they could be part-time jobs, small assignments, friend/family party shooting etc. Think about how you can continue to live in your dreams and can survive until you reach to your goal. The third question that I often face is “my parents are against my photography/my girl friend threatened to leave me.” I answer them that the convincing power of a photographer has to be marvelous because you have to convince the people whom you want to shoot. So start doing your homework. If you cannot relate your passion to those closest to you, then how far can this passion take you?

Lastly, be honest, respect others, do not enter into groupism, work hard, travel near and far, and never underestimate your inner power.

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What new projects are you working on right now? What are you most excited about in the future?

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. The institute will also be an educational hub for child labourers and street children. If I had a magic kit I would abolish the tears of all sufferers. But as I do not have such a thing, I will still try to wipe off tears of a few. Besides these goals, my photography journey is never ending.

Parting Words?

Dear audiences and fellow companions: our simple work may be our greatest inspiration to become better human beings each day. By making some effort through our work in changing the world even if just a little for the better, we can find the way to love and peace. Helen Keller inspired me by saying:

‘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’

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Hossain’s Birds

The Mach Bazaar is a Dhaka slum built along the sides of the train tracks. Trains blast through the area roughly every ten minutes, sometimes from both directions at once, sending the inhabitants scattering for their homes. The poverty is severe.

But one man, S.K. Afzal Hossain, keeps hope alive in a unique way. Often considered to be little more than pest animals, in one section of the Mach Bazar pigeons are a source of optimism and a potential micro-business.

A former freedom fighter in Bangladesh’s 1971 war against Pakistan, Hossain organized an association of local shopkeepers to buy and breed Shiragji pigeons. Prized for being easily domesticated, and their ability to recognize voice commands, Shiragji pigeons are expensive at around 10 000 Taka ($125 US). By pooling their money the association was able to buy a pair, which they have now expanded to over 30 birds.

Along with the principle game keeper, Gaffer, Hossain and his association hope to one day turn the operation into a small business and a source of revenue for the community. But even if no money comes, Hossain says he will continue to keep the birds. “They remind me of freedom,” says Hossain, 75.

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Child Labour: Children and Machines

A young boy operates a lathe in a small machining shop in Sadarghat, Dhaka.

I found this boy working in a small shop in Sadarghat. The shop was about two metres squared and contained nothing but this machine and a wall of mounted tools. There were no safety guards of any sort on the machine, and he was regularly sticking his fingers into the gears to brush out small pieces of metal. Even the belts in the foreground were dangerous, randomly flinging small metal shards into the air.

If you haven’t seen it yet, have a look at my full story on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

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Dhaka Life

The largest city in the country, Dhaka is Bangladesh’s chaotic capital. The economic heart of the country, the city is home to an estimated 12 million people, also making it one of the world’s most densely populated cities. Every year the city grows as Bangladesh’s rural population moves to the capital in search of higher wages, yet a estimated 34% of the population lives below the poverty line. This is a look at the life of the lower classes in what the Economist Intelligence Unit named the world’s most unliveable city for 2012.

A mother comforts her child at the Sadarghat ferry terminal.

A mother comforts her child at the Sadarghat ferry terminal.

Sleeping workers at the Mach Bazaar.

Sleeping workers at the Mach Bazaar.

A street boy bathes in the polluted Buriganga river.

A street boy bathes in the polluted Buriganga river.

A woman begs for money outside the Kamalapur railway station.

A woman begs for money outside the Kamalapur railway station.

A rickshaw driver in mid day traffic.

A rickshaw driver in mid day traffic.

A reflective moment near the Sadraghat ferry terminal.

A reflective moment near the Sadraghat ferry terminal.

A boy is caught in a rainstorm along the Buriganga river.

A boy is caught in a rainstorm along the Buriganga river.

A butcher prepares a leg of goat in Sadarghat.

A butcher prepares a leg of goat in Sadarghat.

The owner of a small tea stand in Sadargaht.

The owner of a small tea stand in Sadargaht.

A welder in the Dolai Khal metal working district.

A welder in the Dolai Khal metal working district.

Men take a break in an open air lumber mill alng the Buriganga river.

Men take a break in an open air lumber mill alng the Buriganga river.

A small pottery shop in Sadarghat.

A small pottery shop in Sadarghat.

A man cuts barrel lids from a section of a steel salvaged from a supertanker. Bangladesh has a large industry built around the scrapping of ships from around the world.

A man cuts barrel lids from a section of a steel salvaged from a supertanker. Bangladesh has a large industry built around the scrapping of ships from around the world.

Steel parts in a salvage shop in the the Dolai Khal metal district.

Steel parts in a salvage shop in the the Dolai Khal metal district.

Men work together to stack logs in a lumber mill along the Buriganga river.

Men work together to stack logs in a lumber mill along the Buriganga river.

An alley in Sadarghat.

An alley in Sadarghat.

A labourer takes a break from piling brick fragments at a construction site in Dolai Khal.

A labourer takes a break from piling brick fragments at a construction site in Dolai Khal.

A pipe vendor in the Dolai Khal metal working district.

A pipe vendor in the Dolai Khal metal working district.

Men bathe after work in a public bath near the Mach Bazaar.

Men bathe after work in a public bath near the Mach Bazaar.

Construction workers prepare to sleep in an upper story of the uncompleted building site.

Construction workers prepare to sleep in an upper story of the uncompleted building site.

Pidgeons prepare for night in a small bird shop near the Kamalapur railway station.

Pidgeons prepare for night in a small bird shop near the Kamalapur railway station.

