In conversation with Mr. Sakib Muhtasim: A Portrait of Surviving the Barriers

Nafisa Islam

Feb 01, 2022


Overcoming the Odds is a blog series brought to you by volunteer writer Nafisa Islam from IYAP Bangladesh. This series aims at exploring and sharing the inspiring stories of famous personalities in Bangladesh, who have overcome several mental health related struggles in their early life and emerged successful after walking along the path of their passions and dreams with courage and determination.

Sakib Muhtasim is a Bangladeshi fashion photographer and he is where he is today after going through a lot of struggles and challenges that life has thrown at him. This is an inspiring moment with Sakib.

A very good day to you, Sakib! Thank you so much for taking some time off from your busy schedule to answer a few questions about your life!

1. Could you tell us about an average day in your life?

Thank you Nafisa. Average days are always the same for creative people like me. We are always into researching, retouching, shooting and photoshopping. This is quite a regular routine for a photographer. And yeah that’s what I’m doing. After the COVID-19 situation and the long period of lock down, lifestyle has been a little strange now, because it’s quite unpredictable. Sometimes we have to work online, sometimes we have to go on the field and the same thing just rolls around doing my work.

2. How would you like to describe yourself in 3 words?

Ethical, creative and selective.

3. What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strength is definitely my family and photography is my weakness.

4. While doing research, I got to know that you have had your own share of mental health struggles in your early life. What kind of struggles were you going through? What kind of negative feelings or experiences have you had in your early life, if you don’t mind sharing?

Well, that’s a wonderful question. I must say, when I’m thinking about the start of photography: I used to like it a lot, people used to give me compliments. It was a hobby and then turned into my passion. Then it became my profession. However, I struggled at the beginning of my career. My photography genre or the type of photography I like is fashion, glamour and beauty portraits. So, basically back in 2009 to 2010, it was a weird thing to make a profession out of it. It was because we still didn’t have photography on that scale in our country, society or anywhere on the government side: there is nothing called photography as a profession. This is the first thing that was kind of depressing and the other thing is that our society is different as we are reserved.
We have many more difficulties because our fashion industry has kind of a mixed culture. We do not really have a fashion photography institute or something like that. We only have an institute that just teaches documentary photography and basic photography. I have always wanted to study at a fashion photography institute in my country, which I couldn’t. I had to struggle to learn how to be a good fashion photographer. I had to work hard just to find out my identity. What is my signature? How am I going to be a fashion photographer? How will things work out? How to do commercial shoots? What are the technical terms? It was in the beginning a really hard decision for me when I already got into it. There is no going back because I have invested a lot of time in it. After a few years. I got really confused that I was questioning myself – what was I doing? Am I doing the right thing? Is there a commercial value to the work I do within my country? Should I really be a commercial photographer? It was too late to switch to another profession, because I was totally into it. After six months, I took a break, because I got so depressed about this industry and the system and I could not understand what was happening. I could not communicate with a lot of people and how could I work with people when I could not communicate? Some people tend to think that I could offer my services free of charge, without any commercial value to the work I do. That’s the main depressing story that I have experienced so far in my life; the recognition for my profession in this society and how well it is received in this community. Sometimes it is still the same: there are clients who don’t want to pay even today. That is very depressing for anyone. You work hard. You get paid. That’s the simple equation. However, thank God, I had my family’s support and my friends always encouraged me.

5. How important do you think it is, to go for help, regarding mental health issues/seek support when someone is depressed or anxious?

It is very important because it can save lives. We are afraid of speaking up about it. When it gets depressing, we end up with something and go to sleep and wake up with the same disturbing thoughts again. So, seeking mental health support is very important for a person, for someone’s future.

6. One reason why people do not seek mental health support is the stigma associated with mental health. Should we be scared of mental health issues? Is it a burden to the community?

This is a very simple equation for our country and culture. We are scared to speak up. We are scared to talk about it. We are scared to seek mental health support because we are scared that society will judge us. People will tell them that they are crazy, they will never get married or that no one will marry him/ her, he/she is coming from a psychiatric hospital etc. People bully them a lot. Whenever you seek mental health also, they take it unnecessarily seriously. But, it should not be the case.

7. Identifying your passions and working with determination, courage and confidence has helped you overcome these challenges and achieve all this success. So, now let’s talk about your journey and how you emerged successful. So your passion is photography. Why do you take photos? What inspires you?

As I said, I used to like taking photos. I don’t know exactly why I used to like it. Somehow taking photos makes me happy. I like it and it’s just full of surprises. I learn something new every day. It is exciting for me. Whenever I do a shoot, whenever I take photos, I learn something. Also, I really like the scenery. I just learn every time I click a photo and it feels like experimenting and capturing the moment. This is my satisfaction, you can say. Taking photos is my satisfaction. It gives me joy. It gives me peace. It excites me. I’m so good at taking photos. Whenever I take photos it makes me feel good. That’s why I like doing it.

8. Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing and career path?

I must say that we have fantastic photographers in our country, who could just blow the industry outside of Bangladesh but are limited by stereotypes in our culture. A few photographs that I like are Paul David Barikder, Abu Naser and Rafiqul Islam Raf. Internationally, I have been an avid follower of the works of Mario Testino, Lindsay Adler, Clay Cook, to name a few.

In the past when I wasn’t a commercial photographer, I used to see their photos. And I was a big fan of them. They have influenced me a lot with their techniques, lighting and editing. It really inspires me to do nice work just like they do.

9. Since the beginning of your career with photography, what technology/software/camera gear do you use?

I did my first commercial shoot back in 2011. That was for the National Volleyball League. That’s how I started, then I did the celebrity cricket league in 2012-2013. 

My first camera was a Nikon D90 back in 2011. Now I’m using Mirrorless cameras mostly. I am currently using Fujifilm XT2- XT3, Sony A7Riii and also am using Godox lights for indoor strobe and battery controlled outdoor strobe, 2011 Nikon d90, a bunch of speed lights and Simpex digital studio strobes. Software that I mostly use are Adobe photoshop, bridge and Lightroom.

10. Among your work, which one is your most favorite? Why?

I always like my beauty portraits and my experimental shoots especially because I don’t have barriers to think about, I don’t have any products to highlight and I can just explore my creativity. So basically, my beauty shoots and experiment shoots are my all-time favorites. There are also editorial photoshoots I do. I do it my way. I just like this kind of shoots where there is no barrier and I can explore my creativity to the fullest. Recently, I also worked on a shoot with the Team Chattogram Challengers for BPL (Bangladesh Premier League) and that is also one of my most favorites in the collection.

11. There have been many rejections in life at work. How are you dealing with those rejections? 

I believe rejection is good for the future. When there is no rejection, there is no progress. If I get rejected, maybe I have to work harder, maybe I have to improve myself more. The one who rejected me is not capable of working with me or maybe I’m incapable of working with them. So there is something good about rejection. I don’t hate it. I like it when people communicate with me and share their constructive criticism. This is my main achievement.

12. In our country, everyone’s parents want their son or daughter to be a doctor, an engineer or an advocate or a banker, which professions are considered to earn a lot of money. When you got into photography, how did you explain it to your family? Did they trust you? Did they support you?

I always got the full support from my family, thank God!. I am the luckiest son because I have parents who have supported me a lot. When I started photography, I was so young and I was a student from a science background. They wanted me to be a doctor, as usually all parents do, but when I decided to do photography, they gave me a chance. They trusted me. Thank God for their well wishes. I’m here right now and they’re still supporting me. 

13. I heard you have a jewelry business. The brand name is ‘Topaz’. There are many beautiful famous jewelry designs that are coming from different countries. How far do you want to take your business in the future or how far do you want to take yourself towards your business in the future? We want to know your next plan.

Yes, I have an online jewelry business right now. That is ‘TOPAZ JEWELS’. I have been importing since when the lockdown started. It also connects with my profession somehow. I like portraits and I need jewelry when doing them, mostly in our traditional culture portraits. So I just randomly started it and it’s going well. We have been importing from a few countries. I just want to make it a global brand. We are already trying to do it. We have successfully done it a few times. If it is God’s will, I hope I can do it.

14. There are many boys and girls from middle class families like you, who are fighting for their passions/dreams. What do you want to tell them: maybe a message of inspiration? How can they overcome so many obstacles and fulfill their dreams?

If you have a passion or a dream, just go for it and jump for it. You’re going to do good on it in a short time. If you are doing something that you don’t like or if you are doing it because your family wants it, try to convince your family. You’re going to do well at what you like. If you fail, don’t stop. If you have confidence about doing something, you will do good on it. You’ll be successful and you are going to make history. So don’t forget to follow your passion, follow your dream. Success is just experience and you’ll achieve it over time. 

Unfortunately that’s all the time we have. It was such a pleasure talking to you, Sakib. Thank you so much for making the time. We hope that the young people who will get to read this inspiring story will get empowered to work hard for their dreams even amidst all the challenges that life throws at them and emerge successful.

Thank you Nafisa for the wonderful time and questions. I love them. I hope it will make a difference to the people who want to learn about it and who want to know me. I really thank the team: Nafisa and the IYAP team. You guys are doing great and I really appreciate that.

Thank you! We wish you success and have a great day!

About the Author:

Nafisa Islam

Nafisa Islam

Nafisa Islam is an ardent youth from Bangladesh. Currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, she is very much interested in using writing as a medium of expression to bring change to the way people think. She is very much passionate about children and their rights as well and would like to use her writing to bring justice to children facing difficulties. She also embodies an obsession with fashion and shows immense dedication towards her work. She always loves to be supportive and always likes to empower youth to advance in their careers and takes delight in seeing them happy and achieving their successes and goals.

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