ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Storytelling from the Front Lines

The present pandemic has posed a new challenge to photojournalists who have documented the crisis in the face of severe social distancing norms and threat of infection.

It goes without saying that the photographic evidence we have all seen since the start of the coronavirus outbreak has been heart-wrenching. Images from the pandemic have populated the print and digital media in large numbers, and it is important to critically view these images and the responses they evoke as they continue to shape our common understanding of the extraordinary events that are unfolding around us. This is important especially in light of criticism from some sections that the circulation of these images comes at the cost of tarnishing India’s image on the international stage. 

The coronavirus posed a new challenge to photojournalists who had to document the crisis in the face of severe social distancing norms. Given the restricted physical access to their subjects, most photographers sought to pick out a defining element of the crisis in its nascency and attempted to base their work surrounding that element. While some composed their images on the novelty of the face mask, others tried to highlight the COVID-19-induced desertion and distance. In the year and a half of the pandemic, images of isolated supercities, front-line workers in safety gear and face masks have quickly made way for scathing images of mass graves and overcrowded hospitals, often as a commentary on the state of public health in many countries. Aerial shots of excavators at work while Wuhan completed the construction of a COVID-19 facility in 10 days remain one of my earliest memories of imagery from the pandemic, as fear, grief, loneliness and hope gradually became recurring themes in photographs from around the world. Initial pictures from the sudden lockdown imposed by the Indian government followed a similar rhetoric as well: images of migrant labourers walking in the scorching heat back to their hometowns thousands of kilometres away, and railway coaches being turned into isolation wards started doing the rounds on digital and broadcast platforms. With the second wave of the coronavirus, ghastly frames—of mass funeral pyres from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, charred hospital interiors from fire breakouts in intensive care units (ICU) in parts of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and desperate breathless patients and their families queuing up (and sometimes dying) outside overburdened hospitals—became omnipresent.

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Updated On : 2nd Aug, 2021

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