“For a time it seemed that I could no longer be worldly, It would have been better if there was no family, I want to escape from family life, I am stuck, I want to be free from all family ties.” Chittagong, Bangladesh. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

Nigar, Hussein and Imran spoke regularly to their grandparents, and uncle, through video call. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

In Bangladesh, we held our breath and prayed our impoverished and overpopulated country would somehow be spared from yet another disaster, but when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown on March 26, we found ourselves homebound as though we were living in a cage. Today, we are still fearful to leave our home or allow others to visit. “Life in the Cage” is a visual personal project about my family and me. It documents the interaction of our relationships during these ongoing pandemic days in our home in the coastal city of Chittagong, Bangladesh.

I have spent my career as a photojournalist documenting the struggles of others for the world’s major news publications and teaching and mentoring other aspiring photojournalists. Now, for the first time, I stood on the other side of my camera.

I struggled to focus my lens on my own story, embracing the power of photography as a motivation to survive. This new experience felt awkward and at times uncomfortable. My photographs show slivers of our daily life, hope, disappointments, expectations, loneliness, frustration and fears. Our joys overshadow the uncertainties we face.

These months in isolation, I’ve also explored my relationship with my wife, Negar, and our children, Hossain and Imran. I was able to observe my family closely, and I’ve discovered my weaknesses deeply. While struggling to capture this moment in history, I dreamed of a downpour in the desert. I felt as though I was drowning and tried to stay alive through our story.

Just a week before the lockdown began, I was preparing to take a job as a photography teacher in the Bangladesh Air Force and curating and directing the Voice of Humanity and Hope (VOHH) photography festival. It took a lot of personal financial sacrifice to pull the festival together, but it felt so rewarding to witness how many people were affected by the display of stories that were hung throughout the city. I watched as even street children stop and try to touch the images.

My brothers, Arman and Ataul, and I live with our wives and children in the same building as a joint family; it’s a great source of support. But in my society, a man is taught not to speak about his own worries, which at this time are many. During the lockdown, our children became ill with fever, coughing and shortness of breath linked to allergies. We were afraid to seek treatment because of fear of being infected with the coronavirus. We tried home remedies. In fact, my wife and I really had no choice: Our family doctor has been absent from his clinic for over two months. It was terrible, because of unavailable health treatment in Bangladesh. Patients aren’t getting treatment; even those who aren’t coronavirus patients are dying without treatment because of the panic in hospitals and at doctors, and the lack of empty seats.

As each day passed, our fears grew as we listened to the reports of the rising numbers of those infected and the lives claimed. Our rooftop satellite dish caught images on our television showing so many other countries far more advanced and supposedly economically secure than Bangladesh digging graves. It was hard to imagine we were not watching a war.

A recent survey found that 72.6 percent of Bangladeshis are suffering from insomnia; covid-19 has a significant detrimental effect on the mental health and psychological well-being of the people of Bangladesh. The money my wife had hidden away for potential disasters is now almost gone, but we pool together our strengths. “Life in a Cage” is intended to capture our resilience.

You can see more of Shahnewaz’s work here.


Portrait of my wife, Negar Sultana. I am a photographer, and Negar is studying economics; we have two kids. Here, I’m trying to understand our relationship. We’re moving away from each other and not enjoying each other, even if we are sincere to each other. I’ve had the opportunity to observe my wife in depth — my mistakes are floating in front of my eyes, and here I tried to discover the reality. We are so close and so far away. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

Daily family life. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

This is a traditional, Chittagonian “Mezbani meal” and traditional, Chittagonian “Orsh Biryani” for IFTAR in the month of Ramadan. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

I have two kids, and two of my younger brothers also have children. During this time, the kids are restless and out of control, always trying to go out and crying all the time. I just try to make them happy. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

Self-portrait. I’m trying to discover the mystery of life and peace by embracing a dead fish. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

During the pandemic, the children are restless. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

A view of our kitchen. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

Nighttime during Ramadan. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

Daily family life. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

Caring for kids is really hard work. For the first time, I realized how much work my wife does caring for the children. I’ve also been trying to help with other chores too. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

Portrait of my 3-and-a-half-year-old child, Hossain. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

My child Imran, 22 months old, was ill several times during the lockdown, with flu symptoms such as fever, a cough and shortness of breath. That, along with allergies, has made it hard on us as parents. Here, we tried to treat the child at home. Our family doctor has not been available because of the pandemic. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

Imran lies on the bed and cries to go out as Hussein is looking outside, frustrated. (Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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