Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Social Connect with Mobeen Ansari

 By: Hamza Shafique

In late 2000’s I was an aspiring photographer and used to follow Mobeen Ansari’s work religiously on his personal Facebook account. I must say I have learned a lot from his work. Mobeen was working on his book “Dharkan-The heartbeat of a nation” at that time and was also involved in other minor projects like sculpturing and painting. By the time book launched in 2014 I guess, my passion for photography went on back burner and simultaneously I lost touch with Mobeen as well. I recently discovered Mobeen Ansari again on Instagram and thought it would be great to catchup.

Mobeen Ansari

 How does Social Connect works? We try to get in touch with Celebs on their official social media pages and ask them for a 5 questions interview. If we get a positive reply, then we ask for an official email address to make sure we are in touch with the right person. Rest of the interview and correspondence is purely on mail to stay true to the theme of the segment.

For Mobeen I did not require any verification as I knew him through his Social Media accounts already. Here is Social Connect with Pakistan’s most promising photographer Mobeen Ansari.

DDR- Who is Mobeen? How you got into photography, any inspirations?

Mobeen- My personal life and my love for art are two things that have been running in parallel since I was very young. I was (and am) very observational of my surroundings and loved to read and understand people. Being hearing impaired was and is a blessing that allowed me to do that in depth. One day in my mid-teens I borrowed my father’s Kodak camera and decided to start photography as a hobby and there has been no looking back since then.
My father who is an IT engineer is a very talented hobbyist photographer who taught me the craft as well as my uncle Tapu Javeri who is one of the leading photographers in the world today. Both of them have been my inspirations and amazing.
I also find inspiration in works of photographers like Esther Bubley, Gregory Crewdson and Steve McCurry.

DDR- Now everyone with a DSLR believes he/she is a photographer. What is your take on this and as per you what are the essentials of a photographer?

Mobeen- I do not think that is the case today. There was a time when a person would buy a guitar and learn a handful of chords and believed they were a musician. Same thing happened with DSLRs and photographers. I believe that was just a phase and with time seriousness and aesthetics for photography grew (or re-grew). Some of the very same people we are talking about are actually very successful and talented photographers today because they stayed true to their passion and continued practicing.
Essentials of a photographer are a very subjective thing as photography is a very diverse field with many genres and their own criteria. Obviously there are basic things like composition, light, etc.
On this note I would like to say that for me the most important aspect of a photojournalist is respect. Particularly respect for the subject or place you photograph- to make them comfortable, to learn about them and to do them justice in photos. Once you have that nailed down it is easy to get the aesthetics and story nailed down.

DDR-I remember once you said that while interviewing for NCA admission, teachers who were interviewing you got into a debate whether photography is a form of art or not. How different it is now? How hard is it to survive as a photographer in Pakistan? Do photographers get the same respect as other artists?

Mobeen- I can’t believe it has been 11 years since that debate! I think it is very different now as at that time photography had just begun making inroads into the world of art (particularly due to art photography).
In recent years there have been examples of painting major students giving their thesis using other mediums like video installations or printmaking (myself being one of them). There are many such examples of students of other majors. It makes it easier for them to tell their story or get their message across. Now due to better equipment, photo manipulation and different ways of printing, photography is as flexible as other mediums to be an art genre, if it was not already!
Photography is mainstream in Pakistan now so survival as a photographer here is the same as being anywhere else. It comes down to how good you are at your art and how much exposure you have- and how effectively you use social media. 

DDR- I am already a huge fan of the concept of Dharkan and recently found about your directorial debut “Hellholes” movie, which was quite interesting as well. What is the thought process behind selecting the next project? What is the philosophy of the work that you do?

Mobeen-Thanks for the appreciation Hamza!
My philosophy is to explore, tell stories and then use that to bridge divides and misconceptions. Having said that, there’s a different facet of me in each medium. As a photographer I’m an explorer, optimist and a dreamer. As a painter I’m a cynic. As a filmmaker I’m a realist.
It usually takes years to put together a concept and get it out. Dharkan took me 3 years to finish. My next book White in the Flag, which is based on religious minorities of Pakistan, took 7 years to complete and still has a few months left since it is such a complex subject. In fact I started work on this book even before I’d begun Dharkan.
The reason for taking so much time is not just because of the amount of travel and work involved but because the concept can sometimes change forms here and there over time and at times there is re-shooting involved.
I think this process can be best described with Hellhole. Making Hellhole was a last minute decision and was a very challenging movie which took 6 months to make, shadowing and documenting the life of one conservancy worker. When I initially started, the idea was just to follow and shoot and it became a story which grew and took dramatic turns. My co-producer and film’s soundtrack composer Edel Griffith and I spent months going back and forth with music, and flow of the movie and brought it to a conclusion in a way that would make the audience think.

DDR- I am already excited about Dharkan 2 and White in the Flag. When are, these books expected to release? Any other projects in the pipeline?

Mobeen- Photography for White in the Flag is complete (finally!). I’m currently working on its text and sequence and hope to release it at some point this year.
Dharkan 2 has no release date yet as I yet need to photograph a lot of people!
There is a Pakistan-India collaboration project I am working on with Arpana Gvalani, who is a music curator and café owner in Mumbai. It is called ‘Breaking Boundaries’ which also is a photography book and narrative piece which features portraits of Indian actors, actresses, directors and writers who have ties to Pakistan- be it familial or work. Arpana’s parents migrated from Pakistan (Karachi and Sukkur) and mine migrated from India (Saharanpur and Bhopal) so the project is focused on seeing Indian artistes as seen through a Pakistani photographer’s eyes. So far we have photographed Naseeruddin Shah, Kalki Koechlin, Johnny Lever, Tisca Chopra, Kabir Khan and many others. There is no release date set for this either.
For most of this year I will be busy handling my commercial work and putting together the above three. There are two exhibitions lined up abroad as well

It was really nice knowing more about you and your work. I really appreciate you for taking out time for DDR and I would like to wish you best of luck for your future project.

Photographs used in this post are taken from Facebook page of Mobeen Ansari
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