In the coming weeks, we will be featuring the work of the five finalists for the inaugural Reminders Project Asian Photographers Grant. This week, we begin with Bangladeshi photographer GMB Akash and his project The Bitterest Pill, which aims to be a detailed documentation of the use of the drug Oradexon in Bangladeshi brothels.
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The Bitterest Pill
GMB Akash, Bangladesh
Underage sex workers in Bangladesh facing a new horror: they are being forced to take a drug designed to fatten cattle for market. Eight hundred women and girls live and work inside the fortress-like brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh. Many of them are underage, and most receive no pay because they are chhukri – bonded workers. That girls as young as 12 should be condemned to a life of sex slavery is enough of a nightmare, but they also face a new horror, one that could snuff out any chance of a future they might have had.
The horror is a steroid called Oradexon, a drug identical to one used to fatten cattle to be sold to the markets. The girls are given Oradexon by their madams in order to make them look older and more attractive to prospective clients. One of its side effects is water retention, oedema, which can result in a ‘plump’ look that is considered attractive by some Bangladeshi men. The drug is highly addictive and has severe long-term health implications, impairing the kidneys, increasing blood pressure and interfering with normal hormone production.
Many of these girls are taking the drug without knowing about its long-term effects.
I want to do an in-depth documentation of this crucial issue, to find out just how many girls are using this drug, the effects it has had on them, and other details about the use of the drug in brothels. So far, no media has covered this issue.
Awareness through photography can stand as witnesses of cruelties that are practiced at brothels. By helping to detail this issue, we will discover stories that are untold, and also allow this issue to be brought into the limelight with sufficient information.
Words from our Jury Panel:
“Not only had photographer GMB Akash managed to gain intimate access into the shadowy world of the underage sex trade, his revelation that their madams are giving these young women the steroid Oradexon in order to make them look older and more attractive to prospective clients makes these disturbingly beautiful images even more poignant.”
– David Dare Parker, Award-winning photographer & co-founder of REPORTAGE
“Akash began coverage of the child prostitution – the most vicious form of child labor – five years ago while he was tackling with the issue of different types of child labour in Bangladesh. I think that, as a man, it was not easy for him to obtain the trust of these working women, and also to be permitted by the male clients who were there. He took time, and lets a photograph reach the depth of the problem carefully, one by one. These photographs talk about the reality of the situation very powerfully, and invokes energy to address this long-term issue that comes with a vicious cycle.”
– Yuko Yamaji, Curator at Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts
My journey to the world of photography began long ago. For years I have been travelling widely, covering various social issues faced by the lesser-known people, particularly in my country Bangladesh. In 2002, I became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands. In 2004, I received the Young Reporters Award from the Scope Photo Festival in Paris and in 2005 I was awarded Best of Show at the Center for Fine Art Photography’s international competition in Colorado, USA. In 2006, I was awarded World Press Photo award and released my first book “First Light”.
In 2007 again I became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the 30 Emerging Photographers (PDN 30) by Photo District News Magazine, USA. I was one of the speakers in the fifth Global Investigative Journalism Conference held at Lillehammer, Norway in 2008 and in TEDxOporto 2011 in Portugal.
Invisible Photographer Asia (IPA) is the official media partner of the Reminders Project Asian Photographers Grant.
The winner of the grant will be announced in November during the 7th Angkor Photo Festival, held from November 19-26, 2011, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. During the festival, there will also be a special showcase of the finalists’ projects.