“Osama! Osama!”— yelled a pair of complete strangers, as photographer Bharat Choudhary walked to his apartment from the University of Missouri campus in 2009, where the photographer was pursuing a Master’s degree in photojournalism. Islamophobia is a personal issue for Choudhary, who is an Indian Hindu.
“I had a big beard at that time,” adds Choudhary, who used the incident as inspiration for his current project, which documents Muslim life in the United States and England. Titled The Silence of Others, the series captures similar situations and their effects on the project’s participants, as well as the lives of young Muslims and the communities to which they belong.
Choudhary traces the origins of the idea back to his time as a student in India, where he worked with CARE India in Ahmadabad in 2004. The organization provided rehabilitation to victims of ethnically charged violence, who lost limbs or were paralyzed in the 2002 riots in the Indian state of Gujarat. The images he saw there formed an experience that Choudhary says “will always be there with me.”
He began working on the project in the Midwest, where he documented stories in small towns across Missouri and Illinois, as well as larger cities like Chicago. Choudhary is continuing the second phase of the project in England, broadening the geographic reach of the body of work and expanding it as a platform to help Muslims and non-Muslims understand each other.
Though the growing body of work represents a variety of life stories—a Missouri couple’s efforts to establish the state’s first Mosque, a Caucasian woman’s conversion to Islam and the development of Muslim communities in Chicago, London and elsewhere—Choudhary says he has found similar themes of alienation and ostracism of his “Others” on both sides of the Atlantic. But it’s precisely the challenge of breaking through their silence that captivates Choudhary and pushes him to continue the project.
“It’s finding the right kind of people who would be willing to talk and be photographed—that is one thing that keeps me awake all night,” Choudhary says. “It’s been quite an interesting journey so far.”
Bharat Choudhary is a photographer based in London, England. The Silence of Others is currently supported by a grant from the Alexia Foundation for World Peace and Cultural Understanding. Select images are on display at “Moving Walls 19,” an exhibition opening at the Soros Foundation in New York on Dec. 1.