Chronicling a crisis

Swedish photographer Mattias Löw started documenting social distancing in India after it sounded like an oxymoron to him

Published: 09th May 2020 07:16 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th May 2020 07:16 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI: When Mattias Löw and his wife Reshma Mansuri Löw realised that they would have to remain in Fort Kochi until all the lockdown restrictions were lifted, they wasted no time. Mattias, a Swedish documentary filmmaker and photographer, got to work. In keeping with the rules, he set forth daily to Fort Kochi and Mattanchery to document lives among social distancing. A paradox in a country like India. And the very enigma astounded Mattias who decided to create the project.

Mattias came to Kochi on March 22 to join his wife who was enrolled at the Kerala Ayurveda Academy in Aluva. “I was filming a documentary in Imphal – my wife was supposed to join me – but in a certain turn of events, I flew down to Kochi. We were quarantined initially for the first 14 days. It’s been around 50 days now and things were beginning to get a little monotonous,” Mattias laughs.

Therefore, he dove feet first into a photo essay project. “We had to keep our creative juices flowing else it would have been crazy. Our ambition was to capture distancing as a rarity in India, especially when you’re coming from a country like Sweden, where social distancing is a norm. Here, it’s an oxymoron; people are so integrated into each other’s lives. This will probably never happen in India again, and I wanted to document the same,” Mattias explains. He firmly believes in producing content that the future generation can look back at.

But, was it easy? Dodging the police and sauntering around for the photo essay? “It was rather risky. Firstly I’m a foreigner, many have left Kerala now. And I had to be secretive as taking photographs is not an essential service!” he says. This sojourn in Kochi, however, is not Mattias’s first. He’s been to the place a few times and even held a workshop and took a couple of classes at the SH School of Communication, Sacred Heart College, Thevara, around four years ago. This may also explain why Mattias is glad he’s in Kerala amid the pandemic.

“I believe the situation is kind of under control in the state. We knew that if we stayed back, we’d have access to food and we would be fine for the moment. We are in contact with the Swedish Embassy and they’d proposed several solutions but those weren’t feasible for us. Additionally, it was likely to be affected by the pandemic in Europe. Kerala has a history and tradition of dealing with issues swiftly, with their solid education and healthcare system. I feel very comfortable staying here and I don’t see any reason to make a desperate attempt to go elsewhere. We may remain in India after the lockdown – I need to collect my equipment in Imphal,” he says.

After the storm subsides and Mattias returns to Stockholm, an exhibition awaits the Swedish. “Hopefully by September, we’ll have an appropriate gallery or museum to display the photographs taken during the lockdown. We’ll be striving towards the result.”


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