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LETTER FROM PAKISTAN


Bani Abidi. The Ghost of Mohammad Bin Qasim. Photographs. 30" x 40" each. 2006.


From Malcolm Hutcheson's
Ruh-Khitch. Photograph
1. 10" x 6". 2004

TO SOME PEOPLE, THE ONLY POSITIVE ASPECT ABOUT A DIGITAL photograph is that it does not have a negative. In a strange way, photography in the 21st century refers to its earlier form - the Daguerreotype (in vogue in the 19th century), for instance, involved capturing images on a metal plate. Much like capturing a picture on the chip today.

Since the invention of the camera, photography has fascinated everyone with its quick, cheap, and accurate method of recording reality. But apart from its initial function of documenting the actual world, photography has also altered reality - at least the perception of reality. It has posed as a substitute to painting and drawing, the other modes of documenting the real world. Most photographers working in Pakistan today seem to be obsessed with doing this - they are engaged in depicting old people, sunsets, nomadic tribes, crumbling houses, and historic ruins. They try to capture the interplay of light and the range of tones on textured surfaces, revealing their fascination with the 'picturesque visual'. In addition to these individuals, a number of photographers are engaged in looking at the mundane side of everyday life. Azmat Kamal, for instance, invests a kind of lyricality to empty spaces, household furniture, and other ordinary objects in his works.

In Pakistan, historically, religious contingents have had specific reactions to specific forms of image-making. It is generally believed by many followers of the Islamic faith that making the image of a living being with traditional tools, such as paint, brush, charcoal, chisel, and stone, is sacrilegious, and is an act that competes with God's creative faculties. The picture taken with a mechanical tool, on the other hand, is acceptable, permissible, and often desirable, as it (the photograph, that is) implies less human intervention. Also, it involves a truer depiction of the subject (and is not a lie 'made up' by some mischievous artist!). Probably, for all these reasons, photography in our society was named 'Ruh-khitch', literally meaning 'Snatcher of Souls'. In fact, this name was coined because of the process, where the photographer put his hand inside the camera in order to pull out the picture. This may be one interpretation of the term, but looking at photographs from the period, about the aspirations, feelings, and dreams of the people caught in the frames, one realises that it was not only a matter of inserting one's hand into a box; it was also about digging deep and bringing out the selves and personalities of the models.

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