One Year After the RanaPlaza Collapse
With double exposure photographs, Annalisa Natali Murri represents the chaos people have in their mind and focuses on the psychological trauma of the RanaPlaza tragedy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when the collapse of a garment factory killed 1,100 people.
A few months after the tragedy, Murri read a piece by US writer, M. Sophia Newman, who stated that the main issue following the collapse was psychological, in a country where mental health is taboo and not treated seriously. 9 out of 10 people were still suffering traumatic disorders a year after the collapse, and Murri decided to document this under-reported issue. “They have hallucinations, can’t sleep, and usually see ghosts talking to them or images of the collapsed building. I wanted to take this chaos, their unconsciousness, into the pictures”, she explains.
She decided to use double exposure to convey that over layered story, superimposing portraits of affected people and landscapes revealing their stories. “I tried to ask them what they remember of that moment. For those who could tell me what they remember, it’s a mix of images, sound and almost all of them reported that they suddenly couldn’t see anything, as if everything changed and broke down under their feet”, she recalls.
© Annalisa Natali Murri, from the series, Then The Sky Crashed Down Upon Us - “I dreamt about my husband calling my name. I thought he was alive. But they found his body lifeless after 17 days. It was like dying” (Sheuly, 26)
More or less translucent, their gaze invariably pointing beyond their surrounding reality, faces unveil devastated scenes of cracked walls, mountains of dust, rocks and beams, oppressive corridors and tumultuous homes. “The first woman I talked to was on the ground zero site. There were the ruins behind her and she couldn’t speak. She looked like a lost ghost. I took the first image of the series, of her and of the ruins in the background, and that’s when I decided to use double-exposure”, Murri recounts.
She then encountered more victims, all more troubling. “The most touching testimony was a man I met at the Center for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed. He was at the Rana Plaza that day to meet his nephew. When he saw the collapse, he rushed inside to take survivors out of the building, removing debris by hand until a huge beam crashed on his back. He is now completely paralyzed but he told me that he would do it again if he had the chance. Such generosity impressed me.”
In a society where people are forced by their employees to work in such conditions, such a resilience appears as a means of survival. “They didn’t have the strength as workers to say no, though they could see there were cracks in the buildings. It’s a difficult situation to solve because the mentality has to change. We are also involved, as people in that building were working for many European companies”, Murri comments. Locally, the government has established stricter laws but the lack of transparency in Bangladesh makes it hard to control. “In any case it’s not only about changing the rules in Bangladesh. We must raise awareness about the situation in Europe so it changes. The issue needs to be addressed at a wider level”, she concludes.
Annalisa Natali Murri is a freelance photographer currently working in Bologna, Italy. To see more from her series, Then The Sky Crashed Down Upon Us, visit her PHmuseum profile.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.