‘Traveling to an unknown city, to an anonymous alley is always fascinating to me; mostly in order to stare at how life goes on! Stepping into a nameless street and sipping a cup of chai in its old bazaar is like a reunion of moments that are treasured in my memory tag! Street photography has unveiled secrets of eccentric daily life and it has always unfolded mystery that my heart aspires for all the time. My camera is my best friend and spending hours and hours along with it in those streets is so addictive that I am compelled to say that the best part of street photography is – you will never ever feel bored’ – GMB Akash
Where to go?
Anywhere! Here and there or everywhere. Known or unknown. Seen or unseen. Do not calculate which place is convenient and which is not. Be very casual. Start your journey and discover things that you never thought would fascinate you. Keep one thing in mind: every street trip that you will make will be a unique one if only you can merge yourself within the flow of the street.
How to overcome fear in the street?
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!
One gesture to win hearts:
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.
During street photography don’t talk too much but do talk a little bit. Small words, hello, can I take a picture, wow, great, fine, thanks small words. If you are going to make a long conversation, it happen often that some people might hesitate about your aim. In case you feel a longer conversation could bring out images then do it.
Handle yourself wisely
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 you. Finally you will face less rejection.
Introducing yourself to strangers:
You will meet three kinds of people in the street:
a) Persons who are very welcoming about taking images. You will definitely explore this opportunity more. While meeting them you can feel it easily so it will be very comfortable for you to take images with time and to experiment.
b) There are some people who hesitant. They will not refuse you or say no to you directly but you can feel a discomfort. Then it is your responsibility to make them comfortable. Greet them, talk about the weather or simple things about yourself and you will discover after few minutes they will be more at ease.
c) Go away faces. They are very challenging and you have to respect your subject. If they do not approve of taking their pictures you have to respect that without feeling bad. The most you can do tis o make them understand that their images are fully secured and you are an aspiring photographer. Talk to them about your passion and dreams. Even after that if they say NO, just accept it. We cannot force someone to do anything!
Take a companion:
If you feel very uncertain and discomfort about shooting even after trying hard then ask a friend to accompany you for a few days. Sometimes company can make your street trips easier.
In street photography there is not much time to waste. You cannot spend a lot of time just for one shot. It is full of capturing decisive moments for capturing. If you get an excellent shot for a moment, do not get time to ask permission. Just click, then you can talk afterward and explain it. If you hesitate the person in front of your camera will hesitate. Never hesitate.
Learn to understand people and situation:
A great attribute of any kind of photographer is when he/she can understand people. After being experienced in the street you can feel that you actually can understand what a stranger is feeling about you. Slowly you will understand people and their minds. It will help you to deal with any kind of situation in the street.
I have already shared a few experiences of mine and some advice in the Street Photography Category of this blog. Have a tour if you want to know more about the topic.
I teach street photography for The Compelling Image: The Compelling Image: Online-Interactive Courses in Photography and Multimedia Storytelling
If you are interested in joining my street photography course sign in: Street Photography Classic and Creative
‘Everyone used to say he is my bad luck. Everyone blamed my child as a reason for an unknown misery. They predicated I might have to spend my life crying for him. I did not say anything to anyone. When at night I saw that he slept at my arms and his innocent face filled my heart with the greatest joy! He has made me understand how colourful, vibrant a life can be! The years I am passing with my son are the best times of my life. When I go out and he always holds the corner of my dress and I feel someone is there for me. Someone who will never live me alone. My child is reason of my life. I brought him into this world but this autistic child has made me feel how beautiful life is! With pride I can say if there is another life after death I will again want to be a mother of such an autistic child!’ – Mother of an autistic child Nitin that I meet in Nepal Airport
Only a mother can feel it but sad is the society that is blind and heartless! Although there is no official data in Nepal, it is estimated that out of 12.8 million children under the age of 18, there are about 117’000 known autistic cases. The Nepal Times reports that “While physical disabilities can be seen and easily identified, autism is ‘invisible’. In order to avoid facing society’s imposed shame, parents often lock their children inside the house. Despite giving them love and affection their children face this cruelty.
