Friday, November 23, 2012

PUBLISHED: Interview in Newsline Nov. 2012

PUBLISHED by one of the leading political / social monthly magazine in the country. This is a special issue dedicated to "Politics of Religion". Read it here:

Ameer Hamza has traveled all over Pakistan, capturing different sides of the country with his camera. Newsline spoke to the talented photographer to find out how he got started and we have culled some images from his portfolio that reflect the rich and varied expressions of faith in Pakistan.

How did you become interested in photography?

I was born in Karachi, but my family used to travel a lot. As a child my father would take us to various exotic locations across Pakistan, places where there were no roads and no people around.

Initially, it was difficult for me to get a hold of my father’s camera. He was very anxious about it being manhandled and I think I always did. I was never really interested in family portraits. Instead, I wanted to photograph street children or landscapes. Those were the days of Kodak 100 and 200, those yellow-coated films, and my father had to keep buying me new Kodak rolls. In 2004, he got me my first camera. That was Olympus C-120, a 2-MP camera, and I got hooked instantly. There was no concern whatsoever about the cost of film and I was free to shoot 1,000 photographs in a day. By then I had learned that a typical National Geographic photographer shoots around 40,000 photographs for a single six-month assignment.

There’s some sort of urgency within me which compels me to move around, to observe, to shoot. Photography is not my main profession, although many people think it is. I want to show Pakistan as it is. I want to show its culture and its people and what kind of religious inclinations they have. I feel sick whenever I hear of someone blowing up a Sufi shrine or attacking a church or a Hindu temple. The older the place of worship, the more disgusted I get. I love historical buildings and their connections with our present.

You are a photographer for Getty Images. How did that come about?

I have been on Flickr since 2006, but before that I worked on an assignment for CNN’s travel magazine team in which I was assigned to photograph the magnificent structures at the Chaukandi tombs near Karachi. That was my first major interaction with an international organisation.

In 2011, I got a message in my mail that Getty wanted to buy some of my work and I agreed to their terms. Then, in mid-2011, I once again got a message from them. They were looking for someone who knew Pakistan inside out, in terms of travel destinations, food, etc., and they wanted to hire a freelancer. Many other Pakistani photographers also applied, but in the end I was selected.

Also, earlier three of my photographs were published by National Geographic on their website and I have won three Guardian photography awards.

How often do you travel around Pakistan?

The short answer is whenever I have the budget to do so. It’s been a long time since I travelled around Pakistan with my family. Since getting my first camera from my abbu in 2004, I have been travelling with friends. Last year I went trekking on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border (Wakhan region). In 2010, I was assigned to shoot the western parts of Balochistan by a private company. Before I went on that assignment, I told my employer that insurgents were capturing and beheading people in the province. So they provided me with a Dell laptop, a Toyota Vigo double cabin car, a Land Cruiser and eight guards. They also gave me a huge budget and I had 21 days to shoot. Frankly, I never felt any insurgent would behead me and I really enjoyed that assignment.

Before that, in 2008, just before getting engaged, I took my friends and drove right to the border of India in the Thar desert, beyond the Nagar temple. No cameras were allowed there so I have no photographic record of that place. I have visited all of Pakistan’s borders: India (2008), Afghanistan (2002 & 2010), Iran (2010) and China (2003).

Ameer Hamza's Photo gallery