A couple holds hands and looks lovingly at each other before the backdrop of their beloved city. They embrace in front of a majestic bridge, and walk briskly through a park. This could be an engagement photo shoot in any city in the world — but there are two huge differences. The man and woman are wearing face masks, and the air around them isn’t hazy with the glow of their love — it’s a thick, poisonous smog.
Photographer Ashish Pareek of Banjara Studios staged this shoot in New Delhi to illustrate what air pollution is doing to the city.
“Delhi has earned its reputation for glamour, beauty, glitter, grandeur and out-of-the-box carefree wedding celebrations,” Pareek wrote on his site and Instagram accompanying the photos, which he called, “Mask Becoming New Identities.” “There were days when candid wedding photographers used to crave Delhi couples, as the ‘jing-bang’ of Delhi helped [their] creativity.”
Delhi has the highest air pollution levels in the world, according to the World Health Organization. The levels of particulate matter in the air is often off the charts, and last week, it was so bad that United canceled flights and 30,000 schools were closed in the northern Indian territory. The conditions are most dangerous for young children, the elderly, and the sick, but pollution affects everyone’s respiratory and cardiovascular systems. A recent study by the Lancet found that pollution is responsible for 9 million deaths worldwide every year.
Pareek said he felt it was his job as an artist and a citizen to illustrate how dire the situation is.
“The buzz or the alarm regarding pollution is raised only when the situation worsens; otherwise, no one talks about it,” Pareek tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Anyone unfamiliar with the air in new Delhi might assume the photos are retouched to exaggerate the smog, but Pareek said that isn’t the case at all here. “Usually we do lots of post-processing in our photos, but here I tried to keep them as natural as they are,” he says. “I have not increased the highlights or clarity to look hazier.”
Though the man and woman here are a real couple, who wish to remain anonymous, Pareek said he knows these are not the kind of photos people want when they request outdoor shoots.
“This pollution is not just affecting everyone’s health, but as a photographer, I am not getting the right background,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Nor [does] the couple have the required excitement, mood and frame of mind.”
Pareek says he hopes messages like his can encourage people to act to solve the problem. At the very least, he said, the government should make city transport vehicles run on natural gas or electricity and make more public transportation available. Individuals and businesses should consider car-pooling and working from home too, he said.
“I hope not to see a couple wearing a mask and posing in front of Delhi smog,” he wrote on his site. “Are we ready to [lose] our identities and to settle for a colorful mask?”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: