GMB Akash is a socially engaged documentary photographer and an award winning photojournalist, focusing on people on the edge of society. He has covered sensitive topics such as child labour, prostitution and the tough reality of seasonal workers throughout Asia. He has won numerous awards and his work has been published in countless magazines worldwide. His work is very much appreciated as it shows the strength and resilience of human beings.

GMB Akash
GMB Akash

1. You are one of the best and most inspirational photographers from Bangladesh. What is it that motivates you?

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’ did not exist in the circles I was brought up in. Many days I did not eat to save my pocket money for my photography. I used my tuition to buy films. Even some time 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 still now every day I dream to achieve my dream.

2. How do you prepare yourself to a particular photo shoot?

I move from here to there. In any of my projects I never show my camera first, I mix with people, I try to become one of them. I travel randomly even a single place only to grab their story inside me. My main concentration is to focus on people who are suffering eternally and dying everyday in the struggle for life. Countries which are similar to mine carry moreover the same scenarios. I think in every country all those sufferers are living the same life; whatever the culture is but the pain is as same and plain as others. I go for covering all hardship of lives around the world. Any human story which strengthens me is my project. I am in an endless journey towards an infinite route, only to find a real world of humanity. This thirst is eternal. I will keep walking, touching every face I drop through my lens. I will show the world – those unknown stories of sufferings. If a single hand comes to give them a shade that will be the real honor to my sweat.

Refugee family
Refugee family

3. Most of your pictures document the routine of poor people in developing countries like Bangladesh. How do you think your work affects their lives?

My photographs made me a better human being. I encountered such incredible stories that changed me entirely. It’s given me the power to reach millions of hearts. More importantly, it enables me to help hundreds of people who I meet in my journey. I dedicated my second book ‘Survivors’ to the survivors who are in my photographs. I gifted businesses to these survivors’ families which are challenging them to bring a better tomorrow. We together fight against the poverty and with my financial help 26 families won over their hunger and acute poverty. The entire income from my photography school First Light Institute of Photography goes to giving education to unprivileged children. We reached more than 500 children so far. In my career I am often faced with one question which is asked by me and by audiences: what have I done for the people who I photographed? Obviously telling their tale is my main job but still year after years of seeing their same circumstances I felt depressed and hated the situation. I started helping survivors, street children, homeless people and elderly citizens. I believe it is my duty as a photographer to point my lens in the face of deprivation and also offer a hand to the people who are dying without help. This is the best reward I get from photography that opens my heart and lets me give love as well as give whatever resources I have.

The photojournalist focuses on people on the edge of society
The photojournalist focuses on people on the edge of society

4. Which artist inspires you the most?

James Natchway and many more who ask the world to wake up.

5. As a winner of many awards, how important is it to be recognized as an artist?

I have received more than 100 international awards so far. My works were also published in more than 100 prestigious magazines and newspapers. My exhibitions have held all over the world. Recognition always works as great inspiration but appreciation from people is like inspiration for more achievements. Awards inspire me to go ahead. But my main award is when I reach to the people with my stories and open up a path to bring positive changes on those fates less people’s lives.

GMB Akash photos are full of impact and meaning
GMB Akash photos are full of impact and meaning

6. I see images from you on social media every day. Where do you get so much motivation from?

When people tell me I pierced their hearts with my photographs or that I moved them, these are so much inspirations to go ahead. I feel it’s positive when after seeing these photos people take a step, even realizing their situation can help. I believe many of us are definitely indebted to them who are working for us in bad conditions. One day we will all gather against such crimes. Children will go to schools instead of factories; no more parents will sell their daughter in brothels. Yes, I am doing my part and I will do until voices raise and hands come out. The important thing to me is that I am in fight to change it. And already I am finding many people beside me in this cause. I am grateful that all my friends from all around the world always have enjoyed going through my sphere.

"In every country all those sufferers are living the same life"
“In every country all those sufferers are living the same life”

7. What new projects are you working on?

I am working on my upcoming book, ‘Angels in Hell’. I plan to publish this photo series in the form of a book and will try to use it as a source of continual funding for our unprivileged children’s’ education. We believe that when many small people in many small places do many small things, they can change the face of the world.

8. You are on Horyou, the Social Network for Social Good. What does to Dream, Act and Inspire mean to you?

Dream – Reason of life Act – Fight for dream Inspire – People who are fighting for life with a smile

Written by Sushma Brelle

By Amma Aburam

Catching up with Reza is always a pleasure. The photographer is a humanitarian force, consistently using photo to change the lives of people around the world. With him, there is always something new to discuss. This time he tells us about projects: a recollection of stories and photographic plans, never picked randomly but always made to have an impact on the people who participate in, see and share them.

One of his on-going projects that he brings to life through various initiatives as time goes by is called A Dream of Humanity. The idea is to have an umbrella term for his various humanitarian endeavors that take place in different parts of the world. His most famous initiative is called Exile Voices, which consists of giving cameras to children in refugee camps to take photos of their daily lives, joys and struggles. Exile voices is a project he aims to pursue for the next five years.

"Frozen Shoes" - Photo by Maya Rostam, Exiled Voices project
“Frozen Shoes” – Photo by Maya Rostam, Exile Voices project

Reza is currently working on an interactive book around the theme of Afghanistan Peace Warriors. He believes that the Internet with all its tools is an important vector of connection and knowledge. He reckons its ability to help reach millions of people with an idea is priceless. “The book is a way to link Afghanistan to the modern world, to move it away from its traditional cultural biases and ancient stories”, he explains. The book is a way to reach Afghan as well as global citizens, hence its multilingual and interactive approach designed to allow readers to engage, explore and grow their knowledge.

