GMB Akash looks you straight in the eye and uses clear and simple language to explain why he feels blessed when he wakes up in the morning. His voice, however, reveals the tension he carries inside. The 39-year-old Bangladeshi has set himself a mission. “I want to give a voice to those living on the fringes. I want to tell them that they can live with dignity and earn respect. Life is beautiful.”
The moral mission has turned the award-winning Akash into much more than a successful photographer. Back home, for instance, he is known as a benefactor, having built a school for abandoned children. Twenty-five percent of his earnings go to the institution, which is further supported by the work of volunteers.
Meanwhile, while his photography projects – where subject matter includes the sex trafficking of women, transsexuals and child labor, among others – have fueled his rise to fame in the Western world, it is his interpretation of success that wins you over. “We all have something to contribute,” he said humbly during a recent interview.
The photojournalist's Greek project was recently unveiled in Athens, at the Benaki Museum's Kolonaki headquarters. The exhibition, “Why? Children on the Move,” showcases a selection of 150 images out of thousands of photos he took this winter on the island of Lesvos, at Idomeni on Greece's northern border and in the capital itself, where he witnessed what he refers to as “life-changing experiences.”
Akash's photographs of refugees, with a focus on children (taken with the permission of the parents) go beyond convention in a clear and elegant manner. His images represent an independent voice in the genre's tradition, balancing between emotion and record.
“I have witnessed extreme joy, extreme sadness and extreme pain,” said Akash as he recounted some of his experiences during all-nighters on the dark shores of Lesvos, at Idomeni and at Victoria Square in Athens. “I had never come across anything like it. There were times when I didn't raise the lens out of respect and there were times when I came face to face with situations I never knew existed.”
In Greece Akash met families, encountered a number of his compatriots who had been working in Syria before fleeing the war and observed kids who displayed unbelievable strength. “I did my best to encourage these people and raise awareness regarding their fate,” he said.
Part of an international project, the current exhibition was developed following a commission. The show is a collaboration between Greek nongovernmental organization Merimna (supporting children and families) and the APCd Foundation, a nonprofit Swiss organization promoting the creation and production of artworks.
“We act as an observatory for creativity that is born around the world, a workshop for contemporary art,” noted APCd president Pierre Eichenberger. Following Athens, where the display runs through May 22, the show is expected to travel to Switzerland, before heading to other countries as well.