Jan Møller Hansen is a self-taught photographer, based in Copenhagen. Most of his work was shot in Bangladesh and Nepal, where he lived for eight years from 2007 to 2016. He is a former senior diplomat, who discovered his passion for photography while exploring the slums of Dhaka. You can find more of his work on his Facebook page or his website. In this inspiring piece, he shares the story behind one of his striking portraits. Read on!

For five years, I lived in Bangladesh in one of the most densely-populated cities in the world—Dhaka. This city has more than 15 million people. Four million of its inhabitants live on the street and in the slums. There is so much inequality in society—many are treated badly. As a diplomat, I did not want to live inside a bubble, and only interact with privileged people. So I took to photography, which became an instrument for meeting different kinds of people, and learning about their lives and society. Photography put me in exciting situations and introduced me to extraordinary people. Among them are the so-called “Hijras” or transgenders. These “Hijras” are excluded and stigmatized by society. They are feared by many, who believe that they have supernatural powers. But I found them to be the most open, easygoing, and honest people that I had met for a long time. Photography also gave me an insight into how “Hijras” have established their own family structures. Like family, they care about each other. They are in many ways like you and me. That’s what I learned from them. I am grateful they allowed me into their lives, and shared their stories with me as a photographer.

Friends in Dhaka by Jan Møller Hansen on 500px.com

In this portrait, you’ll see mother Parboti with two of her many daughters. There are grandmothers, mothers, and daughters in the “Hijra” families. Each have an interesting story to tell about their lives and struggles.

I usually photograph outdoors in natural light, using Canon EOS 1DX and Sony Alpha 7Rii cameras with Canon EF L and Carl Zeiss Otus lenses. I never ask people to pose, or tell them how to behave. I prefer to photograph people as they are. I want honest and telling images. Over the years, I have become quite conscious about framing and composition. I always prefer to get the best framing on-site, and I don’t like to crop photos. Your photographs will always reflect who you are as a person, whether you like it or not. The motives you choose or find—and the way you work as a photographer—are not done by coincidence.

My advice for aspiring social documentary photographers? Be true to yourself, and do what you like the most. Always stay attentive towards your subjects, and have respect for them, regardless of who they are and what they do. Use your empathy—always connect and engage with the people you photograph. Be consistent in your work, and do what you are best at. As you go along, share your work and learn from others. It is very hard work, but you will be surprised about what it can lead to. Challenge yourself through photography—you will learn about yourself and others.

Find more of his compelling images at his 500px profile.