LAHORE: Award winning photojournalist Azhar Hussain Jafri passed away here on Thursday due to a cardiac arrest. He was 63.
He had been hospitalised for over two months because of the complications he developed as a result of his open-heart surgery. On Thursday his condition deteriorated at home and he breathed his last on way to a nearby hospital.
The recipient of the President’s Pride of Performance Award which was conferred on him two years ago, the celebrated lensman had shot to prominence for his daring pictures of the democratic struggle against the harshest Martial Law of Gen Ziaul Haq imposed in 1977 under challenging conditions.
It was he who took the picture of the late Begum Nusrat Bhutto when a policeman hit her head with a baton during a protest she led at the Qadhafi Stadium soon after the removal of her husband’s government. The picture capturing her blood-smeared face was published on the front page by many world newspapers.
The Zia regime had imprisoned, flogged and rendered journalists jobless who were ideologically against the military rule imposed after overthrowing the PPP government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Mr Jafri stood undeterred, giving voice to the struggle with his lens.
He worked for Dawn as staff photographer till his retirement. Presently he was working for White Star which wires pictures to Dawn.
He has left behind his wife, a son and two daughters.
His funeral prayers will be held at 2:30pm on Friday (today) in front of the Jamia Masjid at the Lahore Press Club Housing Society (Sahafi Colony) where he was living these days.
The brother of the PPP founding member Mazhar Hussain, Mr Jafri had begun photojournalism when the party’s newspaper Musawat was launched in Lahore on July 7, 1970. He remained associated with the newspaper till its closure by the Zia regime in 1978.
Mr Jafri then switched over to an English language daily, the Muslim, finally joining Dawn in 1983. This was the year of the MRD (Movement for Restoration of Democracy) which had started after a small public meeting of the political parties held at Regal Chowk despite restrictions by the Zia regime.
His work made him a source of pictures from Lahore, the then political hub of Pakistan, for various foreign news agencies. He would never fail them and Dawn.
Tall and handsome with long hair, Mr Jafri was himself a hero those days for his work and political ideology. He would go to the spot over his 175cc motorbike and then his off-white Beetle whose presence would confirm he was there to convey to the world the political and human rights struggle in Pakistan.
He was witnessed taking pictures from the roof of his car which he would climb for a clearer view, capturing scenes that the regime would not like to be exposed, but still they defined history. His world-acclaimed pictures include the ones showing poet Habib Jalib being thrashed by police and a women rally under the banner of Women Action Forum baton-charged on The Mall on Feb 12, 1983.
His own choice of his work spanning 42 years included the pictures of a clash between activists of two religious groups whose leaders had gathered in the Badshahi Mosque. He captured the activists using sticks, batons and pistols during the free-for-all with the mausoleum of Allama Iqbal in the background. A man not knowing Mr Jafri’s steel nerves held him at gunpoint and demanded the roll. This was denied with a firm ‘no’.
In the late 80s he was covering the Ashura Muharram procession near Karbala Gamey Shah when a sectarian clash broke out. A bullet hit a man standing beside Mr Jafri who stood undeterred, recording the event for the world.
Mr Jafri was a professional to the core. He would stealthily move like a sharp shooter, keeping his alert eye on the target and then shooting when the time came for it. His angles of the events being also covered by other photojournalists would make him stand out. He was an inspiration for them, and taught many the niceties of his art.
He had special interest in nature. And his have been the best pictures of fog, rain, clouds, birds and animals. He held a number of exhibitions in Pakistan and abroad.
A pleasant, progressive and unassuming person, Mr Jafri kept the Press Club alive for many decades with his active participation in its affairs. He was respected, admired for his humility and friendliness.
Meanwhile, Mr Jafri’s colleagues in Dawn, PFUJ, PUJ and Lahore Press Club have condoled his death, praying that may his soul rest in eternal peace.
Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2016