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Life Enduring-During a Pandemic

Hreedoy Khandakar | United States

Empty Oculus, Manhattan, 2020

This photographic project documents an incredibly transitional moment in NYC, beginning when Covid-19 suddenly engulfed the city, leaving tens of thousands infected and dead. Khandakar chronicles the mood from the US epicenter of the pandemic in NYC between March and May 2020, as this once bustling city of 8.6 million citizens, now under quarantine, becomes a city that suddenly feels empty and isolating. Khandakar captures aspects of the city’s medical infrastructure, its healthcare and essential workers, and demonstrates how the pandemic has exacerbated the homelessness and mental health conditions in the city. His photographs go on to capture the Black Lives Matter protests and images of a seemingly abandoned and boarded-up city during those first months of summer, a conditional outgrowth of the city having enduring increased gun violence and looting. Khandakar also shows us a city re-enlivened with people enjoying outdoor dining, outdoor movie theaters, and other recreational opportunities in the streets and parks as summer progressed. The moments presented in this work describe death, sorrow, struggle, and alienation, but also provide us glimpses of hope, joy, fortitude and perseverance.

I am a staff photographer with Prothom Alo and my coverage of the various aspects of Covid-19 have been published both in print version (more than 25 photos), and on the online version (more than 30 photos). Five of my photos, covering this story, have been included on the front page, print version, since April 10, 2020. This newspaper publishes daily in Bangladesh and weekly in the USA. Note: Prothom Alo serves approximately 7.5 million in Bangladesh. Additionally, the North American version of Prothom Alo serves approximately 10,000 print versions in the USA, weekly.

This photographic project documents New York City in an incredibly transitional moment, between March and September of 2020, beginning when Covid-19 suddenly engulfed the city, leaving tens of thousands infected and dead. In this project, Hreedoy Anirban Khandakar chronicles the mood from the US epicenter of the pandemic in NYC between March and May 2020. This once bustling city of 8.6 million citizens, now under quarantine, was a city that suddenly felt empty and isolating. Khandakar captures aspects of the city’s medical infrastructure, its healthcare workers, and other essential workers. He also shows us how the pandemic has exasperated the homelessness condition in the city. His photographs go on to capture the Black Lives Matter protests that characterized the end of May and June. And, he presents us with the images of a seemingly abandoned and boarded-up city during those first months of summer, a conditional outgrowth of the city having enduring increased gun violence and looting. His photographs from July through September exhibit a city re-enlivened with people enjoying outdoor dining, outdoor movie theaters, and other recreational opportunities in the streets and parks. The moments captured in this essay describe death, sorrow, struggle, and alienation, but also provide us glimpses of hope, joy, fortitude and perseverance.

 

During this time of transition in NYC, Khandakar travels between the many diverse neighborhoods and iconic public spaces of the city, including Times Square, Wall Street, the World Trade Center, Central Park, Chinatown, and his Bengali neighborhood in Jackson Heights in Queens. He captures the unusual experience of traveling completely alone through an empty Holland Tunnel, connecting lower Manhattan and New Jersey…a nearly apocalyptic sensation. Khandakar illuminates the eerie emptiness of some of NYC's grand architectural spaces such as Calatrava's Oculus at the World Trade Center and Grand Central Station, normally flowing with millions of commuters. He visited the Hasidic neighborhoods of Brooklyn, which had been deeply impacted by the virus, capturing the community street life and observations of social distancing there. The Charging Bull, a sculpture in lower Manhattan's financial district that has become a symbol of NYC's vital economy and a crowded tourist destination, became an empty space, symbolically speaking to the millions of now unemployed in the city. Khandakar also photographs the field hospital in Central Park and Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, recognized as the “Center of the Epicenter” due to the high volume of patients overwhelming the intensive care units there during the outbreak of the pandemic. Walking the streets, riding the empty buses and subways, Khandakar observes and captures these glimpses of an uncharacteristically vacant New York City. Though NYC was in lockdown, Khandakar illustrates the efforts of NYC's frontline and essential workers such as the medical professionals, ambulance drivers, EMT professionals, grocery store clerks, transit employees, and traffic guards, who worked tirelessly to keep the city operating at its basic level. Life was enduring behind closed doors, especially evidenced at 7 pm every evening, from the apartment windows, streets, and rooftops, the city came alive in solidarity with cheering, singing, music, and even pot-banging for the city’s essential workers.

 

Throughout the summer months, hospitalizations and deaths in the tri-state area of NYC, NJ, and CT subsided, and people returned to some levels of normalcy such as restaurants opening along sidewalks and street corridors, as part of NYC Department of Transportation’s Open Streets restaurant program which has also redefined a sense of open space and conviviality in NYC. Drive-in movie theaters became a resurrected recreational venue, and many took the opportunity to gather in the city’s beaches, parks, and other open spaces during this time.

 

NYC is entering the autumn season, with schools gradually reopening and people slowly returning to work; however, the city faces the upcoming cold weather, with people needing to spend more time indoors, and the opportunity for the virus to resurge, as we are beginning to see happen in Europe. Statistically, the USA ranks as having among the highest number of victims per capita, with now 200,000+ having died in this country as of September 21, 2020. Khandakar will continue his documentation of this unfolding crisis throughout the following months in NYC but also with travels anticipated throughout the United States.

I am currently producing a self-published book of 100 images covering the Covid-19 pandemic in NYC between March and September 2020 which includes chapters dedicated to 1) Emptiness: The City Closing Down, 2) Frontline Workers, 3) Essential Workers, 4) Shopping During a Pandemic + Food Distribution, 5) Homelessness + Mental Health 6) Protests, Curfews, + City Boarded Up, 7) Mask Fashion + Social Distancing, and 8) City Re-Enlivened. The book will be published and distributed in Dhaka and Khulna in Bangladesh and in NYC. I am also preparing these images for an outdoor exhibition in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY. This exhibition will be supported by Prothom Alo newspaper where I am a staff photographer. Time Television and TVN 24 New York will be contacted as part of this exhibit to promote the work. I am also preparing large format boards (24” x 36”) to be printed for outdoor exhibitions in both Dhaka and Khulna, anticipated to launch in October 2020.

Hreedoy Anirban Khandakar

2 Glenwood Dr., Latham, NY 12110, USA

Phone: +1-646-577-0412

Email: hakhandakar@msn.com

Web-site: https://anirbanimages.wixsite.com/story

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