Augustine Ng

First encounter with the ‘Final Embrace’

By  Augustine Ng, Youth Speak News
  • November 7, 2014

On Oct. 20, I visited the World Press Photo exhibit at Brookfield Place in Toronto. The exhibition had prize-winning photographs assembled by World Press Photo, the organizers of “the world’s largest and most prestigious annual press photography contest.” As an amateur photographer, I went looking for inspiration. I received so much more than that.

The exhibition was remarkable with stunning photos from a l l around the world on display. The variety of different images shown was incredible, from portraits to sports photography to nature to landscape, and so much more; there were pictures there for every taste.

However, not all images were suitable for everyone. Sure, there were beautiful shots of picturesque moments, but there were also some photos that were very graphic.

I walked around the exhibition, pausing occasionally to take in every little detail of these stunningly vivid images. Then I saw the picture. I stopped and just stared. Everything else faded into the background and the photo took centre stage. I stood there for five minutes just staring at the photo. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, but at the same time I wanted to look away.

On April 24, 2013, a nine-storey commercial building, Rana Plaza, collapsed in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and more than 1,100 workers died. Taslima Akhter, the photographer, spent the day at the scene of the collapse. She watched as injured garment workers were rescued from the debris.

Photography is like a book or story compressed into one defining image. There are many ways to interpret text and there are just as many ways to analyse a photograph.

In a Time Photo article, Akhter wrote, “I remember the frightened eyes of relatives — I was exhausted both mentally and physically. Around 2 a.m., I found a couple embracing each other in the rubble. The lower parts of their bodies were buried under the concrete. The blood from the eyes of the man ran like a tear. When I saw the couple, I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I knew them — they felt very close to me. I looked at who they were in their last moments as they stood together and tried to save each other — to save their beloved lives.” That is when she shot this image, titled “Final Embrace.”

Before viewing this image, I must warn you, it is extremely graphic. Some viewers may find it disturbing, and I don’t blame them. When I first saw “Final Embrace” I was disturbed, which I think is the natural reaction because it’s not meant to be pretty or sugar coated. This is the harsh reality that Bangladesh faced.

This photo is so powerful because it plays to our vulnerable side. The embrace emphasizes the humanity of the victims, people who had loved ones, dreams and feelings.

The image had an emotional impact on me and filled me with sorrow. I could feel the pain of an entire nation in this image.

Next time you look at a photo, try to find the story the photographer is trying to tell. Sometimes, the greatest tales can be told without any words at all. Akhter’s photograph, along with all the other photos that were on display, have inspired me to try to capture thought-provoking and powerful scenarios.

(Ng, 17, is a first-year journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto.) 

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