A generous smile and gentle hug cure many illnesses and by getting love these children might have hope to live. But when society is searching abnormality in normal people how many of them can get such kindness! How many souls can care and give them shade from the scorching sun! My photographer-activist friend Pallav Pant introduced me to a school that is continually working hard to give autistic children hope for life.
I went to visit SSDRC (Special School for Disabled and Rehabilitation Center) It took seven days for me to say good bye to them. Every day I went there to spend some special time and every day I cried when I went back to my place. Inside the classroom it has written on the wall , ‘Work with Desire, Serve with Smile’. In the morning when I stepped inside the classroom I heard children are praying, ‘Oh God made me healthy, wealthy and wise!’Their day starts with positivity and with smiles. When I was taking picture suddenly a boy pushed his nose in my camera glass. I offered him my hand for a handshake, then he brought his two hands together and said, ‘Namaste’!
A small girl ‘Nur’ was repeatedly making some meaningless sounds. The closer I got to take picture of her, the she higher she made her vocal sound. When I said sorry to her, she came closer and touched my hair to stroke it! When I was taking pictures I was lying on the floor and suddenly Angkit came and sat at my back. The girl named Sajni who was opposite of me had been copying me all the time. When I laughed she laughed. When I took pictures she mimicked me as if she was taking pictures. How rapidly my time has passed and I did not realize it. From a stranger I became a friend and I did not feel any more that they are different than any other children! Their repetitive behavior made them more special. Their teachers and the Principal are trying hard to make them capable, to give them the power one needs with which to deal withs society. Their continual efforts are proving that if there are people like those at SSDRC there will be no more invisible children in society.
Every child of SSDRC is special. Teachers have to handle all of them differently, individually. When Sajni becomes hyperactive Tara miss sings a song a favourite song of Sajni and after repetitive hugging the child became normal again. Abu keeps crying all the time but his Anju Miss knows how to make him smile. It is evident that if we learn to care for every special child personally then they will get a normal life.
When I was observing how Abu stopped crying Vashkor hit my camera glass. Vaskor is in Class D and he is the most challenging child among all. Vashkor cannot talk. He hardly listens to his teacher. But after long seasons for the last two years his aggressive behaviour has changed a lot. To enter into these children’s world we need to feel their hearts. Beside Vashkor naughty Binaya is used to doing what he determines to do. When I first met Binaya I saw him hit a ball for a hundred times in the court, and when he could pass through the hole for the first time he noticed me. Who said, these children cannot do anything!
Among them there is Probin, who remains silent all the time. The past of Probin was pathetic. The founder and principal of SSDRC found him chained inside his house. His parents live in a slum and because of taunting by the community they chained him up for many years. Now Probin has changed a lot. But teachers are giving him special attention to heal his heart. Probin shook my hand and I saw a drawing behind him, a child inside a cage and written, ‘Save me!’
With some limited resources the young Lady Sabita has been working hard and alone to establish this school SSDRC. She ensures giving special attention to every child. From breakfast to lunch, evening snacks to transport, she is maintaining everything on her own. The small donation the school gets is not enough for the stuff and everything else . But teachers who are serving here are determined to serve, not to earn. Sabita said, ‘I came to Kathmandu from a very small town. I had to face great struggles in my life, and even I am capable and educated. Therefore, I realize how hard it is for these children who are actually invisible to society. I was determined to do something for them. I dedicated my time and whatever money I inherited. These children are my family. Still now I don’t have any child but all the time I feel like a mother. Mother of such a big family. Their laughs, their cries, their hugs give me strength to fight against all odds. I will continue to be beside them no matter what difficulty I may face!’
