Alam studied and taught chemistry in London where he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of London.
In 1989, he set up Drik picture library and in 1998, Pathshala: South Asian Institute of Photography. He is also a director of Chobi Mela, the festival of photography in Asia. Jury member of numerous competitions including World Press Photo where he has been a judge on four occasions, he was the first Asian chair of the World Press Photo contest judging panel.
Alam set up the South Asian Media Academy. His recent exhibition "Crossfire" curated by Peruvian curator Jorge Villacorta has been widely acclaimed, but was closed down by the police leading to nationwide protests. The police barricade was removed after Drik’s lawyers served legal notice on the government. The court’s response and subsequent events enabled Drik to open the exhibition for public viewing on 31 March.