Every city has popular points and landmarks that are visible to all, places that can be easily noticeable and which attract tourists and outsiders. However, beyond these places, a city also comprises many spaces that are important to the city dwellers but not so visible to others. Sometime these spaces are of huge significance to a specific group of people but not to all and thus remain invisible to others. With the My City InVisible project, we tried to capture local perspective of spaces and places in Mongla and to explore what is important for them as residents.

Mongla, a coastal regional city, is dealing with several environmental stressors including salinity, cyclones, floods and drought and these crises are only getting worse due to evolving changes in climate. Residents with very limited capacity to cope, are struggling but they still like their city. The city’s location has also made it an important point for industrial development. It is only 20km away from the sea and has a port as well as an Export Processing Zone (EPZ). Many industries have emerged in recent years creating job opportunities for both men and women. This city receives a regular flow of in-migration from surrounding districts.


During the month of September 2021, ten randomly selected residents of Mongla, Bangladesh were given a camera for three days to capture pictures of places and spaces which have a significant meaning to them. When selecting the participants, we tried to ensure there was a diversity in age, sex, economic situation and geographical location. The participant photographers included five men and five women. There were two students, two housewives, one labourer at a garment factory, two daily labourers, one government employee, one shopkeeper and one teacher. The participants were given a brief for this assignment and the freedom to take as many pictures as they wanted.

After the photographs were taken, each participant was requested to select 10 pictures that reflects their perspective and to explain orally to the group of participant photographers why they have selected these pictures and what value these places carry in their life. These explanations were captured by the research team as captions for each photograph. At a later stage in February 2022, the number of pictures were reduced to three in consultation with the participants over phone to be able to fit in the artistic map produced for this project.

Each photograph is a reflection of its photographer. While most participants tried to capture hardships they face in their everyday life such as drinking water sources or roads; an interesting difference has been noticed between male and female photographers. Most male photographers have taken pictures of mosques and most female photographers have taken pictures of schools. After we queried these photographs, we learnt that female residents of Mongla are optimistic about changing their next generation’s future through education. Similarly, male residents of Mongla have a strong tie with religion and have a dependency on their belief to survive their harsh reality.  

Additionally, the police station, recreational places, agricultural lands, the boat yard, the sea port and the EPZ are a few other places which were frequently represented in the photographs.

Impact of COVID19 Pandemic

The pandemic delayed the project by several months and even when we were able to visit Mongla to conduct the project, the evolving impact of the pandemic made it difficult to get respondents to participate in this project. We needed to be sensitive to the fact that many people were struggling with pandemic lock down induced food crises and we adapted to suit the needs of the participant photographers. However, we do not think the pandemic has unduly influenced the topics of the photographs taken – participants mostly mentioned issues related to environmental crises and economic opportunities while explaining their photographs.

Map of Mongla through the lens of local people

With the selected pictures from the participants, an explanatory map has been developed to visualize the spaces that are important to the local residents, and which they use on a regular basis through different illustrated icons using their GIS locations. In addition to the map, all the pictures are exhibited with captions from the photographer participants.

My City InVisible

My City InVisible shares hidden views of the city. It is not only about geographical locations, it is also about the existence of a certain group of people and their voice. In many cases, residents from informal settlements, ethnic and religious minority groups become invisible in discussions about development and their necessities get overlooked by decision makers. The camera gave power to residents to show what matters to them. By thinking through (in)visibility, this project has given an opportunity to make visible the invisible city.

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Two-storey building painted bright blue and pink in front of waterlogged field.

Colourful map with pictograms illustrating local landmarks.
The Map reflects what residents of Mongla view as important in their lives. Istiakh Ahmed