Brick field labouer’s feet tell their tales. Thousands of men, women and children continue tolling in the open brick fields. Their muddy clothes, smudged coal colored skins and bare feet tell the tale about how everyday they are fighting to live a life. I continue to search their stories of struggle about how their hope transform into despair. Once a labourer stopped me to take his portrait and asked me to take an image of his feet and said, ‘Show our feet. It’s enough to explain what we are up to.’
Under the baking hot tropical sun, Moriyum (7 years old) continues to collect coals in the most perilous conditions even though everyone goes to lunch. Just after shifting 1000 bricks to dry in the sun, Moriyum’s brother Mohsin (9 years old) also goes to lunch. But Moriyum continued to collect coal for her family.
Working children are a common sight at the brickworks as they regularly employ entire families – who oftentimes make their homes on site. Education is a luxury for Bangladesh’s rural poor with children often earning their keep as soon as they can walk. Ranging in age from young children to grandparents, they work long hours to mix out millions of bricks to fuel construction boom that shows no signs of abating. The high chimneys of brick fields are snot only pouring grey smoke into the air but also blowing it into labourer’s lungs. All of the brick fields are located along rivers. Millions of bricks are burned here. Almost all bricks are made using a 150-year-old technology. Soil is mixed with water, formed into bricks using wooden forms, then left to dry in the sun before being burned in traditional kilns. The process is done almost entirely by hand.
Kohinoor who was balancing the heavy loads atop her head said, ‘We work like slaves. And we die like slaves.’ Kohinoor’s mother-in-law died last year while working in the brick filed. Another woman who has worked a decade in the field was badly suffering from tuberculosis and headaches. Kohinoor added, ‘We know we will die by working here, but we have no option.’
Brick-making provides a better income than agriculture or other jobs available in rural Bangladesh, but it is dangerous and often devastating to workers’ health. Accidents are common and workers have no protective gear except save for what they are able to cobble together themselves.
By balancing the heavy loads atop their heads, workers must carry the raw mud to the brick making area are where skilled artisans shape it using brick moulds filled by hand. However, the millions of workers who make the bricks face harsh and uncertain conditions. Brick field labourer Makbul said, ‘Everything tastes like mud. I taste mud in my mouth, tongue, throat everywhere.’ By showing the feet of Makbul’s friend, Jasim said, ‘We are brick human. We have feet like coal.’
Like Makbul and Jashim, hundreds of men come with their families during the brick session in the brick fields. They made their temporary shelter near the brick field in the place given by the brick field owner. The mud house’s bed is made by brick after brick and then putting plastic over the bricks where they rest and sleep. They took loan from the brick field owner which and continue to pay it back by giving labour with full family. Small children of each family works to dry thousands of brick every day. For drying 1000-5000 bricks a child gets 25-50 taka daily. That also goes into the pocket of father for buying food for the family. The Father and mother of each family go to work before sun rise. They carry 12-16 bricks each weighting 2.5kg. For a twelve-hour workday during which an average worker carries about five thousand bricks, he earns Tk. 80 after his expenses are paid. This means toiling 12 hours a day for a daily wage of 120 taka (USD 1.70) for men and 100 taka (USD 1.40) for women.
Still they hope for a better life and perhaps dream of happiness. During his break, after lighting a cigarette Motahar said, ‘My wife often asks me to take her to the cinema. We have no money left after basic shopping at the bazaar and paying loans. But she managed to save and bought an old phone for me. Now while I work, I listen to songs.’