On the last day of my visit when I was passing class A, girls and teachers were making bangles. They sell these bangles to visitors and this money goes to the food fund. To tell me goodbye most of them were looking through the window. Angkit came and suddenly gave me a hug before I could catch him he went quickly away I saw on the back of his T-shirt what was written:
‘I will do everything
In my power’
If you want to help and support this children please send an email to: email@example.com
I left everything behind. The unbearable noise of some angry young men, the screams of an unknown crowd as well the very loud train station fans and their monotonous melody, all were behind me! I was running at such speed that if my friend didn’t hold on to my bag tightly while pulling it, I might have fallen on the floor along with the porter who was magically carrying six-seven bags! However we safely arrived at the train departure platform. Once again I promised myself never to photograph just before a journey as every time I forget the schedule and have to rush like I did that day.
Between hundreds of trains I was searching my Vibhuti Express. The destination is Varanasi. I pushed my head forward and suddenly some small fingers held my hand. We were both scared! The small child mistakenly holds my hand. We laughed together! We all were searching the desired Vibhuti Express. I felt a great thirst to take picture in this super busy station with its very very interesting compositions that were calling me. But then reaching the Vibhuti Express was more important than any composition. It is a known truth that when you are anticipating something with all your heart it will never come easy! The train is three hours late!
My friend closed his eyes and was resting a bit. I was resting my eyes by watching people. To see people up close and from a distance is my old habit/hobby. I was praying that the train might arrive earlier so that I could explore Varanasi in the early morning. I was afraid that I was going to lose the morning light. In front of me everyone was rushing recklessly. They were scared to miss….scared to lose…scared not to reach. But finally when they were seated in the train, they were all looking behind again and again. All of us love to go ahead, but we also feel happy to see behind us. To know how far we have come! The nagging old man sitting beside me laughed for the first time; yes, the much desired ‘Vibhuti Express’ finally arrived!
We departed the station at 8 P.M and were supposed to reach Varanasi by next morning 8:00 A.M. But the excessively slow train took 22 hours and we reached our destination at 6:00 P.M in the next evening. I knew I had lost the light but still there was some hope to catch a bit of it. I jumped out as soon as the train stopped. But there is something called luck and it had decided that I am going to have a slow day. The puller of the rickshaw that we took was driving round and round, and just as slow as our train had been. It took 45 minutes to reach a distance that normally takes 15 minutes. I was so sad when I opened my hotel room’s door. I went directly to the window and after opening it I slowly whispered, ‘I can wait my entire lifetime to take images of such colour, such an old place, with such mystery that no words can properly describe it!’
Next to my window four eyes were curiously looking at me. A monkey couple was wondering about me so as I was of them. They were hand in hand. I smiled and try to offer friendship but they were confused and then they were holding hands even tighter. The night was falling and I was writing beside the window. Suddenly I saw the couple looking at me through the window glass, so close that I could touch them. Our friendship was established. Before I went to bed it started raining. While closing the window I saw, under magical light that the monkey couple were sleeping while embracing each other! I stood for some moments. The world’s most fortunate people are those who get their loved one by their side. And the most unfortunate are those who never get the chance to feel the warmth of love!
I wake up at 3 A.M and I was in the Galis and the Ghats of Varanasi by 4 A.M. There I was – in Varanasi, the place that magnetically attracts me all the time. I started taking images enthusiastically. Varanasi – the land where experience and discovery reach the ultimate bliss. This is the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and magnificently compelling places on earth.
I felt brilliantly alive there. Its sights, sounds, and colors brought me immediately into a different place; absorbing me into its endlessly fascinating spectacle of ritual activity. It is situated along the west bank of the holy Ganga River in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. It is considered as the holiest place amongst the Hindus. It always seems a magical place to me. The spiritual Ghats (steps down into the river) and the alluring Galis (a maze of narrow alleyways) are my main enticements.
Because of the rainy season the stairs of Ghats were under water. Ghat’s are the series of steps leading down to a holy river. In Varanasi, you will find around 100 Ghats. Each of the Ghats has different name, history and importance. It is quite interesting to walk along the Ghats especially in winter. But during this visit I spend time discovering Galis. Extremely narrow; the play of lights and shadows inside a Gali is very interesting. But I was very alert while I was entering inside unknown Galis and I suggest not going alone.
