Life in the Cage

(Chittagong, May 2020)
Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan (Chittagong, Bangladesh)

For a time it seemed that I could no longer be worldly. It would have been better if there was no family, I want to escape from family life. I am stuck, I want to be free from all family ties. This photo is part of my ongoing project “Life in the Cage”, which is a visual personal project about my family and me. It documents the interaction of our relationships during these ongoing pandemic, lockdown, isolation days in our home in the coastal city of Chittagong, Bangladesh. A recent survey has found that 72.6% Bangladeshis are suffering from insomnia, COVID-19 has a significant detrimental effect on the mental health and psychological well-being of the people of Bangladesh. 

In Bangladesh we held our breaths and prayed our impoverished overpopulated country would somehow be spared from yet another disaster, but when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown on March 26th, we found ourselves homebound as though we were living in a cage. Today we still are fearful to leave our home or allow others to visit.

I have spent my entire career as a photojournalist documenting the struggles of others for the world’s major news publications and teaching and mentoring other aspiring photojournalists. Now, for the first time, I stood in front of my own camera. I struggled to focus my lens on my own story, embracing the power of photography as a motivation to survive. This new experience felt awkward and at times uncomfortable. My photos show slivers of our daily life, hope, disappointments, expectations, loneliness, frustration and fears. Our joys overshadow the uncertainties we face.

These months in isolation have also explored my relationship with my wife and our children. I was able to observe my family closely and I’ve discovered my weaknesses deeply. While struggling to capture this moment in history, I dreamed of a downpour in the desert. I felt as though I was drowning and tried to stay alive through our story.

During the lockdown our children became ill with fever, coughing, shortness of breath linked to allergies. We were afraid to seek treatment because of fear of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. We tried home remedies. In fact: my wife and I really had no choice. Our regular familiar family doctor has been absent from his clinic for over two months. It was terrible because of unavailable health treatment. Patients aren’t getting medicine. Corona patients are dying without treatment because of panic in hospitals and doctors and lack of empty seats…