In 1988 Bangladesh suffered its worst flood in a century. Photographer and activist Shahidul Alam photographed the natural disaster and its effects on the lives of Bangladeshis.
In the photograph, “Woman Wading in Flood,” Alam captures a street scene filled with people wading through water. Central to the image is a woman facing away from the viewer. She forges ahead, about to pass several people perched on a small boat to her left and a small group, clinging to a bike, on her right. The water rises above their knees as the sun glistens through the ripples of water stirred by their bodies. One can see others venturing down the street into the distance.
Alam recalls that a photography studio called Dreamland Photographers remained open for business on this street during the catastrophe. Although the flood left many Bangladeshis homeless or without businesses, Alam remarked that “the resilience of the average Bangladeshi is remarkable.” The photography studio in the background of the composition may be interpreted as a metaphor for the power of photography—an essential medium for truth-telling.
There is a sense of urgency and intimacy in the composition of the image. The viewer takes on the perspective of another survivor walking directly behind the woman. Of course, it was Alam walking behind her, capturing this moment forever. We are filled with empathy and compassion as we experience this image through Alam’s lens.