Reflections

Travelling the world with his camera, a psychiatrist searches for our common humanity. What is it that binds us all together?

COMMENTARY

I have been a practicing psychiatrist for 40 years. I have worked in every psychiatric venue, including death row, and over the years I have lectured to international psychiatrists and residents in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Peru—to name just a few. Since 1994 I have worked as a locum tenens psychiatrist, which has enabled me to work as little or as much as I want, travel worldwide, and follow my love of both photojournalism and music.

Photography is a passion of mine. My photographs have appeared in National and ASIAN Geographic, Popular Photo, American Photo and many other publications, and I recently published a photography book, The Bonds We Share: Images of Humanity, 40 Years Around the Globe. Many critics have observed that my work can be dark or hard-edged; indeed, it reveals the dark side of humanity and the fact that tens of millions of individuals make it through another day in the most difficult of situations.

The View From Around the World

Having spent years living and shooting in the developing world, I can say one thing for certain: Life is no cakewalk, and human suffering is widespread. Billions of human beings live in urban slums or dire poverty, without electricity or running water. Over the past 35 years, I have worked with and donated to many charity organizations, focusing on the impoverished, the infirm, and those who have no advocacy and depend solely on the generosity of others to survive. Many of them have been beggars, homeless, and without any resources.

In the affluent areas of the West, we often consider developing nations as poor and, more often than not, in dire straits. We see documentaries about how the world’s poorest live, and we can develop a sense of separation and superiority. It is easy to believe our lives are better because we have more material things, higher standards of living, and that we have nothing in common with the poorest of the poor. This observation is obviously hogwash, and it leads to derision, prejudice, misconceptions, and an inevitable ignorance. I find it fascinating how some seem to be content with so little, while so many in the affluent West are not sure what to do when their favorite coffee shop is closed.

Despite adversity and without resources that many in affluent areas take for granted, people seem content. I cannot fathom how human beings get through a day living in such austerity. I attribute some of it to their strong steadfast belief in their god(s), as well as their love, devotion to family and friends, and a resiliency that I rarely see in the West. This amazing fortitude motivated me to pursue photography and publish The Bonds We Share. (I am also donating a portion of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders.)

Seeing Our Common Humanity

The Bonds We Share includes 240 photos, many from India, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, as well as from my hometown of New York, New York. Through my lens I have peered into the soul of many developing nations and found what foreigners visiting these places often overlook or plainly fail to recognize: There is a commonality that runs throughout humanity.

Regardless of geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic differences, there are human bonds/common threads that link us all. Although we may look different, speak different tongues, wear different clothes, have different standards and ways of living, and pray to different gods, we share a humanness—the quality of being human—and it is this commonality that is the main thrust and core of The Bonds We Share.

Never has this commonality been more apparent to me than during the current worldwide pandemic. It is almost impossible for humanity to see a way out unless it bonds together, since we are all on the same side. We are all susceptible to a common invisible enemy. We are one family, all experiencing fear, worry, concern, grief, sorrow, pain, anger, economic loss, sickness, distrust, and the horrific consequences of death in our families. At no other time has humanity truly needed to come together as much as we do now.

Concluding Thoughts

It is crystal clear that money and materialism certainly do not lead to happiness. We are all rich in another, more important way. Through 4 decades of practicing medicine and living and photographing in the developing world, I have learned that we are all born with a self-worth and a dignity that needs to be respected. In The Bonds We Share, I try to present to my audience a theme I have presented here: What unites us is more powerful than the borders that divide us.

Dr Losack is a psychiatrist. Physician, photographer, social activist, and musician who has traveled and worked extensively in the developing world for over 40 years. His photography is available on flikr.