Since Varanasi is one of the holiest destinations for Hindus, it is very common to find various rituals going on throughout the year in this place. But my fascination was the people and their portraits. Streets of Varanasi are full of many enticing stories. I shot the whole day. Still I did not find enough time to click at as many subjects as I wanted to.
On the last day of my visit it was raining in the morning. I went out in the rain by just covering my camera with plastic and my head with a handkerchief. I was going to leave this city which is considered to be over 3,000 years old. The majestic light was shining behind the clouds. I saw astonishingly how gracefully the morning light removes all the dirt from the sky. While watching this I wished all the sorrows and suffering of the world would end like this with the light of humanity! To be able to discover such light I could come back here a thousand times and I would not mind another 22 hour voyage to return to magnetic Varanasi!
Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat ― Mother Teresa
I believe an affectionate smile, an overwhelming hug can cure illness!
We start our journey to find our lives that deserve our affection, attention and respect. On the occasion of the biggest festival ‘Eid’ in our country there are elders who are living miserably in the yard of their houses. Many of them can not speak, some cannot see and others are counting their last days. These respected elders are living their lives like burdens to their poor families. Maybe for many of them this Eid will be their last festival. We set out our journeys to give them some sort of happiness, to give them a surprise and to show them respect.
Amena Begum (80) lives in the village Pechayain. She cannot speak. A year ago after her heart attack she is unable to move her right hand and lost her voice. For her poor family now she is an unwanted person. Her bed has been shifted to the open kitchen outside their house. Amena Begum has no idea when the Eid comes and goes but she try hard to see people passing her yard though she can not see anything clearly. These last days of her life are filled with humiliation and loneliness. Like her there are hundreds of elderly women who are suffering silently.
In the upcoming Eid festival we want to show respect to our elders. Women who fought throughout their lives without expecting anything. Now even in the last days of their lives they are suffering miserably; being unnoticed, unloved, uncared for. Finding them and giving them a small gift has been our mission during this festival.
I went to the villages of Varat and Pechayain. And by the help of my friends and students we found elders who needed our attention, affection and respect. These elderly people cannot go out for asking help. So we reached their doors with our gifts. We gifted sarees to these helpless elderly women in some villages to bring out smiles on their face. To make them feel that they are not alone.
The smiles in their face, the sparkle in their eyes, their affectionate touch on our heads give us the feeling that , there is happiness in the act of giving and caring.
Let’s speard our arms, lets walk upto their doors. lets bring out smiles in the faces of the unprivileged! May this Eid festival break all bricks of inhumanity. Our small attempt is to go and find these miserable souls . Giving them a small gift, showing some respect and touching their feet makes us feel fortunate. Elders are our pillars. Lets make them even stronger!
Eid Mubarak to you ALL!
Women have to go beyond any boundaries they might have set for themselves. Thinking something that a woman can’t do because that particular thing is a man’s domain, is where she is restricting herself! Women have incredible power. Just inspiration can help them to grow their dreams. As a photographer every day I am capturing woman’s battles, voices, dreams and triumphs. By putting light on their lives and dreams I would like to tell stories that the world should know about! Welcome all of you to the heroic world of INFO Ladies of Bangladesh!
The Info Ladies cover many miles on their journeys from village to village. With their bicycles and laptops, the Info Ladies of Bangladesh bring the world a sense of independence from one village to the next. This has changed the country, and their lives, too. The young women have become role models for a whole generation.
The Info Ladies cover many miles on their journeys from village to village/www.gmb-akash.com
The meetings in the villages are free, with a charge for some services/www.gmb-akash.com
Sathi is the most successful Info Lady in the Gaibandha district. Between banana trees and flood swamps, she has opened an info shop in her home village Jarabarsha. A banner in front of the shop rattles in the wind. It reads: “We are independent because we are Info Ladies.”
