The Story Behind: A Stark Portrayal of Loss

Photograph/ Swapan Parekh

Photograph/ Swapan Parekh

This story was originally published in September 2014.

This image of the 1993 Latur earthquake may have won Swapan Parekh a World Press Photo award (First Prize in the Spot News category), but ironically, it remains an unpublished photo. Shot for American news agency Blackstar, the image was one of the critical factors that led Swapan to move away from photojournalism. The day the picture was filed, the Russian White House was shelled during the Kremlin crisis. Since that event was considered more important by the international media, the earthquake coverage was killed.

“The fact that the image never saw the light of day made me realise that I was catering to a media that was interested only in the negative, downtrodden stories that came from my part of the world. A disaster in India wasn’t even considered important if the casualties were less than 10,000. Personally, it felt like making a living out of the misery of others,” says Parekh. Not only is the moment stark and poignant, it is also a well crafted image. The harsh sunlight seen in rural Maharashtra and the overhead sun was too contrasty for slide film to handle, and it is the use of flash that allows one to see the expressions and emotion. “It was one of the first times I had used an on-camera flash, something that I now do a lot in my personal work.”

Curiously, the World Press Photo award was announced on the day Swapan got married. “I was irritated at being woken up at six in the morning on my wedding day, but was asked on the phone if I’d read The Times of India. I didn’t even know that the image was submitted for the competition, since Blackstar had made the entry.”

Tags: better photography, Swapan Parekh, Earthquake, 2014, February, Latur