J-POD || Podcast || “The stench of dead bodies did not go away from my mind for days” || Parul Sharma, the brave photographer who captured the last lap of hundreds of COVID victims with a smartphone

Over 26,000 Indians have perished due to COVID in the last four months. But is there an image of any one of them that is imprinted in your mind?

A single photograph in your newspaper or magazine that you remember instantly, for its poignancy, for its pathos—for its display?

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Whether they are natural or man-made, tragedies are implanted in the collective consciousness by iconic pictures.

Who can forget Raghu Rai‘s photo (above) of that unknown child being buried in Bhopal in 1984?

Or, the folded hands of tailor Qutubuddin Ansari pleading for help in Gujarat in 2002?

Or, Arko Datta‘s picture of the woman mourning a tsunami victim in Cuddalore?

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But COVID is a pandemic in which the victims have been reduced to mere numbers, without names or faces.

Its impact on the media industry—job losses, salary cuts, fewer pages, truncated editions, distribution bans—left little room for soaring photography.

On top of that, there has been a marked reluctance of editors to play up tragedy.

The casualty of all this is a gaping hole in journalism: the dance of death undocumented.

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On J-POD, the journalism podcast, the Delhi-based fine art photographer Parul Sharma discusses her attempt to fill a vital blank in the coverage.

For 15 years, Parul was spokesperson for India’s largest media conglomerate, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star TV.

But in the last three years, she has found her metier in photography, chronicling everything from the Kumbh to Colaba.

When COVID broke, Parul did what most of us would have been reluctant to: to confront it head-on at cemeteries and burial grounds and crematoria.

Using just a mobile phone, an iPhone 11 Pro Max, Parul captured the last lap of hundreds of lives, even when their near and dear ones had abandoned them, producing images that literally take the breath away.

In this podcast, Parul Sharma discusses how she embarked on a project that has few equals in Indian journalism.

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Open magazine published a few pictures shot by Parul Sharma.

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