The Info Lady is wearing her info lady uniform, a blue cape and pink trousers. Amid the dark green landscape, she shines like a ladybird on a dandelion leaf/ www.gmb-akash.com
The corrugated iron on the roof shines more brightly than anywhere else in the area. A table mounted on the trunk of a tree lists all the services Sathi offers. Sathi offers Skype calls, online bank transfers, online university application assistance, digital camera rentals, mobile phone ringtone downloads and photography services. She gives pregnancy tests, measures diabetics, takes blood pressure, identifies blood type and even sells underwear for women. Recently she opened her pre-primary school with a vision to create an example for the village.
Sathi in her info shop which provides for her whole family/ www.gmb-akash.com
Sathi is a 24 year-old petite woman with a barely perceptible smile and deliberate movements. When a man pushes his broken mobile phone across the counter, she unscrew the lid of the phone, fumbles around with the speakers for a few seconds with a metal pin and declares: “it’s broken, I will order a new one,” without expecting any rejection. Sathi has a scar with six stitches on her right ankle from a fall from her bicycle when she still had problems keeping her balance. She proudly shows the scar. Laughing loudly while explaining how difficult it was to convince her father about bicycle riding, she says, “I learned the basics of computers in three days, but it took months to convince my father to let me ride a bicycle.” But now she has changed the financial face of her family. In nearly three years of this job she built new house and renovated the old shop which is now the famous info shop.
Sathi has to go from village to village to give her services. On that humid day Sathi repeatedly grabs the corner of her pink dupatta and wipes sweat off her face. She is wearing her Info Lady uniform, a blue cape and pink trousers. Amid the dark green landscape, she shines like a ladybird on a dandelion leaf. Sathi cycles past men in waist-deep water. The men stop their work for a moment and look up. Sathi nods in greeting. When she finally arrives in the village, she rings her bicycle bell three times, and women immediately start crowding around her.
An Info Lady is a nurse, mail carrier, fashion consultant, farmer, photographer, psychologist – all in one.
A short while later the women they roll out fabric bags to sit on and Sathi shows them a film about feeding infants. Then in a firm voice, she repeats every single fact: “You need to wash your breast before you breast-feed your baby. You do not need milk powder from the store; your breast milk is perfectly fine until the fifth month. After this, pay attention to adequate amounts of calcium and proteins. Have you all seen which foods contain these substances?” The women, some twice as old as Sathi, look at her. Their silent glances show how much respect they feel for someone so knowledgeable.
The meetings in the villages are free, with a charge for some services/ www.gmb-akash.com
Sathi’s working day ends with accounting. Using a computer programme, she notes every cent she earns. The group meetings are free, but a digital passport photo costs 10 cents, a blood pressure measurement costs 5 cents. Sathi has earned the equivalent of 2.60 Euros – a moderate day’s income. Last month, her income totaled 133 Euros. By comparison, a farmer in the district of Gaibandha earns about 60 Euros a month.
Many young women resist the opposition of their parents when they become Info Ladies. Sathi’s mother is different. She says: “All women bear children, but not all give birth to children as important as this one”
In a country where less than a quarter of the population uses the Internet and where access is both slow and expensive, Bangladesh’s ‘Info Ladies’ offer a series of vital services to people living in remote, rural parts of the country. The “Info Ladies” project was launched in 2008 by a local non-governmental organisation called D.net. The same organisation had previously sent so-called “mobile ladies” through Bangladesh – young women with mobile phones, who enabled the inhabitants to communicate with people outside their village. When most inhabitants eventually owned a mobile phone, the Info Ladies were launched. They now offer mobile Internet, in a country with 152 million people, of whom five million have access to the worldwide web. D.net works together with local organisations to implement the project. In Gaibandha district, the NGO Udayan is involved. The name translates as “the resurrection”. The Info Ladies are trained for several weeks in the barracks of Udayan.
In the rainy season, the Info Ladies cross the water on hastily cobbled together rafts or bridges/ www.gmb-akash.com
A Bangladeshi Info Lady is not just a woman with a laptop; she’s an entrepreneurial businesswoman bringing isolated people a piece of the world with valuable information and services. Info Ladies managed to change the perspective of villagers in many ways. Dohrmina, a village elder, now gives advice to the youth that would have been unthinkable in her day. She says: go to school, secure your own income, and don’t have too many children. Dohrmina says: “We didn’t even know what independence meant.”
