GMB Akash grew up in the dim alleys of the Tanbazar brothel area, in the city of Narayanganj, Bangladesh. As a child, he witnessed the comings and goings of other children who worked as prostitutes. And when he spoke of his work at a TEDx talk in 2011, he thanked them. “I am here because of them,” said the award-winning photojournalist.
“For me, they are my sisters,” Akash, now 38, tells Quartz. His luminous portraits of those girls and women testify to both their fragility and their resilience. “Bangladesh is like hell…in this hell people are really strong,” he says.
Over the course of his 12-year-long photo series “Life for Rent,” Akash learned the stark economics of a young sex worker’s life. “Usually a young and beautiful girl gets 10 clients per day and sometime more,” he says. “The average girl earns 100 Tk ($1.27) per client.”
In order to appear fuller and more mature, some sex workers take dangerous cow steroids.
Prostitution was legalized for women in Bangladesh in 2000, amid protests from its largely Muslim population.