(Brick fields are not only causing suffering for labourer but for the environment also. Bangladesh is hit harder than almost any other country in the world by climate change despite emitting very little greenhouse gases. But still the emissions from the brick kilns hurt the environment. Brick kilns are the leading cause of air pollution in the country. There are about 5000 brick kilns in Bangladesh, which are largely responsible for air pollution. Dust from the brick-making sites spreads in the wind to nearby towns and villages clogging the lungs of young and old and generates health problems that the country is ill-equipped to handle. The chimneys continue to poison labourer lives and as well as letting the environment to suffer in silence)
‘My camera is a vessel to reach to my dream. I started documenting suffering and find beauty in ugliness, happiness in despair, dreams in suffocation. I am just a poor storyteller who has nothing but a suitcase full of tales’ – GMB AKASH
Love is my religion; unity is my faith/ www.akash-images.com
If you taste the love, you are already rich/ www.akash-images.com
I am on a journey to seek the remedy of Life / www.akash-images.com
When I take off the mask from my soul, I find the beauty of living/ www.akash-images.com
May everyone who loves God honor the path of everyone else. May all the sacred scriptures be universally cherished as the treasures of all mankind / www.akash-images.com
I continue to search for myself / www.akash-images.com
The beauty of life is hidden in the HOPE and in the possibilities of life itself/ www.akash-images.com
Every person has a story and an end/ www.akash-images.com
To taste life prepare to taste thousands of deaths / www.akash-images.com
Living a simple life is hardest because the whole world continues to show you greed in the name of happiness
If you seek to know the truth of universe, you’ll have the power of the whole universe with you
For living life once I cut off the wings of my soul, now for tasting life I cut out my greed. That’s how my journey starts/ www.akash-images.com
You live in the world and my world lives in me/ www.akash-images.com
My race begins of deriving the internal peace / www.akash-images.com
You have done everything to feed your body, what have you done to feed your soul
You can get life if you can get rid of fear/ www.akash-images.com
I can only take a look at my own soul and follow its map / www.akash-images.com
“Sometimes I feel – I am wearing perfume in the middle of the desert” – GMB Akash
“Sometimes the strongest women are the ones who love beyond all faults, cry behind closed doors, and fights battles that nobody knows about. This blog post is dedicated to honour women who are living at the edge of the society and continue their fighting to earn food and dignity, who merely ever come in the world’s limelight; even the society they are living have never appreciated their bravery. I have met with many of them, discovered closely how women have worked for the greater good and brought about change in their families and society. This is a way to tribute to a mother, sister, wife, daughter, friend and the many roles she plays in life. These personalities have made me understand that nothing can kill the spirit of a woman and that makes her incredibly beautiful” – GMB Akash
Many women have broken away from tradition, knowing fully it leads a tough road to walk/ www.akash-images.com
Be fearless/ www.akash-images.com
A woman cannot be free until she is financially free/www.akash-images.com
Each time a woman stand up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women/ www.akash-images.com
In diversity there is beauty and there is strength/ www.akash-images.com
Success isn’t measured by your wins, it’s the size of the challenges you overcame/ www.akash-images.com
Living life on the edge with dream/ www.akash-images.com
The strongest actions for a woman is to love herself, be herself and shine amongst those who never believed she could/ www.akash-images.com
Dreams don’t work unless you do/ www.akash-images.com
You have to do what is right for yourself; nobody else is walking in your shoes/ www.akash-images.com
Be an encourager/ www.akash-images.com
When a woman wants she can become an unstoppable force/ www.akash-images.com
Nothing can dim the light that shines from within/ www.akash-images.com
Don’t let anyone stop you from your goals, dreams and true happiness/ www.akash-images.com
Yesterday is nothing more than a lesson. Today is who you are/ www.akash-images.com
Be yourself. Life is what you make of it/ www.akash-images.com
There’s nothing damnable about being a strong woman. The world needs strong women/ www.akash-images.com
Don’t let anyone to dull your sparkle/ www.akash-images.com
Never ask the question, can I do it? Just go with ‘I will do it’. Your determination will always take you a long way to your dream, so hold on to it/ www.akash-images.com
She is the best when you believe in herself/ www.akash-images.com
You are the force of nature/ www.akash-images.com
Follow your heart to be the best that you can be/ www.akash-images.com
Courage may be the most important of all virtues, because without it one cannot proactive any other virtue with consistence/ www.akash-images.com
Women today are now coming into their own. They are their own heroes. The power to change their lives lies within them. However well accomplished a woman may be she takes on guilt and responsibility far more easily than a man does. She is conditioned to believe that everyone and everything is her responsibility. Sometimes, she forgets that she has a responsibility towards herself. Accept and love yourself because there is just one YOU!
Now-a-days Beauty Begum (45) cannot remember anything. Even a few days ago she could remember everything, from her bazaar list to TV serial’s schedule. At present she is forgetting everything. In front of her eyes in the hospital bed lays the horrifically burnt body of her husband, Jamed (42). Somehow this is no longer affecting her. Now she is constantly thinking about the doctor’s prescription of eggs, lemons and malta’s increasing prices. Her savings of many years from their daily bazaar profits is now in the pennies. Now she worries about her husband’s job that he did for 15 years as a temporary employee. She felt helpless about the increasing price of eggs and lemons; she doesn’t know how to give courage to her terrified son who is supposed to attend the Secondary Board examination. She is overly concerned how to pay 2500 taka of her house rent. Moreover, the burnt body of her husband is repeatedly moaning in pain at night, not letting her sleep for a second. All in all, Beauty Begum is forgetting everything.