Like Dohrmina villagers have been paying more attention to their health now the Info Ladies make their visits/ www.gmb-akash.com
After measuring weight of the pregnant woman Mahfuza says, “You need to eat more,”
Of the 10 Info Ladies from Sathi’s group, seven are still active after three years. The Info Lady Mahfuza who is one of them rests her bike on the kickstand. Mahfuza is 22 years old and an Info Lady. She is part of a project in which young women use modern technology to distribute information to the most remote corners of Bangladesh. Mahfuza’s former classmates are now all married; most have one or two children. Some girls are married by the age of 13 or 14 and by the age of 20, parents actively look for a husband for their daughters. But Mahfuza learned to hold her head up.
A camera transmits the image of the extended family – with the brown calf which has been given the name Bohon – from their village of Bangamur in the north of the country, showing the courtyard with its highly polished loam clay and hastily-stacked hay bales all the way to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital. Tajul Islam, son, husband, nephew, cousin – and sorely missed by his family for a decade – lives there, a distance of some 4,500 kilometres, slaving away on building sites and sending all the money he has left to the village. The time they talk every week via Skype is their only chance to hear and see each other.
Meanwhile Mahfuza sits under a roof made of bamboo leaves and takes measures the blood pressure of a pregnant woman. Someone from the crowd shouts: “she’s expecting a boy.” Mahfuzaa does not even look up from the blood pressure meter as she responds: “boy or girl, it does not matter, both are equally good.” Another lesson learned. Mahfuza is contacted by girls who need underwear but do not dare go into a store. She then goes shopping for them. Farmers ask Mahfuza what is wrong with their rice plants. She photographs spots on the leaves and sends the images to an expert in Dhaka.
A grandmother holds her grandson in her arms. He seems apathetic, his arms and legs are hanging limply. Mahfuza throws a quick sideways glance to the mother standing by the roadside. “Did you have him vaccinated as I had suggested?” The mother shakes her head imperceptibly. Mahfuza exhales audibly, stroking her hand over the baby’s head. She promises to come back in a few days and take the child to a mobile clinic.
The Info Lady Mahfuza also is a photographer. She sends a photo of a villager in her finery to her husband in the capital Dhaka/ www.gmb-akash.com
As a result, the women themselves experience a sense of freedom, empowerment and economic independence. This has started to change their country, still struggling with improving the historical violation of women’s right. They have become heroes for an entire generation of young women by giving them hope and inspiration to also be able to work and enjoy personal freedom in a predominantly Muslim country. Although proving to be a driving force of positive change and transformation, these Info Ladies have had to “walk on thorns”. They have fought against social stigma, a conservative Muslim society as well as deep cultural prejudices against the value and rights of women.
If they were able to change their lives so radically, why should this not also be possible for others?
The sound of Monu’s footsteps compel us to look at him. It seems he is willingly trying to make the strange sound grab our attention towards his new gum boots. Before I speak to him, he shows all his teeth and enthusiastically says, ‘Bhaijan I bought them for 200 taka from the street. Bou (his wife) had washed them so well that I can see my face in them! Ha! Ha! Ha’
Before I compliment him something someone on my right side, Nibaron, who is Monu’s colleague of 15 years loudly said, ‘Hmm, does your new wife, still cry for you to drop the job, Monu?’ Monu recklessly replies, ‘Women are fools! She thinks tannery labourers die earlier. Allah is the one to decide. Women are crying party. Now I have these gum boots to protect me. She is happy and I am happy too!’
Monu got married to ‘Salma’ five months ago. Salma heard that tannery workers die at an early age, so she started requesting Monu to leave this dangerous job. But by doing this job for last 15 years, Monu, a 21 years-old man is surviving. He cannot imagine doing any other work than tannery nor is he capable of doing any other job.
The chronic cough he has or the rashes on his skin do not bother him anymore. Still he dreams of a better future with the 8000 taka salary. Now the dream is sweeter with his caring wife ‘Salma’.
