Published:  01:29 PM, 09 June 2020

An Interview of Mohammad Rakibul Hasan about COVID-19

An Interview of Mohammad Rakibul Hasan about COVID-19

-Partha Banik (Kingshuk Partha)
Mohammad Rakibul Hasan is a Dhaka Based documentary photographer, filmmaker and visual artist. His work explores the themes of human rights, social development, migration, gender violence and the environment. His images express the resilience of human spirit and strength at adversity. 

He uses still images, text, videos, drone footage and VR to provide multi-faceted storytelling for editorial and non-profit clients. His work has published in major international outlets including BBC, CNN, The Guardian, The Sunday Times among many. He has been commissioned by non-profits such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Water Aid, Asian Development Bank (ADB), The World Bank, Concern, FAO of the United Nations, UN Women, USAID among others. His film ‘Salt’ was nominated for Ian Parry award and Joop Swart Masterclass. 

Hasan was nominated for many international awards and won hundreds of photographic competitions worldwide including Lucie Award, Human Rights Press Award and Allard Prize. His work has been screened and exhibited in various countries including USA, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Austria, Germany, Poland, UAE, Russia, and UK. His latest exhibition was on ‘Gender Violence and Migration’, organized by UN in Thailand. 

Hasan holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Photography from Falmouth University, UK and an Undergraduate Certificate in Higher Education in History of Art from Oxford University. He also pursued a Postgraduate Diploma in Photojournalism from Ateneo de Manila University. And graduated in Film & Video Production from UBS Film School at the University of Sydney. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Photography at Belfast School of Art at Ulster University. 

He is represented by Redux Pictures and ZUMA Press. And working as contributing journalist for the Daily Star and Reuters. He is a Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Fellow. Hasan is also a faculty member of Counter Foto, a center for visual arts in Bangladesh. As a native Bangladeshi Hasan has extensive work experience in Bangladesh. And an additional reporting experience in Nepal, Thailand, Panama, Indonesia and Philippines.  

He has experience reporting on emergencies such as covering Rohingya exodus, South Asian flood, World’s biggest industrial disaster, political unrest, cyclone, fire tragedies, earthquake, covid-19 pandemic etc. Hasan completed security training under United Nations department of Safety and Security. 

Currently he is covering COVID-19 issue in Bangladesh through images. He told us behind the story to manage his working as a public service and shows some key points how can journalist protect themselves and others from contracting the disease?

The whole world is suffering from the Corona epidemic. How do you, as a photojournalist, view this situation in the country and the world?
The Corona pandemic is everyone’s battle now. We, universally, each of us is going through a transitory period of life. After facing this catastrophe, we have already learned to survive with our uncertainty now. We understood that no one have control over the diseases and we need to nurture mother nature for humankind and its betterment. I think once this will over, we will invest our time and attention more into meaningful interaction, we will cherish our existence.  As a photojournalist, I have been covering the impact of Covid-19 in Bangladesh since the beginning. I am assigned by various international publications and nonprofit organizations to cover Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh. I am also working for Zuma Press. While covering various topics on different communities and reporting the impact, I am also continuing a few personal photography projects on coronavirus related topic to record the human condition. 

There is a risk to life but you are still working. Why are you doing your duty in this epidemic?
This experience is new to me indeed. I have covered uncountable catastrophes in the past, my journey throughout decades was all about documenting lives in devastation and how people overcome such circumstances. But nothing can come close to this pandemic. The longing for being out from isolation, seeing health professionals battling over this unbeatable disease, reporting starvation has been traumatic. But I keep pressing the shutter because we are bringing not just tragedies on the table, but also bringing human spirit and strength to fightback against the catastrophe. If we stop reporting, stop taking pictures, then questions will remain unanswered, people will not look forward to fight and that’s how journalists from all aspects are helping the world to access the information and building awareness. Sometimes, people find news are depressing, but it is also true that information save lives. We are equally standing in the forefront of this crisis by doing our part with a hope and love that soon there will be a ray of light coming towards through this dark tunnel.

You are illustrating reality through pictures. The sorrows of people are depicted in your picture. How are these pictures coming to the benefit of the public?
Every time, I took a picture, I look back and found courage and optimism. Despite the fragility of helplessness, human beings are fighting back and offering solidarity. Everyone I photographed has that invincible power in them which shows me an avid confidence. I strongly believe that we will overcome this crisis and this will help us to become better, our compassion is growing and we will be evolved with our vigor and the whole world will be reunited with more empathy for others. My images invite to express the true essence of humility, to the resilience of human spirit and an evidence how we can unite together even when we are apart.

What do you think should be the role of journalists in this situation?
To depict the truth, reporting with sensitivity and compassion is what we need now. It is not important that everyone has to be out in the field. We can minimize the harm, heal the curve by working and staying at home specially journalists. Many of my journalist friends are doing that. But as a photojournalist there is no such way we can stay home and bring the visual stories to the audience not going to the field. We have to work shoulder to shoulder with health professionals, security personnel and other front-liners. I also feel that we need to be mindful about our mental and physical health. We are contributing for fighting against this pandemic with our data, recourses which are driving impact. 