It is not only the middle class housewife, Beauty Begum who has been thunderstruck with this perverse reality. Labourer Jamir Ally’s wife Parvin, who came from a village, is as well speechless. Her eyes moisten while she feeds labourer Jamir Ally. Sometimes she gets scared to see how painfully the petrol bomb has burnt her innocent husband who has worked tirelessly just to feed their children. The labourer man who used to return home at night with their bazaar used to crack jokes all the time. Poverty never hit them as much as this disaster and happiness was always there in their wrecked house. Still now he wants to talk, wants to explain how horrible it was to be burnt with fire. Having deep pain in his eyes tired Parvin whispered, ‘Poor people have to go through a lot of difficult tests in order to survive in this cruel world.’
Dhaka Medical’s Burn Unit is only a temporary address for those who now do not know about the time, date or day. The constant unbearable pain, the smells of burnt infected flesh, the harsh dread running through the body and the uncertainty for the future: this is the present for innocent people who have been burnt by petrol bombs during the strike. One such victim, 20 year-old Nazmul expressed his terror to his mother by saying, ‘People burnt by petrol will not live long, will they, Maa?’ The mother who has not eaten or drunk anything for three days while Nazmul was in critical condition could not answer him properly just cried and said, ‘Your maa will die if something happens to you bazan (son).’ Wounded Nazmul came out from the burning bus by using his hands. On the 26th January the petrol bomb in the Jatrabari bus has devastated Nazmul’s future and life. Still Nazmul is dreaming of recovering; still he is trying to console his mother, and hoping to live a longer life.
Like Nazmul, a lot of injured people are trying to believe in destiny. Mr. Billal (26) has given the name to his first child, ‘Sinha’. After getting married two years ago Billal thought life will take a right turn. A Petrol bomb has shattered his family, the future of their three month’s old Sinha and Billal’s entire reality.
Beside Billal’s bed is pickup driver Najmul Islam who is shouting in pain, ‘I will die, please do something, please do something.’ Unmarried Najmul took a loan of 11 kah and bought a pickup van two months ago. During the strike a petrol bomb hit his new van and him. His past, present and future all is now in despair.
Gravely injured seventy year-old Abu Taher is constantly calling Allah, in pain he keeps continuing to say. ‘La Ilaha Illahallah’. In insupportable pain such an old man has been suffering days and nights. It seems pain has no end.
The white bed sheet of hospital has wrapped Alsam (19) very well. His mother is continuously fanning him, touching his head and hair, calling him and saying, ‘Have a look Aslam, see who has come to see you. Open your eyes bazan (son)’. Aslam’s mother continues to call him but he will never answer her again. Alsam went to another place; a place from where no one can answer.
(Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), Burn Unit doctors said that most of the petrol bomb victims were burnt from 20 percent to 40 percent of their bodies. Out of a total of 111 patients who are having medical treatment in DMCH burn unit, 61 are in critical condition. A continuous blockade interspersed with hartals (general strikes) has been going on since the 6th January, 2015. It was called by the 20-Party Alliance demanding the resignation of the Awami League government which came into power through the one-sided election of the 5th January. The protests have become increasingly violent and nearly 1,000 vehicles have been torched or vandalized. The security forces have in turn arrested more than 10,000 opposition supporters while more than a dozen protesters have been shot dead, prompting allegations of a shoot-to-kill strategy.There has been an outbreak of violence and innocent ordinary people are being killed. Petrol bomb attacks on vehicles in Bangladesh are leaving people dead, destroying families and terrorizing normal society)
Suddenly the inter-city train appears rushing at them on the tracks with its deadly noise which is the only thing that alerts the people. The scene includes a train that seems to be traveling as if to arrive at the slum but then ruthlessly goes right through it. It watches and touches both sides of the slum’s tin-roofs. Who could have ignored such g-o-t-a-n-g, g-o-t-a-n-g sound that raises heartbeats of the inhabitants of the Karwan Bazaar train track Slum in Dhaka on a daily basis… at least fifty times a day?
People speculate that this train track-side slum had been built after the Liberation War of 1971. Though the slum does not seem too old, several inhabitants say that they have been living recklessly here for more than thirty years. Moreover, on both sides of the curvy train tracks that are lined with 1’000s of shanties, more than a hundred huts have been built in more recent times. Some of the smallest huts with only three foot high roofs rent for as much as 2000 taka (About $25). Those houses that are newly built with heights for standing-up cost 3000 taka (About $39) for a month.