Posing for the camera he said roughly, ‘By working in this hell, I am still alive. God might be giving me a long life bhai.’
I have been taking photographs in this factory for many years. I cannot find many of the faces I used to know. When I inquire about them the common response I hear is that because of illness they moved to their villages with their families.
The repulsive smell on my body or the sticky chemicals on my favorite jeans does not affect me anymore; Just like Monu. Only when I return from this work and the rickshaw puller turns his head several times and at last wisely says, ‘Sir, you came from tannery!’ Then I realize I am also polluting the air.
Like Monu many labourers believe that a pair of gum boots is their safe guard. Some of them tie gamsa (a traditional cotton towel) to save their lungi from the filth. But when they start working their sweat, factories chemicals, and raw leather shower them with poison and loathsome smells. A pair of gum boots and gamsa can not not save their hope to survive very long.
Every time I enter these deadly factories, I imagine that I am leaving the 20th century and have gone back 100 years in time. The ancient plan has neither fan nor any air circulation system. Thanks to those decades old broken bricks in the wall there ia a path for some fresh air. The leather hangs from the ceiling makes the air more toxic. The unstoppable giant drum keeps moving restlessly with raw leather pieces and produces extreme laud noise. If fatigue overcomes labourer they fall asleep in the piles of raw leathers. Some labourers get a cigarette and take a break to see the sky outside. But the sky is dark and filled with smoke. The drain that is passing by is full of red chemical liquids that keep polluting the area and the mighty river Buriganga for 60 years now.
11-year old Rakib gives me the brightest smile and curiously asks, ‘What do you do with all these picture, sir?’ But he then rushes away before I can speak to him. Carrying uncountable leather pieces in his shoulder he has no time for questions and answers. Rakib’s friend Monir (7-year old) keeps pinning up the leather at the yard. After the death of his father he got the job in his father’s factory. He had no idea what had happened to his father. He only knew he was suffering from an incurable disease. He feels good to work during the whole day and it is only in evening when his heart cry for playing.
Standing beside Monir I was trying hard to understand their miseries but laughter broke my concentration. I saw a group of workers cracking jokes outside and were laughing hilariously. Life goes on. These simple people risking their lives everyday in order to live the best they can. Society is not actually willing to know about their sufferings but they are nevertheless willing to buy their processed leather which leather has a good worldwide reputation. However the savles of the toxicity and repugnant odors have no good reputation. In their way home to to their slums they cannot sit in any tea stall to relax. People shout on them for their repulsive odors which disturbs everyone. Only their produced goods get place inside a branded shop with a prestigious tag ‘Made in Bangladesh’. The makers only receive humiliation.
Tannery worker Omar Faruk sadly says, ‘If we travel by bus nobody will sit beside us. One day a man harshly said to me, ‘You must come from hell.’
(Almost all of Bangladesh’s 200-plus tanneries are concentrated in Hazaribagh, a densely populated, filthy neighborhood on the banks of the Buriganga River in southwestern Dhaka. You can smell them long before you can see them: an unbearable stench like bad eggs, rotting fish and harsh ammonia. It’s almost impossible to walk through the tanneries without a scarf pressed to your nose. At almost $1 billion a year in sales, the leather industry is one of Bangladesh’s most profitable sectors. The lives of more than 20,000 tannery workers are still at risk. After 60 years of tannery operations, no one knows what content of toxins have been poured into the river, only that it is incalculable and staggering. Chromium sulfate, lead, organohalogens, lime, hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric acid, formic acid, bleach, dyes and oils all flow into the river)
It was too boring when Maa used to stare at me while I was eating. I repeatedly taunted her, ‘Why are you staring Maa?’ While putting her portion of fish on my plate she always ignored my question and said, ‘I know you are still hungry’. I showed anger to her but I know no mother cares about her child’s anger. Late at night the lock of the back door used to open instantly to the sound of my my silent footsteps. When Abba burst out in anger and the hell with my bloody photography, Maa for the first time miraculously raised her low voice and faithfully said, ‘Photos are good. Have you seen any one else to do such work in the area?!’ Our small area was the world to her and I was the hero. Maa was the only fascinated listener of my fairy photo-world-tour tales.