What steps have already been taken by the government and its own office for those engaged in this profession? What else do you think should be taken?
This is now our collective war against this intangible virus. We as individual has to secure ourselves and thus we will help everyone around us. No longer alone Government can handle this emergency. As a photojournalist, it’s our duty to run into circumstances that other people are running away. This is unfortunate that health professionals have been affected due to unavailability of protective gears, also police and journalist, photojournalists have been affected from the very reason of not having access to proper precaution. We can not do anything other than taking our own safety precaution seriously. I have invested for my safety gears and I remain mindful to the knowledge and resources I have so that I can continue my work. The main challenge for everyone working in the frontline is that they can infect others. If it was only our lives, then it would be different but now staying safe means keeping safe others. 

What are the obstacles facing the media in this situation?
This pandemic is devastating for independent photojournalist like us, especially for those who are from global south. We already have a challenging career considering the amount of assignments we get internationally. Despite having much support from photography fraternity as photojournalists of color, we are consistently in a battle to thrive and survive. We do not have specific emergency fund available specially offering for us neither we have a platform to sustain such catastrophe in the long run. Almost after working professionally for nearly two decades, I have established a strong network and expertise to sustain. But I fear for my aspiring students and upraising photographers who have vision but due to this crisis it seems they have to struggle a lot, if we cannot build them up and provide refuge to move forward. No matter what, I am a desperate one, and I must continue my journey as a professional because the job I do is a noble one for me as it is one of the purposes of life for me. 

What is your advice about media workers as a journalist?
I would like to share how I am maintaining safety precaution and working in the field. I have been reporting since the beginning of this pandemic with proper precaution and maintaining full safety procedures. I have both disposable and reusable PPE coverall suit, N95 mask, and I am layering by safeguarding myself depending on where I am working. It varies from hospital ICU to empty streets. I am carrying mobile disinfectant machine in the car with me also carrying multiple disinfectant sprays. I have separate camera bag and safety gears bag now. Every time after I wrap up my work, I am thoroughly disinfectant myself and everyone around me and the car. I am attentively reading all available resources journalists are sharing in our private and public domains. Also having open conversations with colleagues from the countries that had bigger hit of course is kind of resource for us. I am an avid reader and at this moment studying science and investigating findings, collecting available data regarding Covid-19 pandemic is helping me in the workplace greatly.

Tell us about the current situation, what you see in the capital Dhaka?
As a country with limited resources, we are trying to fight against this invisible enemy. The death is rising gradually, but we are consistently upgrading strategies to mitigate and neutralize the curve of infection and death toll. It’s very hard to isolate someone in a small city like Dhaka that has over 25 million population. Particularly more than 7 million slum dwellers who are fighting against this pandemic alongside hunger, homelessness and other regular diseases. 1 million textile workers in Bangladesh already lost their job. One of my Photo Story “The Last Savings” is about the hunger pandemic heading towards Bangladesh. The impact is much bigger than any death toll, if we count losses and uncertainty of each life right now, we will be lost in numbers. And it’s just not about Bangladesh, worldwide everyone will face the post-Covid consequences which will be resulted in a long-term humanitarian, socio-economic and political philosophy shift.

You are working at the field level. You are highlighting all the details of contemporary issues through pictures. The image of people and management is being portrayed in it. Are all the steps already taken by the government and individuals justified? What other steps do you think can be taken?

Staying at home is barely proven to be efficacious in Dhaka - a city with no less than 23,334 people living per square kilometer. For people in the densest country on earth, social distancing is a difficult task. Still Government has taken various steps given limited resources our country might have. Our economy is already facing tremendous shift as by now more than two corers become are jobless claiming by an unofficial data source. In a city with 7 million slum dwellers where they are living in extremely close quarters, with most residents little aware of the threat due to the disease, making them aware about the virus is a difficult task from Government or individual effort. Most slum dwellers living in different parts of the capital hardly bother about the virus and its infection but what worries them is hunger as they cannot go out for work. At this moment we need to support people who has no means to survive and starving. My photo story ‘The Last Savings’ showcases families who has less than $1 food as their last savings and they do not know what they would do if they can not earn. 

What is its future? How the financial sectors, Development projects will be affected. Is there any way to pass this situation?

Humanity should be the first priority than any financial loss. Undoubtedly at present, our loss is huge and it seems like we are heading for an uncertain eternity. But I am hopeful too. We must have to find ways to bring an alternative resolution for overcoming the loss and accelerate economical growth. This catastrophe has taught us that we alone are not enough, our existences are interconnected. I believe we already realized how vital it is to invest in medical science and save our environment. We should concentrate on the factors that might affect our eco system, work on finding ways to tackle which might possess threat to our survival. When we can ensure a promising climate for our human entity then only development sector would be able to strive and flourish. Financial sector needs the involvement and assurance from world leaders to grow after this disaster will over. 

You have to go out of the home to perform professional duties and also return home after work. How do you coordinate the protection of other family members and professional work?
This is definitely tough for professionals who are working in the forefront. We are staying away from our children, our relatives and friends for our work, to ensure their safety. When the crisis will over, all of us will celebrate our physical existence, no social distance, and there will be a huge reunion of joy of overcoming the historic war against a non-living virus. We will not take anything granted anymore. When everything will return to the way it was before, I will start traveling again, I will photograph those momentum of new way of lives, the new spectrum of social system and cohesion. I will spend time with my kids who are now away from me, as I am on the frontline to cover Covid-19. I will witness, and record over the course of time, how globalization and capitalism will get a new shape and make the world more livable and will bring peace and security for the mankind.

The writer is a freelancer

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