Then the Sky Crashed Down Upon Us

by Annalisa Natali Murri

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POST TRAUMATIC stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious, potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster or major accident. Most people who experience such events will recover, but people with PTSD can continue to live with severe mental injury for months or years following the incident. This project aims to depict the heavy psychological pain and distress suffered by survivors of 2013’s Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh—a disaster which claimed 1,129 lives and left over 2,500 injured survivors.

There are still many victims whose bodies were never found. At the Rana Plaza disaster site people continued digging with bare hands—even after a year has passed—to find forgotten traces among the ruins. There are dozens of people, mostly relatives of the victims, who honor the memory of their loved ones daily by wandering around the remains of the building.

There are still many victims whose bodies were never found. At the Rana Plaza disaster site people continued digging with bare hands—even after a year has passed—to find forgotten traces among the ruins. There are dozens of people, mostly relatives of the victims, who honor the memory of their loved ones daily by wandering around the remains of the building.

The idea behind the project was to draw out the invisible, psychological aftermath of Rana Plaza by focusing on the people’s struggle to conduct a normal life after the tragedy. I knew I wanted to bring it to a different level than that of pure reality—to lead viewers to something hidden and less immediate—but to do so I would have to re-create in my images some sense of the internal trauma that these people are still living with. The pictures were created by shooting double exposure portraits of survivors, victims’ relatives, and first responders, then merging the frames into a layered depiction of person and place. I wanted to give shape to each subject’s fears and memories by projecting their interior chaos and disorientation onto the landscape.

What guided me in this documentary work was the desire to give voice to those who may be considered the silent victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy. Many attempts have been made to bring aid to the survivors, with government and NGO’s providing monetary compensation and medical support to those who were physically injured. But those benefits should not be limited to victims who suffered physical harm alone: one year after the tragedy, about 50% of survivors are now afflicted with intangible and invisible wounds. Many people continue to suffer panic attacks, memory loss, and even hallucinations. Trauma and mental disorder is a natural response to a disaster like this, but some survivors are plagued by the sound of voices asking for help, or visions of their dead coworkers lying beside them. The intrusion of the past into the present is one of the main problems confronting trauma survivors. If not properly addressed and resolved, this persistence of lived trauma can evoke suicidal tendencies.

This project aims to highlight the need and importance of adequate psychological rehabilitation for everyone affected by tragedy. It is important that survivors recover completely, and return to living a normal life. I hope that this work will help raise awareness of the psychological aftermath of disaster, and aid global and local communities in acknowledging the widespread affliction of PTSD. This is of fundamental importance, especially in areas where recognition of mental distress and acceptance of treatment are stigmatized by superstition or tradition.