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The Picture Show

Pakistani Photographers Take A Personal Picture Of Pakistan

Originally published on Thu June 20, 2013 9:35 am

Last year, National Geographic offered a photo camp for emerging Pakistani photographers to explore the tribal areas of their country.

Seventeen photographers spent six days around Islamabad learning to tell stories with photos.

And just this week, a selection of those photos were on display at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., in an exhibit called Pakistan Through Our Eyes.

A few of the photographers joined NPR's Jacki Lyden to discuss their experiences.

"Civil engineering is my profession," says Irfan Ali, a member of the Turi tribe from Kurram Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). "And photography is my passion."

Huma Gul is from Mohmand Agency in the FATA. She started photographing as a child with the support of her mother. Another photographer, Seema Gul, says it's "unusual for families to support their daughters in photography," but in her case, it's in the family: Her father was also a photographer.

Saba Rehman has a masters in journalism from the University of Peshawar. "My goal," she writes in the exhibition language, "is to become the best and first female photojournalist from Pakistan."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In Pakistan today, an explosion destroyed a national monument. And in Quetta, more than a dozen people died after a bomb exploded on a bus carrying female students to a women's university. Then at a nearby hospital, militants set off another bomb and took 35 people captive. At least four more were killed during the rescue.

We've grown accustom to violent stories from Pakistan, but a different picture of life emerges when locals are given the chance to tell their own stories. Pakistan's semi-autonomist tribal areas are squeezed into territory bordering Afghanistan.

Last fall, a project between National Geographic, Internews and USAID trained young documentary photographers who live in the tribal areas called FATA, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where each of seven districts is known as an agency.

IRFAN ALI: My name is Irfan Ali. I am from Kurram Agency, Turi tribe.

LYDEN: Irfan Ali is one of the 17 photographers, including six women, who came to Washington recently to display their work at the Institute of Peace. Their show is called Pakistan Through Our Eyes. Two of the photographers are Huma and Seema Gul, sisters.

HUMA GUL: My name is Huma Gul. I am from Mohmand Agency.

SEEMA GUL: My name is Seema Gul, and I belong to Mohmand Agency of Pakistan. These are the tribal areas of Pakistan. We call it FATA. They are comparatively backward areas and not developed as much as the other part of the countries.

LYDEN: Huma and Seema Gul, who both attend the University of Peshawar, say the people they photograph in the tribal areas aren't used to cameras and can be suspicious. It can take weeks to gain the trust necessary to make a simple photograph. Huma tells a story of one of the pictures she took. An older woman is sitting on a carpet outdoors holding a large radio.

GUL: She was sitting with her grandkids when the men were out for work. And when she was done with cooking and stuff, she had this huge radio and she used to listen to it. Since there are electricity crises in that area, it's not easy for them to watch TV and have access to Internet. It's like they don't even know about that. So the radio and the local channels are the only way of communication, and it's like a link to the world. So she was just relaxing with her grandkids, and they were enjoying the local music on the radio. So that's how I made that photograph.

LYDEN: It's a really happy but engaging picture.

GUL: Yeah. That's my personal favorite.

LYDEN: And it certainly speaks, I think, to the power of radio. And, Seema, you made a picture of a bride.

GUL: Yeah. I know her personally. I went there. And, like, in photography, you have to know your subject. So I spent time with her, and it was her wedding day. So I took a lot of pictures, and one of them was selected.

LYDEN: There are very few female photographers in Pakistan, but these young women are passionate about it. Another member of the group, Saba Rehman, explains that women can take pictures that men cannot.

SABA REHMAN: No man can approach women in that areas. So being lady, we can approach them. So we can highlight their problems. There are so many girls and women who want to say something to the world, but they don't have any approach to the world.

LYDEN: Bringing images of their world to an American audience was only half their mission in Washington. This week, all 17 Pakistani photographers fanned out to document everything from the halls of Congress to, well, Irfan Ali went to a famous D.C. haunt.

ALI: I was shooting from the last four, five days in U Street. So here, I found a best moment, especially in the Ben's Chili Bowl.

LYDEN: Ben's Chili Bowl.

ALI: Ben's Chili Bowl.

LYDEN: President Obama has visited Ben's Chili Bowl.

ALI: Yes. When we are going to Ben's Chili Bowl, the National Geographic photographer tell us that this is the famous place because Barack Obama eat burger over here.

LYDEN: I just have to ask. You're wearing a gorgeous white shalwar kameez today in the studio. Is that you how photographed on U Street?

ALI: No. In Ben's Chili Bowl, I wear a pair of jeans over there.

LYDEN: Seema Gul photographed a more serious venue - the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

GUL: That was a quite emotional place. And I really had to work hard there because there were people who were a part of the war, and they didn't like to be photographed. But, again, it was just blending in. I just wanted to be, you know, to just look like them so just they don't hesitate in telling me the stories and since it's important for photography to know your subject.

So in the short time, I tried my level best. I went there at sunrise, at sunset to capture the emotions, and I did that. I'm happy that I captured those moments, and I can show it back in Pakistan as well.

LYDEN: You can see these photographs on our website at npr.org. In one of them, a horse charges along a stream. It's the holy day, Friday, so the horse, a beast of burden, is being given the day off, its legs painted gold with henna, flying along in the sun.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.