From horse riding to photography

March 04, 2018

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An avid horse rider, a skilled tent pegger and a photographer of his own style Muhammad Saeed Rao lived a rich life full of travelling and adventurous outdoor sports.

A below average student, born into a working class family in Lahore, he moved to United States of America in 1994 where he worked as a labourer, cab driver and a small scale businessman.

“Working as cab driver in New York was quiet thrilling but dangerous job those days. It helped me develop a habit of being in an alert state of mind all the time,” he recalls.

While working in a leather factory seven years back, he met a horse rider which changed Rao’s life.

“Hamid Sahib was a consultant who would frequently visit my office. I was surprised to know that a 74 years old man is a professional horse rider. Inspired by his fitness, I joined the saddle club of Punjab Rangers. After few rides, they trained me as a professional tent pegger,” he recalls.

Rao would spend long hours with horses, admiring their beauty and understanding their language. Comparing their beauty and attitude to a proud, confident and graceful lady, he says photographing horses became a life time romance for him.

He didn’t perform much as a professional player but covered each and every major event in Pakistan.

Interaction with the traditional horsekeeping families, riders and the artisans who are creating the decorative ornaments and other accessories of the game inspired Saeed Rao to write a book about tent pegging and horse riding in Pakistan.

“It’s a pictorial book with a lot of written information about tent pegging. We have more than five thousand riders in Punjab and the events like Meela Paki Shah Mardan in Mianwali and Meela at Tulamba, Mian Channu, district Khanewal are the biggest in the world,” he claims.

He travelled in the remote areas of Balochistan, FATA , Sindh , Northern Areas and rural Punjab for photography and created stunningly beautiful landscapes.

“I love the beauty of nature but humans, especially children, are the most interesting subject to interact with and focus. A gypsy girl with a jewellery image drawn on her face in the suburbs of Lahore and the underprivileged schoolchildern in Balochistan are the scenes which made a lasting impression on my mind, and now I believe that humans are the most rich subjects to expose in photography,” Rao narrates.

With numerous group shows to his credit, he is currently working on two solo exhibitions scheduled in Prague and New York in next couple of months.

While exposing a wide range of subjects he dares to play with un conventional compositions. Either it’s a horse posing like an elegant model, a fast-moving rider, reflections in still ponds, racing dogs or kids playing in streets, Rao looks at every subject with an intimate eye and patiently wait like a cold-blooded sniper for the time to capture a perfect moment which narrates the complete character of the subject.

A romantic at heart, Saeed Rao’s landscapes have a painterly quality and carries a wide range of moods from impressionists, realists and sometimes sublime up to the extent of abstraction.

Most of his works are pure visual delights loaded with pleasant surprises for keen viewers with an eye to decipher and enjoy multilayered visuals.

In a very short time, he has produced an impressive body of work on Pakistani culture and people, His expressive photographs are created out of a deep love and respect he has for his motherland. Every click is a passionate record of tradition, history and mundane life of people of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2018