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Umair ghani

It was Sunday, 12th July 2015, when I received a call from Umair Ghani. He wanted to send the book as a complimentary copy to me. It was a pleasant surprise and an honor for me.
At that time I was strolling in Lok Virsa Islamabad with my wife. She was busy looking at different stalls and I was trying to capture regional cultures uprooted from their soil and kept in frozen, artificial form in Lok Virsa. The irony of situation became clear to me when I read the last article of the book ‘Tourist photography : – )
Well! I have browsed through the book and want to share my first impressions.
It is a small book of 26 pages, consists of different articles. Probably Umair Ghani believes in brevity being the soul of the wit. However when one reads it, one realizes that it is one of those books which needs to be chewed and digested rather than simply tasted and swallowed. It succinctly summarizes the current intellectual discussions among serious photographers with hints for future course of action as well.
As the name indicates, it is not about the photography itself, rather it is more about its philosophy. The intellectual aspects of photography. It is about the man behind the gun rather than the gun.
A pleasant surprise was the chaste Urdu language used in the book. Even if someone is not interested in photography, the book can be read as a masterpiece of Urdu literature. It reminded me of one of our text book, Boyd’s textbook of Pathology’ which won various literary awards for its language.
Umair Ghani is one of those few photographers who have a wide exposure to art circles of the world and he is aware of art movements in other countries. At the same time, he has a feeling that (like many other fields) we are far behind the world. This has forced him to share his thoughts for improvement of those interested to pursue photography as a serious art. However he does not believe in blindly following western trends and strongly emphasized that, ‘It is important to be aware of western technology and style but in art, preference should be given to present our own local culture, its art & craft, architecture and documentation of our own day to day life’. This sounds like the voice of someone confident on the strength of one’s own culture.
His choice of title picture of ‘Migrant mother’ by Dorothea Lange is meaningful and summarizes his message. . To highlight our own issues and problems. ‘To give voice to those who have lost their voices, there is a destruction and deterioration all around in which individuals are losing their identity’. It shows for him photography is a serious and sacred mission rather than merely a pleasure and past time.
He realizes that in the absence of a proper art academy of photography, learning is haphazard and dependent upon disconnected online resources. This has resulted in a new crop of ‘young legends’ who have talent and passion but in the absence of a solid training have failed to grasp the essence of this art. There is an urgent need to groom this emerging talent but up till now organizations and group, emerging like ‘bubbles on art scene’ have not been able to provide a proper platform.
The author himself believes in art for the sake of life rather than art for the sake of art itself. In his own words, ‘work done without a mission is like a blurred image on the slate of time’. At another point he claims that ‘out of all genres of photography, documentary/ photo journalism would remain the supreme’. Well! At this point some photographers who want to enjoy art just for the sake of art without trying to search for anything serious in it, may disagree.
Those interested in other genres may feel that the book is not for them especially when reading that ‘after 100 years from now, people would be more interested to look at today’s cultural photography rather than landscapes’. His story of Alberto Korda is about the intellectual maturity of an artist when he/she redefines aesthetics and moves on from beauty of a woman to more pressing social issues. Would fashion photographers agree to it?
There are certain points at which people may differ in opinion
1. The role of photo editing has always been a contentious issue among art circles. Umair Ghani sounds like a purist but it may be due to the fact that like any documentary photographer, he is interested in truth and nothing but the truth. But what about genres like abstract art and surrealistic photography?
2. The book discusses in detail the current intellectual poverty among some groups with lack of clarity and vision about promotion of art. It also mentions some examples where the judgment in art competitions was less than ideal .This may raise criticism by some while others may take it as a confessions of an insider, claiming, ‘Look this is what we have been telling you’. However I feel that whole discussion has been carried out with precision of a surgeon. Apparently using knife to dissect the dead tissues but with a sensitive heart and an empathetic approach.
3. The first article starts with emphasizing the inner vision of a photographer, quoting Ansel Adam that; ‘you don’t take a photograph, you make a photograph’. A word of caution is needed here. This inner vision develops by years of experience, reading and looking at the work of masters of the craft. Someone may misunderstand that inner vision means a total disregard of knowledge, experience or guidance of seniors.
4. ‘Survival of photography lies in opposing painting’. This statement needs a bit of clarification, as the rules of composition and principles of design have been borrowed from painting. Does it means that the author is against the intrusion of art movements like impressionism, modernism and post-modernism in photography?
5. Quoting Alberto Korda, ‘A good picture can be made with a camera worth four dollars’ author mentions the futility of current trend of endless discussion among photographers on camera models and lens. However here again an exception should be made for those with interest in macro, wildlife and sport photography. Their trade depends upon special gadgets which don’t come cheap.
In the end, I must say that the book is a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to know the present and future of art of photography in Pakistan. I hope that like stories of Ishfaq Ahmad, this book would also generate serious intellectual discussions among photographers. If that happens, I would say the book has been successful in creating a stir.
I started the book with the hope to find answers to some of the questions in my mind. In the end I realized that the book has raised many more questions than it has tried to answer. In a sense it is thought provoking and brain storming (or should I say a brain teaser).
Would it bring any change in our perspective? Would it be a harbinger for some ‘Tarakki pasand tehreek’(Progressive movement) in Pakistan’s photography circles? Only time will tell. Whether there are people who like Ansel Adam’s colleagues, have the courage to form a revolutionary group like ‘group f/64’ of 1930s?
Let us wait and see