Fragments of the city, with roughened edges and varying hues were inaugurated at the film and photo exhibition titled ‘Yeh Hai Karachi’, held at the Commune Artist Colony on Saturday that brought together six districts and the multiplicity of narratives all under one roof.

‘The School of Writing’ is the force behind the project, and the exhibit’s creative output is the amalgamation of the work of 372 students from across the city, “created over two intensive cycles of photography and film workshops … towards the themes of peace, tolerance and global citizenship.”

With the exhibition design and curatorial team of PeaceNiche the curatorial force behind the project that included Marvi Mazhar, Alifiyah Imani, Sana Nasir, Hamza Iftikar, Hassan Ali Zarar and Chand Singhara, amateur photographers were given space to showcase their perspective on Karachi.

According to Mazhar, the project is the first curatorial work by PeaceNiche for third parties; she explained how the reason behind the project compelled them to undertake the project as it was “a dialogue with the city and the mandate of PeaceNiche is all about that”.

“Giving emerging photographers is a very T2F thing and so as a team of five members, we decided to exhibit their work in different forms,” she said.

Photographs were either displayed in lightboxes, hanging panels or in nine panels. The exhibition spilled over from within the confines of the traditional gallery onto five public buildings. The parallel spaces forming part of the exhibition are Railway Cantt Station, Civil Hospital, NJV School Courtyard, Lady Dufferin Hospital and City Railway Station, Pakistan Chowk.

The photographs on display mostly incorporated the hard elements of the city with photos of the landscape, buildings and shrines, people and animals cropping up often. However, some photographs also captured the city’s soft elements such as a sense of community, family and business, camaraderie and bonds traversing familial and non-familial bonds.

From the hardened dockyard, to religious and ethnic manifestations found in every nook and cranny of the city, the unguarded moments of the city and its people were potently felt.

A panel discussion was also held, moderated by Danial Shah where famous photographers who have captured Karachi through their lens were present to discuss their inspiration and their visual trajectory. With Arif Mahmood, Farah Mahbub and Madiha Aijaz part of the panel, the discussion steered towards the early beginnings of each and the driving force behind their choice to be a photographer.

Mahmood, a photojournalist who is the chief operating officer of White Star, recalled how his beginnings were more of a hobby and looking at the city through his lens eventually got him “hooked to shooting the city”.

He also talked about how regardless of what technology or lens you use, the essence of the photo is what matters.

Mahbub, a Pakistani fine arts photographer, talked about how over the years technology had changed and how initially it was easier to shoot, develop and print photos on your own and one of the major changes she felt was how film paper was not readily available. “You have to change with the times, but the things working analogue has taught me has helped me a lot.”

Aijaz is a photographer and filmmaker and has worked extensively on Hindu temples in Pakistan and believes her personal style is more investigative. “It’s a deeper investigation and requires more effort than usual. We can easily get distracted if the city or the people are not receptive towards us. Thus my subject requires a long-term commitment to photograph it.”

With the aim to create discourse and an open dialogue, the primary thrust of the exhibit is to provide young, amateur photographers with a platform to display, but also further hone their skills. Whether it was an overt attempt to translate these varied voices or just inevitable, all of the displays were individualised, not converging and lacking unity; the only unifying theme was Karachi itself.

The second day of the ‘Yeh Hai Karachi’ will be held on Sunday with film screenings, public readings, a photography workshop for children as well as a photo walk around Karachi.


Originally published in Dawn October 23rd, 2016

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