To me she always seemed ‘simplest’ than the word ‘simple’. At mid-night when I felt suffocated in sleeplessness my mother appeared at my bed side with hot milk in her favorite silver glass. I never felt surprised or ever questioned her how she knew I was wake in the middle of the night. Returning home from a heavy rain and getting hot lemon tea at my table was very normal. Or tasting Maa’s peculiar juices in the crazy summer never bagged her any special credit. But I know from my heart that she is my ‘Mother Genie’. She broke the mud coin bank that she secured with each paisa she had and that day said, ‘Go, get your photo prints’.
Suddenly one day I realized there was no one… no one no more to be concerned about the sweat on my forehead. My Genie left me suddenly without telling me a good bye. If I would have known I have to now walk a long road without her, I would have told her a lot of untold stories. I sure would have told her, the photography that I love more than my life is as important to me as her; I love her more than that photography. Maa is no more. That’s why I keep searching Maa everywhere.
A sister in a brothel used to send letters to her mother with fake address by putting small words, ‘Maa Goo your Pakhi’. Like me she also knows mothers never give up. They will wait until their children arrive. Exactly like the mothers of the Old Age Home who are crossing through their 80 s and still praying for their children from nuclear families that they may live in happiness.
For bringing light into the face of their children of early ages these mothers went down in the garbage, worked in dusky brick fields, showered in cold sweats as mothers do. Their tired bodies never take rest even after returning homes. They did the shopping on the way to their home and cooked rice and Daal. By lining up their four to six children they checked carefully if all of them are well or not. A few mothers, even after being beaten by the fathers everyday kept their children in their lap and dreamt of an impractical reality for them.
Children well known the God has gifted special power to their mothers. That power comes out in love, patience, sacrifice. But what do Mothers gets? Can’t we do something for the mother who never wants anything for themselves? The mother who is giving a new life to us everyday can’t we warm her with our affection?
Why still today mothers get humiliated at the corner of the house? On the floor of the Old Age Home? Or in the dirtiest hospital bed from negligence?
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"I see the beauty of people and the human soul in the pictures I take. And though the circumstances of some of the people I portray may be grim, back-breaking, depraved, the people themselves are always remarkable characters and souls" For me Photography is my language, to access, to communicate, to identify and mostly to make it hear. Through photography I only jot down my heart’s language. The best part about being a photographer is that I’m able to articulate the experiences of the voiceless and to bring their identities to the forefront which gives meaning and purpose to my own life. I have received more than 68 international awards and my work has been featured in over 70 major, international publications including: National Geographic, Vogue,Time, 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. In 2002 I became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands. In 2004 I received the Young Reporters Award from the Scope Photo Festival in Paris — once again, the first Bangladeshi to receive this honour. In 2005 I was awarded “Best of Show” at the Center for Fine Art Photography’s international competition in Colorado, USA. And in 2006 I was awarded World Press Photo award and released my premier book “First Light”. In 2007 I became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the 30 Emerging Photographers (PDN 30), sponsored by Photo District News Magazine, USA. I won the 7th Vevey International Photography Grant from Switzerland in 2009 and in the same year, I took home the international ‘Travel photographer of the Year” title at the International Travel Photographer of the Year Competition (TPOY 2009) in the UK, the most prestigious award in travel photography. I was one of the speakers in the fifth Global Investigative Journalism Conference, held at Lillehammer, Norway in 2008 and as well I was the first Bangladeshi in Ted talk at TEDxOporto 2011, in Portugal. I was one of the speaker of “7th Forum of Emerging Leaders in Asian Journalism”, Yogyakarta / Indonesia”. In 2011 Nikon has selected me as one of the 8 influencers in Asia pacific (APAC region). Presentation of my 10 years project published as form of book ‘Survivors’ in 2012, which has reviewed by prestigious Geo magazine.