It doesn’t take long for tragedy to become fodder for statistics, political one-upmanship, and a never-ending stream of “content.” It was, after all, barely a year ago that India was in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic. The deadly Delta variant has affected millions – directly and indirectly – as India’s health infrastructure, like much of that of the world, struggles to cope with the crisis. The public conversation has shifted to statistical models of mortality, to the assignment of blame. The Pulitzer Prize to Reuters photographers Adnan Abidi, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, Amit Dave and the late Danish Siddiqui for their images – haunting, tragic and even redemptive – are a reminder of both the scale of the devastation and the human stories that the numbers obscure sometimes .
Images of cremations and mass graves are a record of suffering; the photos from the backs of cars and ambulances of people gasping as their panicked loved ones struggle to help them. But the image catalog is more than suffering. From Ahmedabad to Anantnag, Indians got vaccinated, giving hope at the time of a return to a life beyond fear of the virus. Individually, each image is a moving snapshot of one of the most trying times in India’s recent history. Together they tell the story of the pandemic.
The Pulitzer for Abidi, Mattoo, Dave and Siddiqui recognizes what is so often forgotten – the power of a still image. This power is at its greatest when the lens is turned outward, toward the world, rather than inward, for the selfie. In the age of Instagram, of constant CCTV surveillance, of a camera on every phone, the visual chroniclers of the pandemic have reminded us of exactly why history must also be recorded through a professional lens.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition of May 11, 2022 under the title “Seeing the pandemic”.