I’m so delighted to publish Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan’s visual personal project within his family in Bangladesh during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. This is a photo story that will stay with you, the combination of narrative within the context of the images is astounding…
Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan, born in 1984, lives in Chittagong. He works as a freelance photographer who also sees himself as a social activist, Curator and Educator. He is the Founder Director of the VOHH Photography Institute, VOHH Foundation and the VOHH FOTO FEST.
Khan has won more than 100 international awards in the field of photojournalism and Documentary photography, Including; IanParry Scholarship-HM, UNICEF POY-HM, Alexia Student Grant, Andrei Stenin Press Award, IPOTY, Photoshare award, Al MayadeenTV award. Shortlisted: SWPA, Lucie Scholarship. He was Nominated: World PressPhoto JSM, UNICEF POY, Magnum EF Grant.
His photo series have been featured in print media and TV shows worldwide, Including; CNN, Sunday Times, Amnesty International, Guardian, NetGeo, Al Jazeera, FotoEvidence, BJP, TIME, Público, EyesOpen, Russia Today, Al MayadeenTV. And have been exhibited in 40 countries; Including: Somerset House, House of Lords, Royal Geographical Society, UN HQ, Lumiere Brothers center of photography, Addis Foto Fest, Bursa PhotoFest. His assignment experience includes: World Bank-IFC, CNN, Sputnik, Al MayadeenTv, Alexia, Público etc.
His long term projects have also been the subject of teaching, lectures and research in many Universities and Organizations in The US and Europe, like: Johns Hopkins University, East Carolina University, Duke University, University of Washington, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of Roehampton, WHO, CARE, IERG, EBS, Population Council, University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame etc.
Life in the Cage
In Bangladesh; we held our breaths 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, 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 has 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 often? Once? of a downpour in the desert. I felt as though I was drowning and tried to stay alive through our story.
Just a week before the lockdown began, I was preparing to take a job as a photographer teacher in the Bangladesh Air Force and curating and directing the Voice of Humanity and Hope (VOHH) photography festival. It took a lot of personal financial sacrifice to pull the festival together, but selling prints I have captured felt so rewarding as I witnessed how many people in my city were impacted by the display of stories that were hung throughout our city. I watched even our street children stop and try to touch the captured in images.
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 in hospitals and doctors and lack of empty seats.
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.
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