When you envision two people saying goodbye, you might expect them to embrace and talk about when they will see each other next.
Shahidul Alam’s iconic photograph Airport Goodbye shows a farewell between a man and a woman (presumably a husband and wife), separated by glass, unable to touch. At the Dhaka International Airport in Bangladesh only passengers are allowed in the departures terminal, so loved ones must wait on the other side of a glass wall to say their goodbyes. Some communicate with each other through gaps in the wall, taking turns pressing their ears to the gap to listen. The man in this photograph is leaving to work abroad, like many Bangladeshis seeking much-needed work opportunities. The woman in the photograph does not know when she will see him again.
This image speaks to the horrific problem of migrant labor in Bangladesh, as well as across South Asia and the Middle East. Upward of half a million Bangladeshi laborers go abroad annually to seek financial opportunities to support their families. They are their country’s poorest and most disenfranchised citizens with little other choice. Many are exploited financially as well as physically.
Our world is made up of borders that create distance between us. Alam hopes that photography can both draw our attention to this problem and depict the resilience of a region with little global visibility. Although the two people in this photograph are experiencing a moment of sadness, their hopeful smiles serve as a reminder of the strength of our humanity.