Photography as a genre is evolving rapidly in Pakistan. Over the past decade, Pakistan has seen an influx of international magazines expanding their portfolio locally and this has led to the mushrooming of alternative media portals as well as the proliferation of Insta-blogs in the digital domain. Photography as a medium is central to the industry of fashion and has devolved from this as a central entity to the sub-genres of conceptual, realist and fine-art photography.
The work of two rising local photographers, Tajwar Munir and Nade Aly, is a testament to the variety and alterity of this medium. Tajwar’s oeuvre is defined by its sophistication and a certain kind of formal beauty. His work, whether it be for fashion editorials or concept-based shoots, presents a vision that is coolly objective and equally at home when encountering both lighter facets of human nature and darker tropes such as addiction. His work presents a delight in the play of texture, in the gift of shadow-work and the creation of a kind of beguiling depth, above all. Nade’s work can be summed up perfectly through that oft-used phrase ‘hard-hitting’. His love of the monochrome is evident across his choice of subject, whether photographing the Shia festival of Ashura, the grimy alleyways of the old city of Lahore or the desolate rubble of torn-down buildings. His work in fashion offers a brighter palette but is still pleasingly whittled, presenting a realism that feels fresh and, perhaps, brave. Read on for their take on the local scene, personal inspirations and more.
Afshan Shafi: What attracted you to the medium of photography?
Nade Aly: I remember seeing an interview on TV of a photographer when I was preparing for my admission test for Art College (which I incidentally failed!). His nostalgic and colorful pictures of Lahore dipped in winter fog, and the Festival of Lights “Mela Chiraghan” and Ravi River fascinated me. They made me interested in a camera and how it can be an interesting tool to express oneself through photographs and realize the beauty of a visual language. I bought my camera soon after that.
Tajwar Munir: Photography has been an amazing outlet for me to express myself. A few years back I started to take photographs simply to capture fleeting moments in time. However, what I realize now is that I have been capturing my own growth and change of perceptions over the years. I believe that is the beauty of photography, it is a medium that allows one to reflect upon oneself. There’s always room for more growth as a photographer.
Afshan Shafi: What do you think are the advantages of photography as an artistic medium?
Nade Aly: For me, photography has become a way of weaving something out of time and reality. It took me out of my bubble and made me more involved with my surroundings, and put me in touch with the kind of people and places I had been searching for.
Tajwar Munir: One of the main advantages of photography is that it lets you connect with people and life in general. For me, it’s an imperative way of communication. It is easy to capture any given moment, but creating a unique composition to bring different concepts to life is what makes this profession intriguing. You might notice how through different concepts and the right skill sets you can create your own vision of life and portray a particular time and place by investing it with your own perspective.
Afshan Shafi: What is your most favorite series to date?
Nade Aly: I wouldn’t be able to isolate a series of my own work but my all-time favorite body of work is titled “Life is good and good for you in New York” by William Klein. I can relate to this series because it reflects my struggle and my life working in Lahore. I love Klein’s non-traditional approach of imaging and the way he has captured the electric, gritty, and abstract culture of New York. It is a visual diary of his complicated love and hate relationship with the city
Tajwar Munir: I highly enjoyed the most recent series I did with Hira Mahmood Raja where we explored the element of water. A taboo-busting series on addiction and melancholia which I did for the literary journal, the Aleph review, is also a firm favorite.
Afshan Shafi: Who among international and particularly local photographers do you particularly admire and why?
Nade Aly: Robert Frank because of the unity of his personal vision, which is bleak and poetic. My favorite is titled “Come Again” which is a photobook published in 2006. A local artist who is an inspiration is Arif Mehmood, for the exceptional play of light and dark in his work. His pictures offer a highly personal gaze full of yearning. I am completely in love with his black and white photographs.
Tajwar Munir: I admire how Alessio Albi and Fernando Gomez capture raw moments and make you time-travel through the simplicity and edginess of their photographs. A local artist I particularly admire is Mehlum Sadriwala who always delivers a very culturally valid narrative. She makes you instantly connect to the place, time and theme of her photographs.
Afshan Shafi: How would you describe the state of contemporary photography in Pakistan?
Nade Aly: In Pakistan, we lack specific venues like Photo-festivals and workshops, and there are hardly any photobook publishers and institutes dedicated to this field. Compared to the photography scene in neighboring Asian countries, namely Nepal, Bangladesh, and India, we are behind. The fashion and commercial business in photography is booming though, and it is fast becoming saturated. It is promising in terms of profit and a wide variety of photographers are practicing it. But I hope there will be more opportunities opening up for more conceptual practitioners in the near future.
Tajwar Munir: There is no one way to describe contemporary photography; it is ever evolving through changes in the perception of society. In Pakistan, we are witnessing a lot of social changes and these are through the initiatives of the younger generation. I believe contemporary photography is like an eyewitness of time and space which always has a different narrative available at each turn.
What themes and subjects are you particularly keen to explore through your medium next?
Nade Aly: I aspire to be a photobook maker. I like to see my photo projects in book-bound shape. I really love the experience of seeing and feeling the impact of photographs in print. I am currently interested in continuing my work titled “The Other Horses” which explores Shite rituals, its core elements, its people, and the history of its resistance in Pakistan. Another theme which I am exploring is highly personal, like a visual diary. This work is ongoing and it deals with the idea of home, drugs, and bohemian adventures. I also print and run an underground zine on Instagram named @dounumber. My partner and I are determined to print issues of this zine in the near future.
Tajwar Munir: I’d like to explore conceptual photography and abstract photography a bit more since these sub-genres open up a world of thematic approaches and ideas.
Instagram : @tajwarnunir; @nadealy