Through the months of isolation, how I speak with myself has been a process of dislodging the heaviness of words into the essence of visuals. With each passing month, the agile vocabulary of action, panic and hope borrowed from the onset of an unprecedented pandemic became an exhausted translation of passivity, silence and patience borrowed from the plateau we all find ourselves in now.
Writing began feeling like a call for dissecting the thoughts in my head, justifying sentiment with grammar but photographing felt like documenting fragmented feelings that didn’t need the grammar of coherence – it would let you speak to me in the way you look at me. It would be a dialogue, a perpetual edit, one that didn’t end with the last sentence.
Documenting myself through the isolation thus began as a way to speak with myself. It was the only two hour refuge from a week governed by a demanding WFH job, severely deteriorating mental health and assisting the logistics of a 12 membered dominantly immune compromised joint family. These two hours over the weekend became a dedicated visual journal for nothing but visualizing the narrative in my head – but often replicating what I wanted to feel over what I was feeling. It was a hope of becoming, not an articulation of being.
This series has been shot on my phone, as I’ve come to embrace image making on the phone as a very liberating, mobile and spontaneous enabler of documenting as is and as occurring. This particularly fed into finding myself slowly moving towards documenting the stiller parts of the bigger picture; how my body felt, looked and moved as the days slowed down and melted into each other, nevertheless leaving the distinct taste of endless disappearance of months without mark.
Attention is the elixir of reality – the monotony of the days and heightened anxiety created a state of consumption followed by suspension of the heart. It felt heavy and levitated in vacuum all at once, and despite the very emotional affect – the sources of turmoil remained ordinary, haphazard concoctions of medical crises, overwork, and a very attentive mind and body, unable to exhale.
Documenting myself changed from being a hope of becoming to an articulation of being.
There were days when not a single photograph would speak with me, abandoning any recognition of the self. There were days when one photograph out of the entire lot would feel like an address found in the middle of nowhere. And then there were days some photographs held my hand and placed it on my chest – carefully holding the essence of everything and the details of nothing.
I will continue curating this documentation through the remaining months of what has felt like a lot of waiting. Days with difficult phone calls, mornings after 3 hours of sleep and afternoons of a raining city witnessing not only the pandemic but all the violence and distance it comes with will make their way into these photographs… but I hope they also carry hints of hope, crises averted, rescues achieved and harmonies attempted. I hope as I learn to speak with myself more about being, I will find myself more… becoming.
Nilanjana Bhattacharjee is a development practitioner who brings together ethnography, photography and storytelling in working with lived experiences. Based out of Delhi, her textual and visual documentation work revolves around gendered identity politics, the routes and everyday reality of her Bengali joint family, urban spaces and how they are made.
Bhattacharjee will someday become a full-time storyteller but for now she hunts for stories through her work and play and tells them in the form of photographs, poetry and prose.
Photos and Text by Nilanjana Bhattacharjee.
Curated by Shrey Sethi.