May 2, 2021 6:20:21 am
In June 2020, photojournalist Amit Chakravarty turned the lens on his 85-year-old father. The novel coronavirus had hit India, and Chakravarty’s father had tested COVID-19 positive. “I was arranging things in the hospital, where my father was admitted, when the nurses told me to wear a double mask and a PPE kit. I had to talk to them from a distance of 10 feet. The idea of communicating from such a distance is what caused me to document my father’s illness,” says Mumbai-based Chakravarty, who has been working with The Indian Express for eight years. Previously, he has worked with publications like TimeOut.
His black-and-white photographs, taken across three weeks, have won him the second place in the POY (Picture of the Year) Asia 2021 Award under the category of “Covid Expressions”. POY Asia is part of POY International, a programme for visual journalists, run by Missouri School of Journalism’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, the US.
Titled “War Comes Home”, the award-winning series, has 18 photographs with accompanying text — we see a vacant corridor of a hospital; a ceiling that shows the curved curtain rod of a hospital room; his father recuperating at home. Chakravarty has also scribbled his thoughts on these frames. An abandoned plate of food reads, “Salt missing, sugar missing. Food sucks!” In a pensive silhouette of his father, he writes, “…He feels irritated to be jailed at his own house. Baba is acting like a child.”
“I have been documenting my parents since 2010, in a project called ‘Inner Circle’. They are a bit like fish out of water in Mumbai, compelled to leave Kolkata because of me. He was an accountant and my mother a housewife. When Baba caught COVID, it suddenly dawned on me that this is possibly the last time I was seeing him… In June last year, COVID felt lethal and incurable. When his RT-PCR test came positive and he needed to be moved to another medical facility, I didn’t have my camera. I took some pictures on the phone,” says Chakravarty, 47. “The writing on the photos was my way of being part of this project. A camera helps us photojournalists to maintain a distance, but with this, I brought ‘my personal self’ into the narrative. Because, while the pandemic was raging outside, we were fighting it in our own homes.”
Long-form documentation had helped Chakravarty understand the medium of photography better. “Your understanding of the medium changes — you are constantly doing and undoing your work, you draft, you cancel and redraft,” he says.
After a week, Chakravarty’s father came home and had to be quarantined. His family was ostracised, given the initial hysteria and stigma attached to the virus. “Thankfully, we did not have to vacate the premises, unlike others in Mumbai. I was also in quarantine, and had nothing to do, so, I started shooting. But, there were moments that I missed too, like when the ambulance brought my
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