Syed Munawwar aka ‘Honey’

 (Asim Rafiqui)Maria Suleiman holds a photo of her son Syed Munawwar aka Honey, who died in the Ali Enterprises factory fire that killed over 300 people on September 11, 2012.

This is from a series of stories about the families of the victims of the Ali Enterprises garment factory who died in the factory fire on September 11, 2012. The stories explore the consequences of state supported erosion of labor rights, and a reluctance to check and enforce employee benefits and protections. A state of affairs that leaves tens of thousands working in one of Pakistan’s largest industries in conditions of deep economic and social fragility, and overt economic exploitation.

I remember some years ago, while attending the annual Visa Pour L’image photo festival held each year in Perpignan, France, overhearing the festival’s director Jean-Francois Leroy express exasperation at photographers who were shooting such portraits – a photo of a photo. I remember vaguely that I nodded in agreement – it had become a bit of a cliché.

I made this portrait, and more like it, because the mother asked me to. Back then, standing there under the bright, hot, clear sunlight of Southern France, I had not realized that sometimes you make a photo because it is important for your subject to know that you made it. I made this portrait for Maria Suleiman, whose son, Honey, died in the factory fire, and left her – a woman with little else other than her children, with just this one photo and a million memories to hold on to. Today I would disagree with Jean-Francois. Today, I will always make this photograph if for only this reason – it matters to the family that I do.

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