In Kerala, the COVID-19 surge is yet to be contained. We’re nearing the end of the year, and the situation looks as grim as 2020. Patients, health care workers, vaccinations, dead bodies, the Government, and the cycle of ‘Us VS the Pandemic’ continues to impact us in many ways. This is the new normal. Ron J Davis, a professional photographer, set foot behind the scenes to see what the ground reality of the ‘new normal’ really looked like.
Ron J Davis is one of the many photographers who documented healthcare workers’ struggles and death caused by COVID-19. On why he set out on this journey, Ron shared, “In a few years, this will all be history and it feels great to know what I am capturing is an important part of future history.”
He has been fascinated by photography since the age of 13. In fact, photography and cinema had sparked his interest early on because these two aspects ‘made sense to him’. After completing a three-year course in photography, Ron started to document various projects. He has been on it for the past two years.
He commented, “I have made my mission to capture the unseen and give voice to the unheard.” In 2020, when the pandemic struck the world, Ron knew he had to capture the invisible lives of health care workers and the unseen COVID deaths. He couldn’t think of any subject more relevant than this.
Ron’s father has been a Health Inspector for more than 20 years now. “As a kid, I was unable to get the hang of his line of work and never knew what he actually did until the pandemic. Before the pandemic, everything was very calm and simple but now everything has changed. He starts getting calls from the time he wakes up till late in the night. Every day is a busy day in his office. I wanted to document this to show the new normal of the health workers.”
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Though the shoot took place last year, it holds relevance even today. The burned-out status of many frontline workers, the violence inflicted upon them, and concerns over their mental health has been problematic. We don’t see what their lives are like from their perspective. No one was prepared for this pandemic, but health care workers went over and above to take care of others. Sometimes, more than themselves. They are the ones who have to wear PPT kits for hours in this hot weather with minimum toilet breaks. They are the sole protectors of their life.
Ron’s “More than a job” photo series took place in Edayarikkapuzha Public Health Centre. They provide the COVID-19 tests three days a week. “Everything was fine, people were friendly, they were making jokes and having regular morning until it was the time for the test to begin. Then everything was serious, they were not joking around anymore everyone started to do their assigned job, a large number of people have started to come and things became a little tenser. But everyone had taken precautions and made sure everyone was social distancing”, Ron shared.
Funerals and deaths are no longer the same. People are sacred to attend funerals even though they wish to. Some don’t even get a chance to say their final goodbyes. Sometimes, the situation is that the final sight you see is that of your loved one zipped up in a bag and transported to a crematorium. What’s less talked about is the workers who treat and accompany the body during the transportation. They have to be really careful and geared throughout.
Documenting COVID-19 deaths by photographers has received a lot of backlashes, especially since it is considered an ethical dilemma. Death is very emotional and personal to people. Therefore, capturing it becomes a state of contestation between documenting history and giving people personal space to mourn.
We asked Ron about the ethical aspects of documenting the Pandemic Death, and this is what he had to say. “In a situation such as this, you have to forget the normal norms of society. Nothing is normal anymore and I wanted to document this new normal where people don’t get the chance to see their lost ones one last time or to have any proper rituals also. So to answer the question, no, I didn’t think it was insensitive to capture it. I tried to be as invincible as I can when I was shooting, and tried to be respectful to people around and to the family.”
In an attempt to show the reality of the pandemic, Ron J Davis has managed to leave his audience with food of thought.