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  • Writer's pictureShabbir Akhtar


2020 – the year which has created history. It has changed the way mankind functions. It has made us realise and cherish the basic necessities required to survive. The fast-paced world came to a standstill, across the globe irrespective of political, economic, and geographical borders. There has been chaos, fear and sorrow associated with the pandemic. On the other hand, nature got some time to heal, even if it was for a few months.

India reported its first case of COVID-19 on January 30, 2020. Initially things were under control, but the virus started spreading rapidly around end-February. On March 24, 2020, the Government of India announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown starting from midnight. Everything came to a standstill from March 25, 2020. On the morning of the first day of lockdown, I decided to start documenting the lives of people during the lockdown with one photograph shot daily in the morning, from my balcony on the third level of my building situated on one of busiest streets of Kolkata.

After the first 21 days, the lockdown got extended thrice with the last day of the fourth phase of lockdown being May 31, 2020. I continued my endeavour of taking one photograph a day through these phases of the lockdown as well. During the lockdown, on May 20, 2020, the state of West Bengal was also hit by super cyclone Amphan, leaving behind a trail of destruction. My photographs also capture the day of the cyclone and the day after it.

By trying to capture the lives of the people over these 68 days, I got to observe the human behaviour closely – how people were initially scared of the virus, then started living with it and eventually came to mocking it. I even witnessed how life went on after the destruction of Amphan. And I finally came across a lot of heroes – some with and many without uniforms.

In August 2020, I enrolled for the MSc. in Communication Management with Singapore Management University and by October I was in a new country. I have always enjoyed engaging in multiple activities in every academic institution that I am part of. So, when SMU Library came up with a workshop on 'Digital Photography: Visual Diary' it was something that the photographer in me jumped on immediately. The workshop, which was capped at twelve participants from the entire university, was to be conducted with Objectifs - Centre for Photography and Film and had Deanna Ng, a Singaporean photographer, as the facilitator.

One of the major focusses for businesses in the digital age is to effectively communicate with their different stakeholders across various cultures with the ultimate objective to build the company's reputation. I always felt that photographs have the potential to be an effective communication tool that impacts people from multiple cultures, without the use of text in a specific language. Photographs help people relive moments, broaden perspectives, sparks imagination and ignites dreams, but in the language, tone and pace the viewer is comfortable with. This workshop helped me reinforce my beliefs as we developed visual literacy through discussions on how photography can be used as a communication tool.

The 68 Photographs for The Exhibition

The workshop would culminate with an exhibition - Annotations - held at Li Ka Shing Library and Kwa Geok Choo Law Library from January 22 to February 28, 2021 showing the photographs captured by us, stitched together as stories of their own. While the workshop helped me improve my technical proficiency in photography and I even captured a lot of photographs in Singapore, for my exhibition piece we decided to showcase my captures during the lockdown in India.

When you see the photographs in the exhibition, you will notice that I have intentionally not given any caption to them as I wanted to let the viewer interpret the story behind the photographs in their own way and not influence them with my thoughts. As they see these photographs, I would like them to think about the resilient nature of us human beings – irrespective of what comes at us, we always come out stronger. With the vaccine for COVID-19 now being rolled-out, the light at the end of the tunnel seems closer than ever.

The entire journey has been very enriching and I would just say - hang in there my friend, we will come out of this stronger!

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