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    Volume 9 Issue 23| June 4, 2010|

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Got Soul, but Not a Soldier

Nader Rahman

Bangladesh is lucky to have nurtured a number of world-class photographers and GMB Akash is possibly the most important contemporary photographer to be viewed in that light. Yet another distinguished graduate from Pathshala School of South Asian Photography, he quickly rose to prominence for his varied, multi-textured, rich body of work which has taken him halfway across the globe photographing events and lives rarely seen by others and experienced by even fewer.

In his relatively short time behind the camera he has racked up a mind boggling 40 international awards as well as being featured in magazines such as Time, Sunday Times, Newsweek, Geo, Stern, Der Spiegel, 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. With a tremendous body of work behind him as well as more accolades than one could dream of it is interesting to see what drives him, and his current exhibition titled Soulscape which continues till June 10, 2010 at Bengal Gallery offers one a glimpse into the mind that keeps the camera clicking.

The show edited and curated by Amirul Rajiv manages to merge six of his projects into one body of work, which at first seems daunting but then gradually proves itself to be a recipe for success. For a photographer as talented and nuanced as Akash, the space at Bengal could have been used to dissect one of his projects in a detailed and exhaustive manner and as such that is what most would have looked forward to for this exhibition. But both he and his curator decided to take the risk of trying to blend the best of Akash's work on one palette and for the most part it worked quite well.

His pictures of old age homes in Nepal often run a gamut of emotions from sympathy to despair. He somehow manages to make the people who populate the pictures seem both hurt and content and at times it distresses one, leaving an emotionally ambiguous bad after taste in the mouth. While it may taste bitter, let it be known that the truth hardly ever tastes sweet. Even more jarring is the fact that those people live on the banks of the river and in fact the cemetery that they hope to be cremated at, in a sense living exactly where they hope to die.

Death is also in the air when Akash turns his lens on the cotton farmer suicides of India. In a devastating series of pictures he captures the mourning and cremation of one farmer whose dream of a modern India died with him as his slim harvest provided more burdens than relief.

Seemingly Akash takes his soulscape quite literally as his exhibition heads into the burning ghats of Varanasi to record yet more death. This time though the tone is different, while the death of the cotton farmer and the impending deaths of those in the old age homes were largely viewed as tragic, death in Varanasi seemed to be tackled from a completely different perspective. Here death is seen as more of a release, a desired entrance into the afterlife on the banks of a river and a city that most Hindus consider a sacred place to die and be cremated. His visual English is best displayed by these three very different portrayals of the end of one's life and as such really point the exhibition in the right direction.

His 'Born to Work' and 'Life for Rent' sections of the exhibition initially seem out of sync with the rest of the photographs, but in a strange way their awkward symmetry works well. 'Life for rent' catalogues the women and often-young girls that make their living via the oldest profession in the world and 'born to work ' highlights the plight of child workers. While their respective professions may be poles apart, Akash's photographs portray the startling similarity of their suffering.

In the end the exhibition feels a bit cluttered, but in a good way. He crams the space full of images and words that speak volumes for his photographic finesse. And far from dryly documenting his subjects he actively lives their lives and gains their trust and eventually photographs them as one of them, rather than as an outsider granted permission. It only goes to show that he's got soul, but he's not a soldier.

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