"Reconstruction" - © Reza
“Reconstruction” – © Reza

Another project seeks to engage the youth on current social issues. “I love Nature, I hate Pollution” is a competition created and launched by Reza in 2012 also titled Children’s Eyes on Earth. It does not only aim to raise children’s awareness of ecological issues but also to teach them about the power of photography. “I believe that 15 years ago, to be a photographer you had to have a reputation and the means to buy the material, as well as the ability to learn techniques. Today’s generation has access to limitless technologies like smartphones and I-pads to take photos” he states. For him, this can make photography trivial at times. His project is to show children that some themes and issues are so important that you can use your smartphone camera for more than just taking selfies. “It is important to have the youth know this, and to train them about it at a young age”, he adds. The competition aspect is simply to make it more exciting for them; kids love its game aspect and engage fully because of that. When I launched the project, kids from 90 countries participated; they all proved their creativity, curiosity and enthusiasm about nature and environmental issues “At the end of the day, adults see these photos and get a unique insight on how kids view their surroundings. From the refugee camp to this competition, it is easy to see that kids have a photographic eye that influences people differently”, he adds.

Reza has travelled the world and his photos have focused on various peoples, in struggles and in joys. One of his series focused on farmers in Morocco and their stories. This was in support of an NGO called AgreSud, which lacked funds while supporting agriculture in various places in the world. Reza’s humanitarian work extends to NGOs such as this one and his photos allow for the stories of these peoples to be told.

"The Frame" - © Reza
“The Frame” – © Reza

Similarly, he photographed women in Rwanda in a series called Words of Rwandan Women, as part of a project on women and their role in shaping the future of humanity. “I believe the world would be a much better place if women where in domains and positions of power and decision-making: in politics, communications, education and more”, he says. “War is the affair of men, just as we see males in various species battle things out. Women are mothers, nurturers, they give life so they don’t want to take it away”, he adds. In Rwanda and Burundi specifically, he was working on a before, during and after the genocide conflicts photo documentation. The women in these series have untold stories, one of them being about those who were raped during these conflicts. These women decided to keep their children despite the circumstances and were rejected by their families, tribes and friends, kicked out of their communities and villages. Once their tragic stories told through this series and in New York Magazine, many NGOs felt called to action and went out there to help them.

With Reza, there is no underestimation of the power of photojournalism and its endless impact on communities and lives. He has a real heart for helping others and using his talent to bring positivity to the world.

Francois Maurel

Written by Amma Aburam. Read the French version here.

Malagasy photographer François Maurel is a world-traveling photojournalist. His work and career have become a humanitarian force for aiding underprivileged populations from around the world. Maurel’s photo projects have taken him to Africa, South America, Asia and more. Horyou spoke to him about his great initiatives, from the PERLE charity association to Studio Maurel and finally the 15 years photo project that will take him across the world capturing everyday lives. Unlike most of the world, Maurel has chosen to lead a life without technology and is adamant about it.

How did you start taking photos?

I was surrounded by a photographic culture. My brother, who is 30 years my elder, was a photographer for 10 years and I think he had a direct influence on me. The big turning point for me was in 2007 when I had a stroke. I was in perfectly good health when it happened. I got out of it disoriented, wondering what I was going to do next. And then I started taking photos in the music world (concerts, events, etc.) and that’s where it all began. Today everything has taken on a new life: I’m working on a photo project called “Ombres et Lumieres” (“Shadows and Lights”) spanning on 15 years that started in India with photo reporting on the nomadic peoples there. The goal is to work on “outcasts,” the relations between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and the effect of globalization on a grand scale.

You eventually created Studio Maurel. What was the purpose behind that?

The idea was that I wanted to live off my work as a photographer; however, that is difficult as a photojournalist. The studio work is specialized for events photography, and that allows us to finance projects and travel. It’s more of a corporate aspect of what I do. People in photography say it’s an embarrassment to work in wedding photography, for example, but it is part of the art and helps toward bigger ideas and projects. Also we bring photojournalism into the weddings we cover, which is a touch of originality. I also travel with my wife to work on the grounds, so we both rely on the support of the Studio Maurel project. Of course, if I had to choose, I would be doing photojournalism 100%.

You also do associative work through your project PERLE. What exactly is that about?

I actually created this association in 2005 before starting photography. What we do is help build a structure for associations in different places, to grant help logistically and help with microprojects. For example, we took medical materials to Benin, helped in places in Ghana, Ivory Coast and more. Today we try to generate financial support for projects for associations, such as building farms in different countries. What we also do is, when we are taking photos, we go the extra mile and help in other aspects, we find out about the people we photograph, help them where needed and more.

You have always been a photojournalist. What are some of your most fond memories of your career?

Beyond the actual photos lies an adventure – adventure in the discomfort of being in foreign places, in eliminating prejudice because photography breaks down walls, it allows the immortalisation of moments. Everything I do is often through feeling and instinct. Moments I remember the most would be one time in Brazil where we tried to work with outcasts who ended up being drug traffickers, and the police were heavily involved with them. We got mugged over there. Sometimes these are the downsides of working in these conditions. Another experience was in Madagascar, where we took a boat out to sea and ended up there for nine hours because it broke down and we were stranded. It was really a near-death experience. What’s the positive in all this? Well, we are still alive today! It’s magical – we return from such experiences and everything is just fine.

You are on Horyou, the Social Network for Social Good. What does to Dream, Act and Inspire mean to you?

These three words are simply essential to my personal convictions. You have to go to the ends of your dreams. Inspiration is the fuel of creation, and to act is materializing that creativity. Horyou grants an interesting visibility; it’s dynamic and allows you to create connections. When I arrived on Horyou, I realized one of my photographic idols, Christian Holl, was on there and I got to connect with him. That man is a legend – he goes beyond photos, and he’s a true humanitarian.

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