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Dhaka: Places People Sleep

For most people I know going to sleep involves closing the door to their bedroom, setting an alarm clock and turning off the lights. But for the lower classes in Dhaka, recently voted the world’s most unlivable city, sleeping is often done when and where possible. On the side of a busy intersection, inside their rickshaws, or on a piece of cardboard on the street; these are just a few of the places people sleep in Bangladesh’s capital. Follow the link for my full project on Dhaka Life.

Sleeping on a bench at the side of the road near the Sadarghat boat terminal, Dhaka.

A man sleeps under a desk in a small workshop in Sadarghat.

An elderly woman holds a baby tight as they sleep on the street near the Kaoran Bazaar, Dhaka.

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Child Labor in Bangladesh: Auto Worker

A young boy repairs a car engine in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

With Ramadan (the biggest religious Muslim holiday) in full swing, the traffic has evolved from the ordinarily terrible to utter insanity. The newspaper announces dozens of new dead daily, killed in bus and rickshaw crashes. Two photographer friends of mine who are in the city now witnessed the unceremonious dumping of a 16-year-old boy’s corpse into a garbage pile in Old Dhaka yesterday, the result of a motorcycle taxi accident. Commuting to and from shooting sites has been predictably stressful.

I found this auto repair shop on a side street near the train station, staffed almost completely with child workers. He looked to be about 7 years old, yet he seemed more competent in engine maintenance that I will likely ever be.

This is part of a larger project on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

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Bangladesh: Child Labor in Dhaka

A young boy washes recently machined metal parts in a small factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. These shops are ubiquitous in the city and many young workers earn as little as $40 per month.

“Sir, why do you take photos?” asks the shops foreman.

“I am trying to show the life of the people,” I reply, somewhat avoiding the real focus of my project.

“Child labor?” he asks, knowingly.

“Well, yes.”

“Very good Sir!” he replies, smiling broadly, “In Dhaka there are many good photos for you.”

This sort of conversation has become commonplace while documenting the child workers found throughout Bangladesh’s capital. At first I was taken aback by the total transparency with which people were willing to talk about an issue that I felt they would naturally avoid. But now I realize that this is the reality of Bangladesh: incredibly resilient people who do what they have to do to survive.

The shooting has been simultaneously very easy, and incredibly difficult. Access to the child workers, which I imagined would be very difficult to get, has been completely free. Factory owners wave me into their workshops with smiles and then stand patiently as I make images of the dreary conditions from multiple angles. At first I thought that they didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but I now know that they understand completely. This is just part of life in the world’s most densely populated country.

What has made this project challenging is the fact that there are simply no tourists in Bangladesh. Apart from a group of South Korean volunteers, I have seen virtually no one I can distinguish as foreign. As a result, whenever I stop somewhere to shoot, people crowd the scene, eager to have their photo taken. Isolating a subject becomes almost impossible unless they are backed into a corner, and since I only carry a 17-35 mm wide angle lens, portraits of a single person are mostly out of the question. I’m shooting upward of 700 photos every two hours just trying to get 2-3 usable ones.

But Bangladeshi hospitality is some of the best I’ve ever experienced. For all the headaches I couldn’t have imagined a more welcoming people, and for that I am grateful.

I recently met the inspiring and talented Bangladeshi photojournalist GMB Akash who gave me a copy of his wonderful book Survivors. I’m working on a full length post just about him and his book, the product of 15 years of shooting in his home country. More on that later.

This is part of a larger project on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

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Bangladesh: Dhaka and Child Labour

A young boy, working in an engine repair shop, shows his oil covered hands.

I’ve been trying to make a post from Bangladesh for the last few days but have been stopped by a terrible Internet connection and a hotel staff that, though exceptionally friendly, seems oblivious to the problem.

Two days ago I asked the manager if it was possible to improve the connection, to which he replied “no problem Sir, I will send the internet cable to your room”. By 10:30 p.m. no one had shown up so I gave up and went to bed only to be woken up at midnight by an urgent knocking at my door. One of the cleaning staff, who I think is about 17, greeted me politely and proudly offered me an Ethernet cable. Half asleep I thanked him and shut the door, only to realize after ten minutes of searching that there was no place to plug it in to.

The next morning I returned the cable to the manager, who then immediately asked me to add him to Facebook.

Bizarre service aside, Dhaka has been an intense and visceral experience. It is the middle of Ramadan, so traffic is suffocating. I spend a minimum of two hours a day commuting to and from locations, and the shooting is arduous. Because there is essentially no tourism industry here, especially so in the areas I am visiting, I am a huge spectacle for the local people. If I stop walking for more than one minute an audience gathers around me, often as many as 20 people standing in a semi circle and staring. It is unnerving to look away from the viewfinder and find myself totally surrounded.

But the Bangladeshis are incredibly photogenic and very open to having their pictures taken, so the images have been great, though the subject matter is heavy. Child labour is endemic in Bangladesh, though I am learning the issue is not as cut and dried as I thought.

The Wi-Fi seems to work for a 20-30 minute window at 7 a.m. every morning, so I’ll try and keep the posts more regular from now on.

This is part of a larger project on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

A slum along the train tracks near Kaoran Bazaar, Dhaka.

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Portfolio

Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-1

Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-2 Reconstruction in Tacloban Reconstruction in Tacloban Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-5 Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-6 Reconstruction in Tacloban Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-8 Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-9 Dhaka, Bangladesh. River taxi drivers take shelter during a rain storm. The evening call to prayer during the holy month of Ramadan. Bangladesh, 2012 Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-13 Reconstruction in Tacloban Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-15

A man smiles at a received text message. Kolkata, India, 2013. Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-16 Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-17 Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-18 Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-19 Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-20 Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-22 Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-24 Manila, Philippines. A young family in San Andres. Luc Forsyth Photojournalist Portfolio-26

 

Luc is available for editorial, travel, reportage, and humanitarian assignments internationally. For questions about availability or to commission an assignment, please contact Luc here.

 

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