Mount Everest to the moon: Picture perfect in Quetta

Published June 29, 2014
Taqi’s sample work  mounted on a studio wall
Taqi’s sample work mounted on a studio wall

If you always dreamt of having your picture taken with your favourite celebrity or with a peculiar backdrop which could be anything from Mount Everest to the moon, your dream could come true in less than an hour at a photo-studio in Quetta.

Recently a friend visited Quetta city, and talked about this fascinating photo-studio in one of the most crowded bazaars of Quetta. “The photo-studio allows you to recreate your dreams and aspirations in the form of photographs in just 30 minutes,” he said.

As a photographer and a dreamer, it sounded rather intriguing to me and I planned a short visit to the market. Meezan Chowk is in the centre of Quetta city, surrounded by shops selling vegetables, meat, tea, spices and everyday utilities. In the corner stands a long and tall building known as Baldia Plaza where the photo-studio is located on the first floor.

The Quetta we know through the mainstream media is mostly negative. Despite all that, what we tend to ignore is that everyday life does exist on normal basis and people struggle in the same way as people do in any other city to earn their living or live their lives. Life goes on.


A man in Quetta can make your dreams come true in just 30 minutes


Taqi Hazara owns a small yet colourful photo-studio. His regular customers come for passport-size photographs, as well as for a photo of what they aspire to be.

The walls inside the studio are full of frames of colour photo-samples, a huge collection to choose from. There is a small blue curtain, which the photographer uses as a background. In a corner is a computer and a long bench. Taqi is an expert in photoshop and uses it for photo manipulation for his customers. His computer is full of soft copies of designs that are displayed on the wall. The customer sits with him and guides him on their desired style that they want to be in their photographs.

Taqi works on his system with a client
Taqi works on his system with a client

The photo samples placed on the wall are unique. A customer has a wide range to choose from. Starting from a snowcapped mountain, alongside a waterfall, a beach, riding a heavy bike, in front of a famous local landscape, a warrior, a soldier, a sportsman, a politician and you just name it. The concept of a warrior is also fascinating; holding an AK-47 in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other, an armoured vehicle behind and a helicopter in the sky.

Among all the photo samples, the most important ones are with famous personalities in the region like Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, Asfandyar Wali Khan, Imran Khan, Shahid Afridi and Benazir Bhutto.

The process is simple. A customer chooses a sample they want to be in. Taqi takes their photograph against the vivid blue curtain; edits the photograph in photoshop and replaces the head with the chosen sample. More work for 10 to 15 minutes and it is ready for print at a nearby shop.

The people fond of these photographs are from the surrounding areas of Quetta city as well as people from different parts of Pakistan who work in Quetta. “People from the remote towns are more interested in getting themselves photographed with machines, cars, jeeps and helicopters,” says Taqi. “My job is to give them the photograph of their dreams,” he added.

Tariq Mughal, a customer arrived with his friends for a photo session. “I want to have a completely fresh, new look with more hair on my head, a well-built body and a clean-shaven face,” says Tariq who works as a waiter in a nearby restaurant. He also gets a photo of himself sitting in local attire in a garden, a favourite pastime of the local men of Balochistan.

The whole market has similar photo- studios that compete against each other. There are total of 18 photo-studios in Baldia Plaza and ethnic Hazara community owns most of them, including Taqi, while rest of the few are owned by local Pakhtuns. There were more than 35 shops in the market earlier, but now most of the owners have left for Australia to seek asylum after the Hazara genocide.

The final result
The final result

In the late 90s, Taqi used to work with a film camera along with his father. “It was difficult back then. They had to cut photographs and paste, and re-take photographs of photos. It was expensive and time consuming. Digital has changed all dynamics for us,” says Taqi.

The 3.3 megapixel camera used by Taqi to take pictures
The 3.3 megapixel camera used by Taqi to take pictures

The investment in equipment is not much. A simple digital camera is worth Rs4,000 and can be bought from the Russian market in Quetta, famous for smuggled electronic goods from Japan via Afghanistan. The rates are affordable. Taqi charges Rs60 to Rs150 per print, depending on the size and amount of photoshop work needed. On an average, he earns around Rs2,000 in winter and up to Rs5,000 in summer in a day.

Load shedding is just one of the problems they face. Everything for them is dependent on electricity and a nominal UPS does not support the work they need to do. Other than that, target killing has been a major issue for the photographers of photo-studios in Baldia plaza since most of the owners are ethnic Hazara who have been targeted in a number of terrorist attacks in the city, including the bomb blast at Meezan Chowk in late 2010. Despite that, they work diligently everyday to make a living, and to give people a photograph of their dreams in just 30 minutes.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 29th, 2014

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