(Translation of an article of Umair Ghani, a prominent photographer of Pakistan.)

Pakistani photographers must realize this fact now that a soft image of this country (or any other country) can’t be built by showing its photo shopped landscapes to the world.Rather it requires to abandon retrogressive thinking and an attitude of intolerance, which unfortunately have become our cultural and social introduction at present.

In the last seven decades of Pakistan’s history, apart from Islamabad camera club and the  Samir ur Rehman;s Photographic Art Society of Pakistan, not a single institution or group has added anything significant Pakistani photography with consistency. Mutual conflicts and an ambition to be labelled as a legend at a very early stage have deprived contemporary Pakistani photographers of any ideology regarding this art form. Intolerance for difference of opinion and and extremist mindset has resulted in the present inertia prevalent in national photography scene. It is true that some individuals, shunning this group politics, are contributing serious work; but in the overall atmosphere of aggressive self-promotion and leg pulling, their efforts seem ineffectual to bring any major change.

Pakistani photographers of current generation should know that if we have legends, they are to be found among well known names of Nisar Mirza (pride of performance for his photographic coverage of 1967 Arab-Israel war), Aftab Ahmad (Pride of Performance, Col. Umar, F E Chaudhrey (Pride of Performance), M R Owaisi (Pride of Performance, Sami ur Rahman (Pride of Performance), Mian Majeed, Syed Javed Qazi (Pride of Performance), Zafar Ahmad, Azhar Jafri, Syed Nayyar Reza, Shahid Zaidi, Arif Mahmood and Salim Khawar. These and their contemporaries truly achieved international recognition and brought Pakistani photography to global recognition. All of them won status of associates of prestigious organisations like FIAP, RPS and PSA, deserve accolades; but their contributions have not been researched or preserved by any institution within Pakistan. Camera brands spend millions on self promotion, but fail to develop national photographic archives. Maybe those desirous of becoming a legend through brand promotion just within few years of purchasing digital cameras are too scared to be lost in the echo of so many big giants if they acknowledge these names.

Since Islamabad Camera Club is inactive now, Sami ur Rahman through Photographic Art Society of Pakistan has played a pivotal role in exhibiting the work of Pakistani photographers and preserving it in catalogs for last 30 years. Top priority of this forum has been to create public awareness about current trends of photography in Pakistan and to preserve representative work of each era. It has been able to create an archive of images comprising last thirty years through its catalogs. We have such wonderful people who can serve as guide to perform commendable work for art of photography in this country. The multinational camera brands active in Pakistan need to pay attention in this direction as well. To play a role in social uplift of a society is the moral duty of companies who earn huge financial profits from people of that country. If any brand really intends to win the hearts of people of Pakistan, it would require something more concrete than merely arranging wedding photography workshops. A selfless devotion to promote photography as an art form needs to be included among priorities of brand promotion. Preserving pictures in archives would help photography to be included in main stream visual arts.

It requires a moral courage to accept the contributions of real legends of Pakistan’s photography. Any individual or organisation addressing this much needed step would achieve a lasting status in history.

Please mark my words; ‘throughout human history, only those works of art play significant role which were made through utmost devotion and with distinctive artistic ideology’.

 

My friends

Posted: July 9, 2017 in Ramblings of an artist

I have two sets of friends.
Those who live in Pakistan, face all problems, want this country to a be liberal progressive and democratic;  free from all types of senseless killings in the name of religion and sects. They are concerned that their children should live and study with peace of mind.
Then I have another set of friends.
Those who left Pakistan many decades ago without intention of coming back. They are well settled,  with their children now in European or American universities. Their children in many cases can’t even speak proper Urdu.
Naturally these friends always seem to be worried about Pakistan.
In discussions when they offer solutions for our problems, they tend to suggest Islamic shariah for this wayward country, stressing the need for some honest but ruthless fanatic to come and enforce it.
Their proclivity to support or justify religious extremism is surprising.
They tend to justify the brutality of militant organisation or show a soft corner for them. I feel their ignorance of ground realities of Pakistan plus a romantic attachment with religion combines to support mayhem caused by religious fanatics. 

Despite all protestations they prescribe a heavy dose of God’s fear for us, praying for some Messiah to push this bitter pill through throats of this poor hapless nation for which they have emotional link.
All this seems funny as I am unable to explain the difference. Does living abroad changes one’s outlook so much?

