Note: Been absent from my blog for quite some time. But this is what it all came down to. Needless to say I am excited and treading in new waters. Commercial aspects of my work have never remotely occured to me. Not even why I started writing for The Friday Times. Sadly, I havent written anything in quite a while, and I hope they haven’t given up on me.
Some would say about time it happened. I am just happy it is after all. My first exhibition is due to be held in Islamabad sometime in May at The Niche Cafe in F6.
Did an interview with Moeed, the admin and founder of Project A, the people putting the show together recently. This is my first adventure of this kind. I have high hopes. Lets see how it ends. Here is the transcript of it. The formatted version can be found on the Project A blog at:
Now… your CV is quite diverse I must say… From interning with Dawn to winning so many debate competitions, you seem to be quite the renaissance man of the 21st century, would you like say something about the diversity of your interests?
Well, I mean if you look at it, my interests or hobbies as some people like to call them, they center around some core things, literature, social work (here I am referring to my work with relief organizations and people like Fauzia Minallah of Funkor child art center) My firm belief is, that we need to challenge the status quo and that comes about from raising our voices. I just try to raise my voice through any stage or channel I find Be it the debating stage or my art or writing And a couple of protest rallies The system needs to be changed. There is too much wrong with it. We need to take it out to the streets.
So at the centre of it all, you’re a firm activist. Tell us, how does photography fit into the picture?
Photography is all about projecting how you as the man behind the lens see things.
When I go out with my camera, I am behind a glass. I capture society. Maybe even as an idle viewer looking out in the street from the safety of his window.
I like to think of my photography as a reflection on our society. I try and capture that. The hypocrisy of a man driving by in a Mercedes, and the 10 year old boy in rags knocking on his window begging for alms. The big UN trucks parked in F6 and the condition of the displaced refugee’s they are working to get on their feet. The contrast is too great. Photography is my way of putting out in the world this picture, this contrast, this great divide and saying to everyone:
‘See this is what we are really like; get out of your comfort zones’
It’s a challenge if you may, or a question, that begs an answer. And yes, then there’s also, the smallest of things that hold such beauty that simply sometimes take my breath away. The joy of photography is in the eye of the photographer. I want to capture what I see and share it with people, bring them joy or anger. Make them feel as I feel when I see these things.
The aesthetics and the social value of my photography are all about getting a reaction out of people, to hold things in joy or in anger and frustration.
But you chose to become an engineer? What prompted that decision?
Quite frankly, I wanted to get into pure sciences, Physics to be specific. But well as far as finances go, I couldn’t afford to go abroad. And a good physics dept is very hard to find in this country. There are good physicists around the country but none at one place. Engineering was the next best thing. I don’t regret being an engineer. I have always held a fascination for techie geeky stuff.
But don’t you ever feel like had you gotten into something more directly related to your beliefs regarding the sort of change you want, you could’ve given more of yourself?
No, I don’t. Mainly because studying at GIKI, meant simply more then just books and classes. The people I met there came from far corners of the country, and from every section of our society. From the elite class with personal cars, to the middle/ lower ones who like I traveled on public transport ever so often. In retrospect, being in GIKI for four years, in that place and environment, it was a melting pot for many different ideas to come together. I had the chance to meet some amazing people, and share and work on some great ideas. Even though they never grew to take full form, I learned lessons and was taught a great deal by my friends. Out of the classroom, over tea in the cafe, or late night discussions in the hostel rooms; GIKI was a cross section of society; A self sustaining scale ecosystem or society.
Engineering is not all about mechanics. It trains you to think a certain way, analytical and precise and four years in GIKI I like to think, were more then a paper degree, but an experience in life.
I see here that you’ve interned at Dawn News Islamabad… What was that experience like? Did it dispel any prior conception of what our news industry is like?
Actually yes, I went in with high hopes about writing about breaking news, and covering stories on the field. In reality it was much more boring then that. I was required to sit at a computer, in a cubicle so to speak, and edit news items for brevity and grammar. That was not at all what I had hoped for. But again, it did dispel the romantic imagery I had in my mind about the print media industry
Do you personally approve of our newspapers and news channels’ priorities when it comes to what the people need to know?
