By Sonya Rehman
‘Dou Rukh’ isn’t your average coffee table book. Published by Markings in October this year, the book offers two distinct interpretations for each subject in the book. From Lollywood actress Reema to humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi to an ex-Cabaret dancer, Marzi – ‘Dou Rukh’ celebrates local personalities associated with local Pakistani art, culture, media and society by well-known photographers Tapu Javeri and Arif Mahmood.
Considering the diversity of the book’s subjects, Javeri states that both photographers chalked out a “long wish list and then narrowed it to the present line-up.”
“We chose personalities from different fields and at times according to their present standing in the industry as all portraits were shot in 2011,” states Mahmood, “That of course doesn’t mean that there are no other people in the field which these subjects belong to, but this selection is a flavour of the talent and excellence which our country possesses, and this portfolio is a tribute to that.”
Perhaps the reason why ‘Dou Rukh’ works from a conceptual and visual point of view is because the method of each photographer is rather distinctive.
To put it simply, Javeri and Mahmood’s art are poles apart. While it may be hard to pinpoint exactly where the differences lie, Javeri, it seems, has a penchant for giving his subjects an abstract, dreamy feel that is at times packaged with a little glitz. Case in point: the portrait of our latest screen siren – Mathira – bare-shouldered and sultry looking into the camera all bronzed and Star Dust-ish.
On the other hand, Javeri’s portraits of Marzi and fashion designer, Rizwan Beyg, are edgy, contemporary and, abstract. Beyg for instance, is styled and shot giving the photograph a very Demi-God-of-Fashion-Dominatrix statement. Marzi’s photograph on the other hand focuses on the reflection of Marzi’s lips in a pocket mirror while she applies on lipstick – the background is blurred, giving the photograph a rather quaint and romantic feel.
Javeri states that a connection between the photographer and the subject has to be established in order to take a good portrait photograph.
From their pool of subjects, Javeri mentions that he connected most with Beyg: “I see Rizwan as one of our greatest fashion talents and wanted to show him as the leader of Pakistan’s Fashion Revolution. I constructed the portrait like, ‘Liberty Leading the People,’ a famous French revolution propaganda painting by Delacroix. Instead of having Rizwan topless, like ‘Liberty,’ I instead asked him to wear ‘the funkiest outfit he could imagine himself in;’ then via Photoshop, placed him over a post-apocalyptic Karachi: cheekily adding a banner stating ‘King of Fashion.’”
Since the process took quite a few meetings to pan out, Javeri states that the end result was “not just a portrait but a dialogue between the photographer and subject.”
Mahmood’s photographs focus heavily on the background that his subjects are placed in, so much so that they seem to overpower the personalities. However, at the same time, the setting of the photograph and the angles at which Mahmood has captured his subjects, gives each image depth and space: you desire to see more of the subject since the play of space gives off an element of mystery quite effortlessly. States Mahmood: “I think the game of placing the face in the right space is what the portrait is all about for me.”
This is true in the case of Marzi’s portrait: seated on a beige couch in all her splendor – looking outside her window reflectively. The background emphasizes her living room: the paintings, the wall paper, the decoration pieces and the vase of flowers. With subdued lighting, the emphasis is on her – the subject – her maroon dress, close-cropped blond hair, and her features heavily accentuated by way of make-up. But her expression is not lost – she exudes strength, the photograph – stories.
“Marzi is a very powerful personality to photograph for any photographer,” Mahmood states: “She is a photographers dream as far as portraits are concerned and in her living space it’s a treat to photograph her. But the trick is to capture something rare or special. That wall and the window light with the parrot in the background makes her part of the whole wall paper space or painting. As every corner in her house is a photograph it is a challenge to be different and yet let her be part of the frame. I know her through my friends socially. She was a flight attendant in the national carrier and a Cabaret dancer before that.”
With its varied subjects and different takes on each personality, ‘Dou Rukh’ comes across as a light, breezy photo book that celebrates a handful of Pakistani personalities.
While one may not be propelled to rush to the nearest bookstore to purchase ‘Dou Rukh,’ it sure makes for an interesting skim-through.
The Friday Times