Posted: June 26, 2017 in Ramblings of an artist

All forms of art aim for self-expression and thus of life itself.  It doesn’t  matter much what the art is. It may be photography, painting, sculpture or writing, ultimately it remains a medium for catharsis and self-expression.

Important thing is to pursue your chosen art with honestly and dedication. It must reflect yourself in it. All else is art for art’s sake: a renouncement of meaning in favor of benign aesthetics, entertainment rather than exploration, obfuscating the self rather than revealing it.

But in the end, all art is expressive, and art that is detached from its creator and from the mysteries of life, expresses the detachment of the age and the culture that celebrates it.

A friend of mine recently asked me where I could find so many interesting characters?

Actually all these people exist around us though in our busy life of a metropolis we don’t seem to notice their existence. It is seeing without looking. 

The fast paced life in a capitalist culture is making us impervious to human life around us. As Albert Camus rightly said, ‘As a remedy to life in society I would suggest the big city. Nowadays, it is the only desert within our means’

My goal is not to document the life, or to capture its thrill to others who may not experience them otherwise. Actually the aim is to share something of my own feelings while roaming in streets. A conscious effort to cross that desert of feelings.

In the words of Charles Baudelaire,  “What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.”

I have no desire to attract people to the places that inspire me, but to inspire them to seek their own. To seek their own ‘innocent monsters’.

 

 

 

Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/city.html

Dust of the soul

Posted: June 7, 2017 in Ramblings of an artist

A viewer looks at the finished product of art and judges it for its artistic and aesthetic value. An artist does the same. However for him, it is also a means of self-expression in which the very process of creation is source of satisfaction and fulfillment; sometimes with total disregard of viewers’ appreciation.

In the words of Pablo Picasso, ‘the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

In this modern digital world, the effort of get noticed has become tough with ultimate success in art being measured on the basis of ‘likes’ on social media or the number of  exhibitions. In this continuous effort to keep afloat, the sheer joy and satisfaction of creation may be lost. In so doing, knowingly or unknowingly, we forfeit the greatest rewards that art has to offer.

Art is not a business entrepreneurship. Here the ultimate success may not measureable in visible, material forms. Here the most rewarding part (if so pursued) is the process, not the product. To apply the mercantile laws to art and trying to make the process of production more efficient, productive or any other business like goal indeed makes being an artist just another job.

The worst part of this attitude is the mutual competition to be on the top with an aim to capture a narrow art market. Somewhere along the line the sheer joy of creative process is irreversibly lost. Art instead of being a source of enjoyment becomes another burden to carry.

Why would anyone commit such a senseless act?

GMB Akash

Posted: May 17, 2017 in Interviews

 

GMB Akash is a legend in the art of photography. He has achieved more than 100 international awards and have been published in more than 100 international publications. Founder of First Light institute of photography with hundreds of students all over the world, describes himself in a very humble way in the following words,

“I am in an endless journey towards an infinite route, only to find a real world of humanity. This thirst is eternal. I will keep walking, touching every faces I drop through my lens. I will show the world – those unknown stories of sufferings. If a single hand comes to give them a shade that is the real honor of my sweat” 

In this interview I have tried to explore his personal and artistic vision.

  1. How would you describe yourself briefly (including your equipment and editing program)?

Photography is the light of my heart. With this light I see things differently, I discover people profoundly. In the journey of light, I go into the deep milieu of human existence. I am a light bearer who sees beauty in ugliness, strength in fragility, and love in the lost.

It’s been twenty years, I am working as a professional photographer. I am working and traveling almost 365 days a year. I have photography assignments to carry out, personal photography projects to continue. Besides,  I have a Photography institute (First Light Institute of Photography www.firstlightphotoshcool.com) which has hundreds of aspiring photography students. After all my professional commitment I also have to give time to my 500 unprivileged children who are continuing education by my self-funding. There are ‘Survivors’ families whom I have to look after and also I am continually working for my upcoming book ‘Heroes of life’, it’s been nine years almost and I really hope by the end of this year I may complete the project and publish the book.

