Tragedy, hope and ordinary days: photographer Farzana Hossen reveals what life is like in the world’s largest refugee camp. It’s now home to 740,000 people who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh two years ago.
I have visited the camp many times. At the beginning of the emergency, what I saw horrified me. People were just lying on the street and dying in front of my eyes.
There were dead bodies with children standing to one side watching, crying. Many had lost their parents, whether through death or when they fled.
I was left feeling helpless, a situation where you are exposed to so much suffering that you feel there are just too many people to help. Of course, I wanted to, and did in the way I could.
You can’t split your professional and personal sides
The people were, and still are, so frightened.
As I work I try to walk through the camp, I meet people. And with enough of a grasp of the language, I can start with simple conversations. But as I hear more of their stories, they are often anything but simple.
I met a woman who told me that her husband was killed in front of her. You can’t always split your professionalism with your personal emotion when someone chooses to share their story with you, it is truly striking.
As I approach a project like this, I listen, I watch and then I talk. If I’ve got to a place where the person I’m speaking with is happy to be photographed, I go from there.
I hope to help by sharing people’s stories
When faced with photographing one of the biggest human crises on the planet, I felt overwhelmed first of all and nervous too.
However, taking photographs and sharing people’s stories is how I help to support or bring attention, so I do feel like I am contributing.
Working alongside organisations like the British Red Cross is great. I’m able to focus on specific areas and people, really bringing out their stories and capturing them on a far more intimate level.
And I’m reassured knowing they will reach a much larger audience. I got to capture and witness some really special moments.
Woman gave birth on a hill top
I met one woman who was lost, looking for money, asking people for help. I approached the lady and started talking.
She shared her story with me and described how she had to give birth on her journey from Myanmar while seeing her husband attacked and killed. As she sheltered at the top of a hill, he had gone home to get some food for her.
Tragically, he was attacked at the bottom of the hill on his way back to her. She had no choice but to have the baby on the hill and couldn’t scream or make noise as it would draw attention to her position. She saw everything while giving birth but couldn’t scream at all.
It is an honour and a privilege to gain people’s trust in such a way that they feel comfortable or relieved sharing their story.
This work is tough but I want to do it
I studied in photography school. I wanted to focus on violence against women. As a woman it’s important, and particularly in my society (Bangladesh), it is still a massive issue. We are in a very different situation to countries like the UK.
I could do fashion photography, but I chose this way. This is tough but I do it because I want to do it. I want to listen and help as many people as possible.
At times it is too tough to control your emotions. But I have a job to do. To take pictures, find stories, and capture them in a way that will highlight to the rest of the world what is really happening to these people.
I truly believe that if you have something, a skill or expertise, that you can use to raise a voice against injustice – every individual should use that skill for something good.