How did you get into photography?
My journey resembles a slow-motion-roller-coaster ride; scary, exciting, but longer lasting. I call it this because so many life changing stories unfolded in front of me as a young boy who never imagined that I could compete in such activities. Being brought up in a middle class family, virtues are my fundamentals or you can say, my only assets. Being a son of a freedom fighter, I dreamed along my father to do something for the country Bangladesh and for our people. Maybe somehow that dream never skipped by our small window and to give light to my heart.
However, my father’s old camera was a vessel to reach to my dream and to discover a road that was unseen to me. When all my friends were striving hard to succeed and so sure about the value of their high-level educational degrees, they saw me a bohemian. Frankly, I was happy with my appointed identity. The neighbor woman who was reputedly beaten by her husband everyday was my story. The gay who occasionally danced in a known prohibited lobby was my interest. Girls under the red light was my canvas. I was trying hard to get all the answers and to learn more about their suffering. My emotional drive and their horrendous suffering inflamed and excited me to take action. Thus, I found my way. I started documenting suffering and found beauty in ugliness; happiness in despair; dreams in suffocation.
Where do you get your creative inspiration from?
I visited a lot of countries and met thousands of people. Thanks to my travelling I have seen two sides of the coin. I saw depression in the elite world, sadness in the affluent class and loneliness in palaces. I also saw hope in struggles, happiness in limitations, and unity in hunger. It is important to tell the stories of the pictures to all people to enlighten them on how bravely an impoverished eight year-old boy is managing the education of his sisters or how an abandoned mother is living pathetically in a home for the elderly left by her elite children. The stories of my images are my creative inspiration.
I very much admire Sebastiao Salgado. His work is a rich resource of inspiration. James Natchway is also one of the most inspiring photographers as well as person for me. All of his work inspires me. This photographer evokes the wars of the world but delivers the message of peace for the world.
What is it like being a documentary photographer this days?
When you are a documentary photographer you have to except a tough life. Photography itself is very expensive. You need money for your equipment, for maintenance and for constant travel and moving around. If anybody thinks they can take short cuts to competitive success and fame then I recommend that they take another look. For me photography is like a religion. I can fast in order to save money for my photo tour; to make another discovery. The way a priest engages to serve God, the way a mother cares for a child – it is the same. If as a documentary photographer you start expecting money right away you are ruining yourself. Money and name will come at its own. Photography takes me to so many places and I encounter so many different events that I have a better understanding the meaning of life. Luxury is not my cup of tea. When my clients offer me to stay in five star hotels I refuse. I feel truly uncomfortable eating in royal places. I am very much at ease with the people with whom I work. Simplicity is my mantra and sharing my food is my way of showing I care. So I actually do not need much of money of my own and I am more than thankful for what I have.
What is your most memorable story in photography?
Twelve years ago I was doing a story in the slums. Black and white was my premise till then. I took a picture of a young woman who was a garment worker. While I went to take the picture of her, she suddenly disappeared. She showed up after a half an hour in her new clothes, lace in her hair and wearing a gold ear ring. Before I left her place she fervently requested to receive prints of the photos. The following week I made the print and showed up at her door. I put the prints in her hands with happiness. Within a second her face clouded and with a cold-sharp tone she said, ‘Am I only looking poor to you? Don’t you see your picture has nothing? I saved a year’s salary to buy that gold ear ring and where is it in your picture? Where is my floral red dress? And my yellow hair ribbon? Your picture is lying’. That one sentence changed my perspectives, my techniques, my images and my reality.
Which series/project was most challenging for you so far?
To be able to articulate the experiences of the voiceless and to bring their identities to the forefront gives meaning and purpose to my own life. When I cover such social stigmas I feel an urge to deliver those untold stories to the world’s table and ask the people to walk up and see. My deepest personal concern is to get to the root of the situation. I continue to work with the hope that I can bring possible changes. The most challenging project was ‘Life for rent’. I put my endless passion into the stories which were heart wrenching. Getting access to the sex workers’ door and depicting their lives deep in the truth was the hardest part. Getting access to these stories, building relationships with the girls and everything else was very challenging. When I was able to be one of their companions with whom they could share their truth and their lies, I could use my camera and continue to focus on them which enabled me able to accomplish the project.
What do you do besides photography?
I am travel-holic. I am an avid reader of travel stories. I love to collect photography books. I save every single penny that I have after basic necessities for traveling. I am kind of a messy person. Not a big planner. I love traveling. There are places I go for hundreds of times but which never bore me. Every visit is a new discovery and invites new stories. I follow my map-less heart that takes me to the destination that is most desired at the time.
What is your favourite photography book?
Inferno by James Nachtwey.
What are your future plans with photography?
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 the survivors’ families whose photographs fill my book and I am continuing to give opportunities to elevate their lives. More than 20 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 is also an educational hub for child labourers and street children. If I had a magic wand I would abolish the tears of all sufferers. But as I do not have such a thing, I will still try to wipe off the tears of a few. Besides these goals, my photography journey is never ending.