I do very little editing. I use lightroom. Canon Mark IV, Canon Mark III, lens 24-70mm, 16-35mm and 35 1.4 lens

  1. Describe your photographic odyssey. How it started and where do you see yourself now?

Coming from a background where there was little space for adopting a creative process created difficult circumstances for me. People around me had no idea about photojournalism. At that time parents supported you even if you wanted to be an artist, illustrator or an actor/singer. But ‘photojournalist’ did not exist in the circles I was brought up in. Many days I did not eat to save my pocket money for my photography. I used my tuition to buy films. Even some time when I had no film in my camera and had no money in pocket, I never stopped clicking. I kept clicking knowing I had no film inside my camera. Because I know I had to achieve my dream. The neighbour woman who was reputedly beaten by her husband everyday was my story, the gay who occasionally danced in a known prohibited lobby was my interest, girls under the red light were my canvas. During the last twenty years, every person I met had a story to tell. I pour out their soul and I continue to write the narrative of their life experiences. I try to write and capture the beauty of the people and their souls.

  1. How would you describe your artistic vision?

I love simplicity. Emotional connection is very important with that simplicity of my presentation. I do photography simply, I narrate simply. I want to connect the viewer naturally with my images and stories. The main challenge of my work is bringing emotion at its simplest form. With my images I want to tug your heart intensely, and doing that with simplicity is the most difficult task for me as an artist.

  1. Most of your work is based on underprivileged people. Is it a deliberate decision to focus of children of lesser God?

I try to capture the beauty of the people and their souls. Though the real circumstance of some of the people I portray may be quite grim; they are all strong individuals with remarkable characters. The power of these deprived people is that they express themselves effortlessly in front of my camera, they speak by pouring their hearts about their life events. They fearlessly speak truth. The way they sit, the way they look around or the way they express themselves are easier than I see in people living out of poverty. People living out of poverty are more concerned about their reputation, ego, and are more self-conscious. Although the circumstances of many of the people I portray may be grim, as individuals they are oftentimes people of remarkable character. And it is the beauty of such people and the human soul that remains when nearly all else is gone. This beauty I strive to capture in the photographs I take in a number of ways, the images presented on these pages are my own experiences, too. My journeys connect me to the many characters. Sometimes I had to run, take a ride on the roof of a moving train, sleep on a flooded floor and spend many hours walking the maze of avenues through sprawling city slums. It is the reaching of my protagonists, the welcome into their homes and their lives, that makes my work worthwhile. And at the end if mine is the hand that blocks the scorching sun from their eyes — bringing shade for just a single minute, then there’s value in the work I do.

  1. You have made a name at international level despite being a citizen of third world. How was your able to achieve this? Can you share your struggle and secrets of success?

It’s been a very difficult journey on my own. It is very hard to work in a developing country like Bangladesh as a freelance photographer. Surviving is a crucial issue. Most of the time crisis of work is the obstacle for developing the creativity and exploring ideas. Because of my dedication every single day of a year I am working. When a clients work with me, they always come back. I never compromise on honesty, and dedication is the rule I follow from my heart. I pour my heart and soul in the work I do. But nepotism in the industry remains one of the greatest barrier for artists like me all the time. I had to win my position after years of battle. I never had any god father in this industry, and coming from nowhere made me an alien and forced me to give my best without any break. I literally survived against all odds, against all conspiracy. I believed from my heart that if I remain true to my work then my work will remain true to me. Thanks to the social media, and the era of internet world, now artists do not have to go through channels of Broker to exhibit works. You can get work and appreciation for your creative work from every corner of the world. No one can lock your light. I have received hundred of photography awards, my works has been published in all major publications and my works exhibited in world’s best museums and galleries. Everything has been possible because of my hard work and love for photography. I have traveled more than fifty countries but most importantly thousands of nameless streets. I raised and made a position from nowhere land. The fight is beyond explanation. My inspiration is every face I met in my journey, music I heard in the road, seasons I loved pleasantly, struggled I overcome. Every sunrise is a new hope for me to live for another day, which gives me chance to shoot another day. I do not know where I am going but I know I am on my way.

 

  1. Where do you see contemporary Bangladeshi photographers compared to international scenario?

In a very promising position! Everyone is contributing from their own place, which is creating the different scenario for the industry itself. The volume of good work is recognized internationally. Photographers are winning international awards, bringing prestige to home. The more regarding is seeing the good work. I celebrate and applaud for the hard work of our photographers.

 

  1. What is the reason for your preference for colour pictures to black and white?

Fifteen years ago I was doing a story in the slums. Black and white was my premise till then. I took a picture of a young woman who was a garment worker. While I went to take the picture of her, she suddenly disappeared.  She showed up after a half an hour in her new clothes, lace in her hair and wearing a gold ear ring. Before I left her place she fervently requested to receive prints of the photos. The following week I made the print and showed up at her door. I put the prints in her hands with happiness. Within a second her face clouded and with a cold-sharp tone she said, ‘Am I only looking poor to you? Don’t you see your picture has nothing? I saved a year’s salary to buy that gold ear ring and where is it in your picture? Where is my floral red dress? And my yellow hair ribbon? Your picture is lying’. That one sentence changed my perspectives, my techniques, my images and my reality.

