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A quiet battle: The Capital in the midst of a pandemic

| Updated on October 23, 2020 Published on October 23, 2020

An exercise to capture Delhi under lockdown evolves into a visual chronicle of its spirited fight against the novel coronavirus

I grew up in Delhi, and the city has granted me a stockpile of memories. So it made perfect sense to unlock those memories, as well as capture both the feeling of alienation and the bonds of togetherness its residents experienced during the lockdown. I set out to create a visual archive of the city; instead, the exercise ended in epidemic photography — pictorial representations of an infectious disease. The intention was to put in context the extraordinary situation unravelling before us in the midst of a pandemic.

My first book, Dialects of Silence, is a selection of black- and-white photographs culled from over 10,000 images I captured from April to July as Covid-19 raged and the Capital fought back.

A pandemic is quite like war — an invasion, a tragedy, a horror. War evacuates, shatters, and breaks apart the notion of a built world. The novel coronavirus did the same. Photography during such times is like being in the line of fire; chances of catching the infection are high. Obtaining necessary approvals from the authorities to gain access to places was a challenge, but I didn’t let it deter me. Sanitising wipes, soap and water, 70 per cent isopropyl alcohol — all of these became my life’s essentials. Disinfecting the equipment and setting it aside for 48 hours became the new routine. The fear of contracting the virus always loomed over me and I lived in constant fear of passing the infection on to my family members.

The images urge the viewer to pay attention, to reflect, to learn, to examine how we rationalise suffering. Who and what have caused the suffering captured in those images? Epidemic photography can serve as memento mori [an artistic reminder of the inevitability of death], and is an important token of a nation’s collective memory.

Parul Sharma is a photographer based in Delhi, and her book Dialects of Silence was published by Roli Books in September

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Published on October 23, 2020