While on Facebook one day, I came across a photograph of a man with a henna-dyed beard smiling on my newsfeed. I couldn’t help but enlarge the picture which led me to other pictures in that collection, all featuring different aspects of Karachi. Whenever you see an aesthetically pleasing photograph, it will always draw your attention but what makes it a complete package is when an interesting description comes along with it.
Images from the streets of Karachi, edited and processed in an artistically fun way turned into a series of chic postcards of the city – something which you would actually like to buy and send it to friends and family abroad.
Two projects – both by the same photographer, both receiving enormous attention on social media.
Khaula Jamil, the youngest of three sisters was raised in a family of artists. Growing up with the love of design and interests in creativity-related things led her to studying design at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture. After working as an art director for ad films she put together a coffee table book called “Raw Life”, which was published in 2009. After the launch of “Raw Life”, she left for her masters and returned to Pakistan in 2012. She got a job at The Citizens Archive of Pakistan heading the photo, video and animation department.
“The idea behind Take Me to Karachi was very simple; to have fun arty postcards that were not like the regular ones you get in the market. I wanted to have fun with the pictures of Karachi and played around with them on my iPhone to get textures and layers – to make them complex and at times kitsch – styles that illustrate the complexity of all that is Karachi. I would have to say the idea to turn them into postcards came much later – initially, I was just doing this for myself, said Jamil.
From Bohri Bazaar to the Native Jetty Mandir to upscale-areas of Karachi, she is everywhere with her camera “shooting” people but in a positive way. Humans of Karachi has become increasingly popular with people awaiting new additions to the collection each day.
Jamil shares how the project was initiated; Humans of Karachi is basically the local version of a photo project started by Brandon Stanton who started “Humans of New York” over 2 years ago. It is only recently that his project went viral on Facebook and upon his encouragement, several artists starts a “Humans of” series in their native city. As soon as I discovered that this was happening, I remember I could barely sleep at night knowing Karachi was still up for grabs.
I immediately wrote to my boss, Sharmeen, and said this kind of a photo project that involves a photographic census of the city would be perfect for Citizens Archive to do for their culture department. Within half an hour she had given me the go ahead and I was out shooting!
Where with Take Me to Karachi, Jamil did not have to interact with the people; Humans of Karachi was all about contact with the subject, discovering personalities and bringing them to light.
“Take Me to Karachi, for me is a very voyeuristic project where my gaze remains unnoticed by the general public. That experience is a private one and holds its own charm – mainly because I find there is distinct beauty in photographing people who do not know they are being watched.
“In the Humans of Karachi project, I engage with each and every person in the photograph personally and seek his or her permission before clicking. This experience has already shattered several pre-conceived notions and fears I held before I started shooting for this project. Every single person I have met on the street has been nothing but kind and helpful and very interested in the project that they understand promotes and celebrates diversity. It is not only refreshing but also heartening to see just how happy go lucky some of these people are despite the everyday hardships of life.”
There are many perceived obstacles when we think about street photography and more so when one live in this time and place. Will people permit me to take their photos? Do I walk fast? Will I return with a camera?
“At times, if I am weary of approaching a particular person, thanks to Kamran Quraishi – better known as KB who also works at CAP and accompanies me on every shoot, I have help with that. Having him by my side gives me a sense of peace that he has my back. He drives me around the city – we park and walk miles together meeting people.”
Talking further about dealing with tricky situations Jamil said that there are two things she struggles with in this project. First, convincing women in Karachi to let her photograph them and the second is trying to maintain a balanced representation of all kinds of people in Karachi.
Knowing the large economic divide, being out and photographing on the streets usually results in a social imbalance as far as people who end up being represented on the page goes. She hopes with the expediential growth of the popularity of the project, she’ll be able to overcome these obstacles.