  1. From whom you have been most impressed in photography? Do you still keep learning from the work of masters or do you feel they hinder and blunt your innate personal vision?

I very much admire Sebastiao Salgado. His work is a rich resource of inspiration. James Natchway is also one of the most inspiring photographers as well as an influential person for me. All of his work inspires me. This photographer evokes the wars of the world but delivers the message of peace. I also love works of Steve Mccurry, he is a master. I love to see works of photographers from different corner of the world. I feel inspired, motivated. Every person has his/her very own eye. We can only get inspiration, no one can blunt our innate personal vision, that I very much believe.

 

  1. Do you feel photography influences one’s personality as literature and other genres of art do? How it has changed your own personality and world view.

Photography changed my life. Because of photography I travel intensely that helped me to meet with some incredible humans from different cultures and backgrounds. Their life experiences changed views on life. I have learned that simplicity is the key of life. I have learned that the most beautiful souls are often most broken. I live a very simple life. I never can eat in pricey places or stay in luxury hotels. I know how valuable ten taka is for a child laborer, how much value one toy can add in a deprived child’s life. Because of Photography I am aware that we need very little to change someone’s life and bring happiness. Photography influences me to write down all the life experiences I encountered. Emotionally I become more involved with people I do not even know, because my experiences taught me empathy. I can see my reincarnation because of Photography.

 

  1. Your main focus has been your own culture and people rather than going around and capture different civilizations. How do you explain it this choice?

I have worked in more than 50 countries so far. I have had several projects from all around the world. Even last year I worked on refugee children. But my heart always returns to my country and I continue to work more. When I shoot, I always ask two questions to myself: why am I taking this photo? And what message do I want to convey? Above all, photography is my passion and then it is a tool to affect positive change. I shoot almost every day because I love to do it. I do not see photography as competition, nor do I thrive for status or reputation. I want to show my pictures to my audiences. I have seen many of my colleagues who hardly share their photographs and keep them all for competitions, grants, or exhibitions.  I am very clear about the fact that I take photographs to show people, to convey a message, and to make a change. Until I can spread my message, until I share stories of broken hearts, until I show how brave my subjects are, I do not bother with anything else. Whenever I am in the city strangers are stopping me. Uncountable number of people recognize me in the street and express how my photographs have changed their view. I believe that if my photographs can connect with the heart, can influence people to take a step for humanity then this is the ultimate achievement.

  1. What is your photography routine? How much time you spend in it and how you are able to manage it? Do you work randomly or in planned way with a project in mind?

I have an un-resting soul. I do not know where I will be waking up next morning. I move from places to places, cities to cities and countries to countries. I see how different seasons are in the different parts of the world. Taste of food and faces of people all are different, but at the end, every human soul resembles the same. The grandmother of a Skalasikasikamia smiles to me same as one in Ketrokona. This fascinates me most. I keep specific period of time for my personal projects. It’s very difficult to manage dates for my assignments, most of the time I am booked many months ahead. I could not attend my two exhibitions in America and Europe due to the schedule. Whatever time I can manage I like to spend helping the people I photographed. I am very strict about my personal shooting period, I work on my projects and never compromise that time with any commercial work. Like I said, every single day I am traveling, taking pictures. I am trying to bring change with my images and stories and introducing incredible humans to the world.

  1. What do you think are the benefits of social media in promotion of today’s artist? There is a frequent complaint that most of the celebrities are not personally present on media. Their publicity managers keep them alive on social media. How you can manage so much time on social media?

