This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – Bangladeshi photojournalist Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan, founder of Voice of Humanity and Hope (VOHH) Festival turns the camera on himself and his young family during lockdown. It’s an extraordinary intimate and honest portrayal. Here he shares his thoughts and pictures. And if you haven’t done so already, please check out the second video interview in our new monthly series Photojournalism Now: In Conversation with Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Renée C. Byer.
Photo Essay – Life in a Cage
Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan
“In Bangladesh, we held our breath and prayed our impoverished, overpopulated country would somehow be spared from yet another disaster, but when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown on March 26th, 2020 we found ourselves homebound as though we were living in a cage. Today, we still are fearful to leave our home or allow others to visit. “Life in the Cage” is a visual personal project about my family and me. It documents the interaction of our relationships during these ongoing pandemic days in our home in the coastal city of Chittagong, Bangladesh.
“I have spent my entire career as a photojournalist documenting the struggles of others for the world’s major news publications and teaching and mentoring other aspiring photojournalists. Now, for the first time, I stood in front of my own camera. I struggled to focus my lens on my own story, embracing the power of photography as a motivation to survive. This new experience felt awkward and at times uncomfortable. My photographs show slivers of our daily life, hope, disappointments, expectations, loneliness, frustration and fears. Our joys overshadow the uncertainties we face. These months in isolation have also explored my relationship with my wife, Negar and our children, Hossain and Imran. I was able to observe my family closely, and I’ve discovered my weaknesses deeply. While struggling to capture this moment in history, I dreamed of a downpour in the desert. I felt as though I was drowning and tried to stay alive through our story.
“I and my brothers Arman and Ataul live with their wives and children in the same building as a joint family; it’s a great source of support. But, in my society, a man is taught not to speak about his own worries, which at this time are many. During the lockdown, our children became ill with fever, coughing, shortness of breath linked to allergies. We were afraid to seek treatment because of fear of being infected with the Covid-19 virus. We tried home remedies. In fact, my wife and I really had no choice. Our regular familiar family doctor has been absent from his clinic for over two months. It was terrible, because of unavailable health treatment in Bangladesh. Patients aren’t getting treatment, even those who aren’t corona patients are dying without treatment because of panic.
“As each day passed, our fears grew as we listened to the reports of the rising numbers of those infected and the lives claimed. Our rooftop satellite dish caught images on our television showing so many other countries far more advanced and supposedly economically secure than Bangladesh digging graves. It was hard to imagine we were not watching a war.
“A recent survey has found that 72.6% Bangladeshis are suffering from insomnia, Covid-19 has a significant detrimental effect on the mental health and psychological well-being of the people of Bangladesh. The money my wife had hidden away for potential disasters is now almost gone, but we pool together our strengths. “Life in a Cage” is intended to capture our resilience.” Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan