Veteran photographer Zafar Ahmad has an eye for beauty and a perfectionist attitude. Born and raised in Lahore, he remembers riding a bicycle on peaceful ‘Thandi Sarak’ (The Mall) where he, along with his Cathedral School fellows, would go for swimming in the Aitchison College during the early 1950s.
A dusty room of the Punjab Public Library served as an institution for the self-taught photographer.
“I would spend long hours in the room upstairs making notes of the basic techniques of exposing and developing the negatives. It was my only source of learning. The professionals with little knowledge used to hide everything from the newcomers because of their own insecurities.”
Zafar says that back then, Alhamra was the hub of artists and literary personalities. Interaction with Mian Majeed and Nisar Mirza helped him a great deal in grooming himself and he would go with them to Ravi to take photographs, to later develop them and discuss results.
“I joined the Lahore Arts Council as a member, designed the curriculum and introduced photography classes for young aspirants. I believe that knowledge increases sharing it with others, hence no hiding anything at all.”
One year after starting classes in 1973, Zafar went on a road trip to Europe on his Volkswagen and exposed a series of images during this journey.
“I had a lot of jobs as a freelancer, so couldn’t continue classes at Alhamra for long.”
Working as a professional photographer since 1964, he has only three shows to his credit.
“Initially, it was quite a fascination to display with the legends like Mian Majeed and Nisar Mirza but with the passage of time I lost interest in exhibitions.
“A newspaper had reported the speech of a minister who was the chief guest at my solo show rather than writing anything about my works. At the end of his entire speech, the report just mentioned that the minister was speaking at the inauguration of a photography exhibition. Annoyed at this indifferent attitude towards the art, I decided not to display my works again.”
As a freelance professional, Zafar practised various genres of photography. Portraits and nature photography have been his all-time favourites. A frequenter to northern areas, Balochistan and remote parts of Sindh and Punjab, he loves travelling by driving his custom-made camper with a bed and kitchen facility.
“I am narrowing myself gradually to expose only the nature because nature never disappoints me. It is generous and always gives one pleasant surprises,” he says.
In the early 2000s, Zafar’s photography style was acknowledged when he got a fellowship as associate member of Royal Photographic Society (RPS). He is among the very few Pakistani photographers besides S Rollo, Javed Qazi and Nisar Mirza, who could impress the jury comprising senior British photographers for this title.
Working for more than five decades, he experienced various formats of photography and has a huge collection of equipments which he bought over the years with the money earned through photography and a printing business, which he started in 1982.
“The digital technology has facilitated a lot but the computerised images have ‘polluted’ this art. Now the viewers disregard the original works as ‘photoshop’ images. A digital camera can do everything for you, from focus to light and colours, but it cannot compose a good photograph. One can only learn composition with practice and passion,” he believes.
Zafar is a pictorial photographer who creates stunningly beautiful images out of very ordinary subjects with a sound understanding of lights, colours and composition.
Humble and soft-spoken, Zafar Ahmad is living a low-profile life. A connoisseur of classical and semi-classic music, he loves playing harmonica and shares his recordings with a close circle of his friends.
Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2017