Social media is very important. That is where you can get genuine reaction of your audience. My aim is always to show my images. I never like to keep my projects or works for submitting in competition or exhibitions. Because of social media or simply for internet artists do not need to go through brokers to exhibit their works. My journey was not only about achieving my dream; bringing fame for my country or helping unprivileged, it was also giving a constant fight against corruption and nepotism. I brought 100 prestigious awards to my country, I gave away most of my earning for the people I photographed, and my exhibitions have been held in world’s renowned places, every day I am giving interview to the media, all the time my work is in the news. But sadly, I have been criticized by the broker of my country’s photography industry all the time. They always wanted to remove me from this industry. But I did not give up, and the love and respect from the people from all over the country helped me to motivate.  ‘I got your name in the 30 world famous documentary photographer’, ‘Your stories are souls of your pictures’, ‘You are Picasso of storytelling’, ‘Because of your image I bought all the roses from the signal girl’, every day I am receiving hundreds of heart moving messages, these all are my inspiration. My Facebook page, Facebook account, photography groups, school social sites, Instagram, LinkedIn, blog, archives all of my social and commercial sites are entirely managed by me. It required a lot of effort from my side. But I am always ready to give more than my 100%.

  1. Do you think photography can help promote tolerance and human value in our lives? Do you feel you have been able to make a difference with your work?

A good photograph will have a lasting impression on you. One of a kind of photograph has the ability to make you feel. It can make you cry, compel you to laugh or it will give you a feeling to look back again and again. A good photograph is universal; it will tug heart beyond borders. There are picture when you will see it, you will never be able to forget eternity. And thus a photograph can create value in our lives simply provoking humans living inside us. Every image can make a difference. I have heard this comment over and over again, ‘Your photograph changed my life’, more than thousands times I have heard it and that is why I am sure, every good image has a lasting impression on us. It can help us to grow, to think, to dream. I portray image and story of remarkable characters, unbeatable souls. Audience takes so many things from those views. Also I continue to contribute in the life of the people I photograph. I continue to connect from soul to soul.

14. What are your future plans in photography?

Every single second of my life I am living in photography. I do not have any life outside photography. Even when I am not taking picture, I am seeing picture. I am thinking about photography all the time. Every year I have to attend several solo exhibitions abroad, I am committed to my clients as well and dates are given for next six months. I also have to take photography workshop in my Photography Institute ‘First Light’, there is One on One Photography program, and participants come from all over world to attend workshop with me in Bangladesh. Every day I have a plan and I have to work on it. But now at this moment my bigger plan is publishing my nine years project ‘Heroes of Life’ in a form of book which will have real life stories and images. I am also building a school for unprivileged children. I would like to change the life of every single person who will be portrayed in the book ‘Heroes of life’.

15. Any other lesson/advice you would like to give to an aspiring photographer

The moment you start doing photography only for yourself, you will get the best reward for your life. You will be no more alone. With time you will start to enjoy little moments of your life on your own. One day photography will become your loyal companion, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry and it will make you love. That is how photography will become your existence; this is how Photography gives meaning to your life.

16. Lastly, describe yourself as a person. Your likes, dislikes, ambitions and failures in your life.

I always believe to do what my heart want. Because I can go thousands of miles, can go far from the world but I can never escape from your heart. I feel, I am a navigator more than a traveler. Every day I discover a new region within my soul and thus I want to bring life to every image I take.

GMB Akash

17.05.2017

 

This is a time of faith. To publicly express and display religious sentiments, exhorting others to do the same. A time difficult to avoid being swept in frenzy especially when being conformist seems easy and safe. Any attempt to keep aloof carries the risk of being brandished as infidel.

Even if the situation is not so bad (at least for the time being) pursuing art with an aim to uphold higher values of humanism seems precarious. The compulsion to take sides with everyone getting fanatic makes it difficult of practicing art with a dream of a peaceful world.

In this milieu of growing mistrust and xenophobia, art, a universal language; has the potential to make us realize that people all over the world are essentially the same. However there is a serious threat, that this might be lost in thick dust being raised by religious hatred and jingoism of holy wars.

However even in this situation, creating or experiencing art can at least relax and sooth us, though we may fail to make others feel the same The process of creating art engages both the body and the mind and provides us a chance to look inward and reflect.  Experiencing art also gives us reason to think and be reflective or may inspire us to keep  faith in human and ethical values Art provides a release, a place for reflection and away to engage our whole selves. We need art to keep our sanity

This reminds me of words of, art critic Raymond Steiner

 There was a time when the world thought that the artist was chosen, and that they were on a mission not to tell us what we have but what we might have if we’d only get our act together and see beyond the obvious. Art was supposed to transcend life, not imitate it. Crap is obvious—and I for one am wearied by its presence. Show me please the light at the end of the tunnel. Show me yet once again how beauty can nourish my inner being. Don’t show me what is, show me what can be, and how I might get there—even if only in my mind—as I lose myself in a painting, a musical score, a poem, or photograph.”