Mou Aysha is a Humanitarian photographer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She loves to travel and seeks to discover the unseen. She spoke with Rohit Vohra, Co-founder APF about her creative journey so far.
RV : Hi Mou, good to have you with us. Please start by telling us how was it growing up in Bangladesh and when did you get involved with photography?
Mou : During and after my studies at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, graduating with a Masters in Applied English Linguistics, I have been following the photography workshops and courses at First Light Institute of Photography since 2014. I am currently employed as the administrator at this non-profit institute and I’m also involved as a volunteer for social and humanitarian projects of First Light Institute. I started photography as a passion and now I dedicate myself to capturing the best moments of life as I see and feel them. I believe that with empathy, compassion and love, we can change the world for the better as artists. I am a positive person who sees beauty in everything.
RV : Bangladesh has produced many photographers; do you think growing up there has had any influence on your interests and consequently your photography?
Mou: Yes. I love to travel around Bangladesh. I also love to go through other photographers’ work every day and I find inspiration from these activities and life in general.
Bangladesh has many excellent photographers and they are all very good in their field. But I am mainly influenced by the work of our legendary photographer, GMB Akash. His work and way of helping unprivileged people inspires me every day. He is our Mentor. He has an enormous impact on my work as well on my life philosophy and my views of the world around me. Many of us take photography seriously after seeing his work. He does not only take photos, he inspires you every day to be a good human soul filled with light.
RV : We do see a lot of happy faces, genuine smiles in your works and you have earlier said, “I believe with love, we can change the world for better”. Is that the message you want the viewer to take away from your photography?
Mou : I try to capture the beauty of people and their souls. Emotional connection is very important to me and to capture that I use simplicity in my presentation. I photograph simply. I narrate simply. I want to connect the viewer naturally with my images. The main challenge of my work is bringing out emotion in its simplest form. With my images I want to tug at your heart intensely.
I basically take portraits of people who are marginalised, living on the outskirts of society. I have a special affection for portraits and have therefore, produced an extensive series of them. Genuine smiles, emotions and people’s stories attract me the most. My mission for photography is to continue my journey as a passionate disciple of photography. I want to capture the purest of emotions in my photographs. I also occasionally feel inspired by other subjects and compositions and try not to limit my creative instincts. I seek to discover and photograph the unseen, therefore, I find myself becoming an explorer with a powerful desire to travel. These peripheral groups of people go through very difficult times, but still they manage to smile, they manager to persevere. To me they seem like heroes.
RV : What is it about people and places that draws you to them?
Mou : Photography is more my passion than my profession. It means a lot to me personally and I find a great deal of satisfaction and challenge in this art.
I only shoot what I feel is important to me. I go out to take photos because it’s fascinating to me and because I am curious about people, their lives, their culture and their faces.
Every time I go out with my camera I feel happy. Every new place and all new people I encounter make me happy. I become attached to some of my subjects and we sometimes become friends. They have a strong impact on me and I keep remembering their faces. It’s very rewarding for me to present them with their photos and this makes them very happy. Sometimes I return to the places to share some good moments with them, not only for photography.
RV : When did you get involved with social work and what inspired you to help others?
Mou : As a student at First Light Institute of Photography, I saw how the director and master photographer, GMB Akash, could change thousands of people’s lives with his humanitarian work. He inspired me to help others and changed my idea of life itself.
I started to actively participate as a volunteer for First Light Institute’s humanitarian projects from the beginning of my studies there. So far, I have been involved in gifting 50 different businesses to different unprivileged families which changed their lives completely.
One of the missions of my photography is to help the people I am working with. These people make me understand how beautiful life is and how easily we can help each other. I always want to do something for them rather than only taking their photos. They are more important to me than my photos.
Now in my capacity as Administrator for the First Light Institute, I participated in setting up a school in a remote village where 120 students are getting free education, whereas, their parents have never been to school. There are many more activities that the Institute has initiated in which I’m involved but the list is quite long to describe everything.
Sometimes we try to do other charitable activities such as distributing new clothes or sandals to street children as well as feeding them a good meal in a restaurant which is a rare moment for them. The Institute has also collected and distributed toys to child labourers and new clothes to the elderly during festival times as well during the winter time.
RV : Do you also travel outside of Bangladesh to capture other cultures? If you had the opportunity where would you like to travel?
Mou : I mainly work in Bangladesh as its people and places are magical, but I would also love to travel to all the places that I have never been. I have a long list of places to which I will travel very soon. I mainly want to travel to south Asian countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam but there are also many more places that interest me.
RV : What place or experience involving photography that you’ll never forget?
Mou : I have a lot of memorable experiences. Every person I met was like a new experience. I don’t just go there and take photos and leave. I spend a lot of time with the people I photograph. I build up a relationship before I take photos. Sometimes I spend the entire day for one portrait.
Spending time with these soulful, beautiful people is the most valuable experience I cherish. Photography changed my life. Because of photography I travel intensely around my country which has helped me to meet some incredible humans from different cultures and backgrounds. Their life experiences changed my views on life. I have learned that simplicity is the key of life.
RV : What projects can we expect from you in the future? Would you like to share anything with our readers?
Mou : I intend to be travelling more to be able to grow as a person and become more sensitive as an artist to capture the beauty of different people and places.
I want to travel to every single place in Bangladesh and take photos of all the beautiful people I will encounter. I want to have a solo exhibition soon with all of those portraits that I will take and some of those that I have already taken.
RV : In your photography you focus on emotions as much as you do on the technical aspects. Could you elaborate on that?
Mou : I take simple images primarily of people. I try to take portraiture images with simplicity, but which also reflect a soulful mood and a deep human connection. In addition to the uncomplicated composition, the people whom I photograph are incredibly beautiful and brave. And I believe that this is what sets my work apart from others. For me the people are more important than any defined photography style I follow.
RV : Where do you see or hope to see yourself with photography in the coming years?
Mou : I actually don’t have a specific plan. I don’t live by plans. Every day is a gift to me and I want to live my life fully. I want to do something for society and my people. But I also want to be happy. These are my main goals in life. In five years I want to publish my book with the best portraits that I have taken. I also want to do something for the people I photograph.
RV : Any last piece of advice that you would like to share with our readers?
Mou : Be honest and respectful to the people you photograph. Work really hard and take photos every day. Love your life and always be positive. Learn to be happy in every situation and never give up on your dreams.
Thank you for taking the time out for us Mou, We wish you all the best for your future endeavours.
Do follow her work on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mou_aysha
In conversation with Rohit Vohra/ APF