The muddy train tracks are loaded with wastage and leftover rotten vegetables. During an ordinary mid-day women are busy preparing lunch with difficulty trying to manage their mud clay oven cookers set up only one foot from the rail. When a train passes through anybody from the train could take away the potatoes that Marium Begum (35 years old) is frying in the pan. Marium says, ‘my eldest daughter is ten years old and I taught her how to save herself when the train rushes to our hut’. Marium clearly knows how much distance is safe for her two small kids. All children of the slum are well taught how to run away when a train arrives on the tracks. But a lot of times trains come simultaneously on both tracks and terrify the children. It happens many times from day to night without prior warning.
Accidents are common and dangers are unlimited. The banyan tree root that grows from the hut of Kahinur is losing its leaves because many passengers who are riding on the tops of the moving trains are picking off the leaves for fun. It also amuses the slum children who have little to do. In this impossibly tiny strip of living space a lot of children lose their legs, hands and fingers in train accidents that take place in front of their parents’ eyes.
Jaleha Kahtun says, ‘If we had something in which to live in the village, we would never come to live in this train track slum. In the village the river overflowed and took away everything and now here in the bazaar is everything we own.’ Jaleha Kahtun is a rotten vegetable seller in the bazaar. She has to go to work at 5:00 in the morning. So she lives in this slum that enables her to go to the bazaar as early as possible. All of the people who are living along the train tracks are climate migrants due to frequent flooding disasters in the country.
Nothing has changed in their lives since they left their villages, but now at least they can feed themselves better. Sriti (15 years old) who is sitting in the middle between the two rail lines says, ‘We now understand how to act when a train comes. If you were in my place you might die without knowing where to go after seeing a train three feet in front of you. It takes experience.’
When there are no trains all of the inhabitants are sitting on the train tracks, gossiping or arguing with each other. Children are playing here and there. To add some life to this atmosphere someone repeatedly turns on the music of popular Hindi songs. When Rasel (10 years old) starts dancing by waving his lungi and mimicking the song ‘Lungi dance’, Lungi dance,’ people near him also begin to move their bodies to the melody. But before Rashel shows his brilliant steps someone screams that the trains are coming on both sides of the rail lines. Nobody forgets to take their sitting arrangement away with them; children quickly move with their toys, a grandmother rapidly puts a pot over her vegetable curry to save it from the dust. Just like in a theater the trains get a stage upon which to perform for a few seconds and when they leave, all of the inhabitants return to their customary life on the tracks that have been occupied for more than 30 years.
The suffocation is unbearable in the dark. The smoke is so intense that you cannot breathe for a few seconds. When you will be able to see something then you will realize that hundreds of people are working attentively. Suddenly you will hear the sound of coughing by some small kids; very soon you will be discovering that half of the people working in the area are children, as young as they can be. The faster they work the more they get paid. But their production rarely increases and their payment remains in the same range: 100-150 taka daily for 12-16 hours of work. Still, all of them are continually trying to do the only job they know.
Most of the poor villagers are dependent on this job. Small kids sometimes forget their surroundings and start to talk to each other. Parents swiftly scold them or punch them in their arms. Again the kids start to work and fill the local cigarettes (Biri). They know well that there is no value in talking but there is value in working. Children can deliver a quality production because their soft hands help them to do that without any wastage.
These children learned the cruel reality of life first and then they learned work. They know feeding themselves is more important than going to school. ‘They cannot live with an empty stomach but they can live with an empty brain’, a parent biri maker said. Sojol echoed his father’s statement by saying, ‘I want to go to school. But school is for rich people. ‘
Rani always feels a burning sensation in her eyes. While she is filling the cigarette she often touches her allergic eyes with her finger, which causes irritation and tears fall the whole day. Rani does not like to make biri, but she has been doing this work for three years.
‘What are you making?’ the question was for Bablu, a nine-year old kid who innocently replied, ‘Biri..it causes illness. ’What illness?’ He again promptly replied, ‘Cancer.’ ‘From where did you heard that?’, with a brighter smile he added, ‘Television’.
Workers toil at a hand rolled cigarette (locally called a biri) factory in Haragach. Workers have to labour from dawn to dusk making biris filled with tobacco flakes, earning very little money and in hazardous conditions which can damage their health. Children who work at the factory work from 9am to 8pm every day and are only paid 50 Taka (GBP 0.45) for making 5000 biris.
‘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
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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.