I do, and I don’t. I’ll draw a comparison here. Back when we did not have private channels, the first or second item on the agenda would be Kashmir. Now that we have private channels, we actually hear about news that directly impacts our lives. Freedom of media is the pet term for all this these days. Though just like everything else in modern society we become so bombarded by choices, that we always might not choose the right one. Here I refer to GEO, and the tabloid attitude they have towards news and reporting.
So yes, there’s always a flip side. Although with so many choices and channels, the public is much more informed on politics, which is very important, even though, the majority is still struggling for food and shelter, the ones more educated, can now make an informed choice.
You seem to be a very opinionated individual, has it ever created problems for you? At work etc?
Well, yes. I am not the easiest of people to make friends with. Neither do I make friends easily myself. Though there are people who share my beliefs, at work and at school. I have always taken a stand against what I think is wrong. As with all forms of protest, there’s the price to pay. Although I should add here, sometimes the protest might not be as blunt as taking it out in the streets but something more subtle.
Coming back to photography, how long have you been doing this?
How long…? Well I have been playing with my father’s old German SLR for quite some time. But I ‘started’ photography as a hobby around 5 years back, when my sister got a digital camera as a present. It was a 4MP Nikon, and I loved it.
Do you have any favorites from your work so far?
Yes, quite a few. A photograph I took of two girls, on the street in Islamabad. They were from Malakand, where the ‘operation’ is going on and a boy, selling pens and doing his homework. And another one that I call, ‘Gone Fishing’ a man on the beach fishing for prawns. I took it on Minora Islands. I like it because of the composition
Have you ever tried to have your work exhibited before?
Once, last year, after I graduated from GIKI I did apply to a gallery. I wrote an email to Nomad about the possibility of exhibiting my work. They asked me to send in my work. I did, but they never got back to me about the merits of it. It was an interesting experience.
I also approached some ‘galleries’ in F6 But they said they only catered to their ‘in house artists’.
Now since we’ve already been talking about your take on the current affairs in the country (well some of them at least, vaguely speaking) Why do you feel the need to exhibit? What’s the driving force there?
While some of my work maybe of pure aesthetic value to some. I feel that we need to put a face to this monster we call ‘poverty’ society’ war’ refugee’s. We all talk about them, in our plush drawing rooms. But they are all abstract ideas. The driving force behind the majority of these pieces is to give a picture to it all. Add to that list, Islam, etc. We are a rich culture, and should be proud of our heritage.
You write too… This is just amazing because of all the people I know there are so few who dabble in both art and writing and can do justice to both… You’re a regular at chowk.com, what kind of writing are you doing there?
I do what I like to call ‘Social Commentary’. I started at Chowk.com, now I am a staff writer for The Friday Times. Usually my pieces revolve around cynicism about society and government. I like to think that my writing compliments my photography, and vice versa. Like the cliché, I attempt to ‘Put up a mirror to society’.
I have done pieces about the refugee camps in Malakand, to British era ruins in the middle of Rawalpindi, which are in the middle of a turf war b/w the local government and a university administration; the former wanting to bulldoze it to make space, the latter wanting to preserve its beauty. There is so much going on around us. I attempt to voice and channel it through my writing.
Where do you see yourself a decade from now?
Where I want to be is to be writing fulltime and teaching at a university, molding young minds. Where I most probably will be is at the current job, chipping away at the glass ceiling. Let’s see where the winds blow.
How did you find Project A?
I came across Project A through some friends with a keen interest in photography.
And what did you first think of it, because I’m assuming you’ve been with us since the time we were only a hundred or so people… Come on now you don’t have to be candid…
I hoped and have been proven right, that it amounts to something more then the myriad of ‘Flickr’ groups out there. And I think I joined when you had around a 100 or less members, I’m not sure though.
Now a little something for the readers… Anything you want to say to the other Project A members out there…?
Well, I don’t consider myself qualified. But if something, I would say, please voice your selves. We need young blood in the system. Don’t let your work just be a decoration piece in someone’s drawing room. Don’t let your voices be drowned in the crowds. Challenge and question the system and society. Do it through what you know best. Regardless of whatever it is that you are passionate about, art, writing, oration, anything, just stand up and be counted. Every person counts.