LightRocket Featured Photographer: K M Asad5 min read
Many of you are quietly working away on personal projects, honing your skills and expressing your passion for photography. You are often telling other people’s stories but only rarely are your own stories told.
LightRocket decided to shine a spotlight on its most outstanding member photographers.
Each month we’ll be featuring a member photographer, telling their story: asking them to explain what inspires them, what challenges them, what gear they use and of course about the work that is most important to them.
We’re kicking off our Featured photographer series with Bangladeshi photographer KM Asad, who has been widely acclaimed for his emotive coverage of he Rohingya refugee crisis.
Asad describes himself as a purist when it comes to photojournalism. Based in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, the 36-year-old photographer says he was originally inspired by the work of celebrated war photographer James Nachtwey. “I remember watching a documentary about James Nachtwey called ‘War Photographer’ when I was just starting out,” says Asad, who graduated from the South Asia Institute of Photography in Dhaka in 2008. Asad says meeting and working alongside James Nachtwey in the Rohingya refugee camps earlier this year was one of the high points in his career.
It was in 2007, covering the aftermath of a cyclone, that Asad first realised the extent to which his pictures could be a positive agent for change.
“I tracked the course of the cyclone and rushed to the area that had faced the brunt of the storm,” recalls Asad. “I was the first photojournalist on the ground. People were desperate and had no food. Many had perished. There was almost no internet but somehow I managed to get my pictures out and right after that aid started to arrive. I understood then that my photographs had played an important part in showing the world what had happened, prompting a humanitarian response.”
More recently, Asad has produced powerful and widely published coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis. In 2017, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar, fleeing a wave of genocidal violence. Over 700,000 Rohingya refugees now eke out a miserable existence in cramped and squalid camps.
“I began covering the Rohingya refugee situation in Cox Bazar as far back as 2012,” says Asad. “When the situation suddenly deteriorated in late August 2017, I knew I needed to get to the border areas to record what was going on. I remember arriving at the scene of the exodus on September 4th, just after the Muslim festival of Eid. I was working for AFP then, filing every day, making sure the story got out. One day I remember an AFP editor told me that a picture I had taken of a crying child had prompted an international outcry and put a lot of pressure on Aung Suu Kyi. It was a simple picture, just a portrait, but it had a big impact. For me it was more evidence of how powerful photojournalism can be.”
But life as a photojournalist can be fraught with risks too. Asad says his most challenging experience was when he covered the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. “I flew to Nepal the day after the quake,” recounts Asad. “It was very dangerous. There were aftershocks all the time. The city was empty. It was like a graveyard. There was no electricity and it was difficult to get food. On March 27th I had been photographing in the city and decided to return to my hotel to rest. As I lay in my room on the 4th floor, the building was shaken by a violent aftershock. I rushed to the balcony and remember thinking that if the building started to crumble, I would just jump. That was a terrifying moment.”
“Looking back over my career, I often feel I have this dream of creating a perfect photo-journalistic image”, says Asad. “I’m always chasing that ideal image. The other thing I have learned is that it’s important for photojournalists to identify the key issues of our time and to focus our energy on telling those stories. For me that is now clearly climate change and the environment, so in the coming months and years, I’ll be working on that subject.”
K M Asad was named Photographer of the Year at the 2018 Siena International Photo Awards and won first place at the International Photography Awards (IPA) for editorial photo essays and feature stories.
Click here to view see more of K M Asad’s work on his LightRocket website.
Click here to see KM Asad’s Best Work gallery on LightRocket — https://www.lightrocket.com/galleries/20800/rohingya-exodus
To read other articles by LightRocket, click here.