Navigating through the world of photography during a pandemic
On December 31, 2019, I made a resolution for my business -- this would be the year of new heights of success for us; or so we thought, till the world turned upside down. Our wildest imaginations fit the arrival of the apocalypse, or even a city shaking earthquake, but did we think we’d be hearing a different version of the Azaan in our households due to an invisible force creating panic all over the world?
The fear of pay-cuts and downsizing, and completely unsure of what the future holds -- we’re all in this together, fighting to get through this one day at a time. With frequent mental breakdowns and health concerns, we are all just trying to find ways to make sure there is food on the next plate. We are cooking up storms in the kitchen, blowing off dust from our 10 year old guitars and playing familiar tunes, making Tiktok videos (which some of us never thought we would), fighting with our families over games of ludo, and some just looking for shelter and safety. I’ve been engrossed in the same thoughts as thousands of others I share some privileges with, but I would like to take this opportunity to bring stories of photographers during the pandemic into light.
I have been working as a professional photographer day-in and day-out for more than 10 years and suddenly, one fine morning, I had to send all my colleagues home, with no certainty of when we’d be back on track. Wedding Moments and Tanvir Ali Photography had just finished a successful wedding season, and we had immense work in the pipelines, bewildered as to how to meet deadlines and maintain quality of work. What none of us had was the experience of working from home. How do you run a company from your bed? How do you motivate your team? Not a clue.
We all know how the joys of being home slowly starts to take a turn for the highway to hell. As the days went by, I constantly found myself battling with the thought of running out the door to document what lays outside. Every time, I was stopped by the nightmare of somehow getting my family infected. Like everyone around, I am scared too. What lights my fire is watching works of bravery by people like Mehedi Rahman Ehab. Powerful photos in their element backed up by little anecdotes that seem like stories are just everyday realities for most on the streets of Dhaka for us to scroll through and tap on. Over a conversation regarding motivation, Ehab has said: "I felt that I have to document this pandemic in whatever way I can, without exposing myself too much, but at the same time trying to tell stories of people who are usually neglected. The drive to tell their stories gives me the courage." Ehab is in awe of the findings he has come across. One of which is, these people on the streets are not beggars by profession, rather by fate.
I did dare to go on my own share of self-assignments to seize the opportunity and freeze the rarity on my camera. With every click, I could read the faces I captured, and they were different shades of frowns and tragedy. I frequently stopped to reflect on what I learned with every click: Life is fragile for all, but what breaks us is different. While I worried about my life going forward, future of wedding photography and living in the new normal, a man sat squatted on the street counting every last paisa, trying to predict his next move. For him, the opportunity cost of buying a mask to save him from the coronavirus is starving – maybe even to death. Tough choices, wouldn’t you say?
As we make choices everyday weighing the pros and cons of going out to take photos, one of my favourite soldiers has been in the frontlines on the battlefield. Sudeepto Salam, a renowned photojournalist and writer, says: “Journalism by no means is a job for the weak hearted, but it is true that the risks are much higher during the pandemic. I may protect myself in every way possible, but still be at jeopardy. The scariest part is finding yourself in crowds and the camera always attracts attention. Either you step away from it, or you do what you must to get the job done. When you love your work, you can't walk away from a story until you click it.”
As a photography mentor at Creative Nation -- a creativity school and community I’ve built with my partner M Aminur Rahman -- I frequently get asked about how to keep the art alive during such times by my fellow craftsmen. I wish I could give myself the same words of encouragement I write on the small message boxes to my mentees locked at home. Shadman Jamal, a photographer by hobby, has been an inspiration for me in that category. He portrays stories that linger inside the walls of his home skillfully with his camera. When asked about how he decides what to frame among things that may seem trivial to most, Shadman said; "I take up every opportunity I get to indulge in projects to feed my passion. The pandemic is not any different. I have had ample amount of time to spend with my favourite subjects -- my parents. I know their movements; I anticipate and capture these precious moments. People seem to like the pictures a lot." Shadman suggests that people try and find their muse in their often-ignored everyday phenomenon. If you’re unsure of where to start, don’t be. Like they say, big things start at home.
It may feel like it, but we’re all hoping it is not the end of the world. Photographers globally are trying to learn how to create a new normal in fueling this art we love so much, and make our livelihoods with as well. Gatherings are being looked down upon, so what does that leave in store for the future of wedding events? Travel bans are threatening the beautiful genre of travel photography. Right now, as we overthink, negatives definitely outweigh the positives. Let’s sit back, clear our minds and think of ways to adapt. Let’s try and find inspiration in the things taken for granted. Let’s pick up the brush and paint our dreams on a fresh canvas. While we are literally stuck in the box, it’s time to really think outside of it. Have 2020 not be a tragedy. Let it be the time you’ve been yearning for; the time you finally have for a breather to start anew. I think I’m ready for it. Are you?