By Sonya Rehman
Ever since social media (as a marketing tool) began gaining popularity in Pakistan – there have been numerous professional and rookie local photographers who have availed social networking websites (such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, etc) to display their work. In Pakistan, what’s hot right now is wedding and fashion photography – and local photographers are cashing in on this rising trend, which has in turn led to an increase in competition in the local photographer pool.
Social media truly has aided Pakistani photographers to branch out into a wider market – however, whether or not they’re approached for photography gigs is solely dependent on the quality of their work and the art and craft of packaging and selling themselves via their online portfolios.
Given the explosion of Facebook pages (set up by local photographers) advertising their services, this new breed of upcoming Pakistani photographers are criticized by some of their peers. The criticism is mainly centered upon the fact that the craft of photography needs to be studied first, prior to jumping headlong into offering photography services without any experience.
Yet, Lahore-based photographer, Mohsin Khawar, is encouraging of this new trend. “Everyone has the right to work, display and advertise. It comes down to the fans and clients who hire photographers. If they like someone’s work, why not take on their services? Plus everything starts off with a boom but only the fittest sustain in the market,” Khawar states, “I’m glad to be working in an era where I know there are many fish in the pond.”
However, Mobeen Ansari, a graduate from the National College of Arts (NCA) who’s currently working on two photography books, states that regarding social media (primarily Facebook); “Those picking up a camera and then making a page on Facebook a week later should at least master the art before advertising themselves as professionals. There are so many pages out there that it’s not treated like art anymore. I believe that any beginner should use Flickr as you get critiqued and given suggestions from photographers around the world. That really helped me in my early years – it still does!”
And while plagiarism in the Pakistani journalism community remains as a consistent image/content piranha (affecting both journalists and photographers alike), ever since social media began swiftly catching on in the country, almost every photographer out there has had his/her work plagiarized or not credited, one time too many.
Ansari states that plagiarism is the “biggest issue” affecting photographers in Pakistan today. “It has become so bad that even watermarks get cropped or clone-stamped out on Photoshop,” he states, “Not too long ago I experienced the most blatant plagiarism. A production company copied a (watermarked) portrait of Anwar Maqsood from my Facebook/Flickr page and put it in their poster for a play they had been doing since March.” Surprisingly, neither was Ansari contacted regarding using his image, nor was he paid for the publishing of his photograph. “The best they did was to mention my name on the poster on Facebook – after five months!”
Another photographer, Waheed Khalid, whose published work has appeared in an assortment of Pakistani publications, seems to have resigned from fighting to have his work credited – given the number of times his work has been used without his knowledge.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Khalid says nonchalantly, “Some of the largest [local] newspapers will lift photos from Flickr or Facebook without asking the photographer. It’s pretty shameless.”
Nonetheless, given the downside of plagiarism, photography is fast becoming recognized as a profitable and rewarding career-path in Pakistan. Infact, this summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Bilal Rafi, a photographer that a dear friend had hired to photograph her wedding. I soon discovered that the amicable Rafi had a full-time job, and who kept photography as a side profession. Rafi too, has a Facebook page that advertises his skills, portfolio and photography services – and my friend had discovered his company through the popular social networking site.
Just as Khawar stated, the pool of local photographers is fast growing, competition is fierce. It’s encouraging. The digital age in journalism demands ocular proof – in the form of pictures and videos. And local journalism has woken up to it. While some local media houses have made an effort to maintain a strong online presence, others seem to be struggling. Right now on the local media front, what’s desperately needed is an increase in photo-essays and video stories – just like those uploaded on the websites of some of the leading international news outlets. For local photographers wildlife and travel photography (among others) ought to be tapped into, because just like with any other trend, local wedding photography is bound to reach saturation point – where the big fish will eventually take over the pool.
With her work appearing in foreign publications such as The Wall Street Journal [Asia edition] and Reuters, Lahore-based photographer, Nashmia Haroon, thinks that currently photography in Pakistan can be a lucrative career, yet, believes that photography needs to be understood “as a powerful tool on its own,” and not just limited to photos taken from cell phones. “Pakistan is abundant in stories – personal and collective – and it demands to be spoken of in pictures,” she states.
Sunday, Daily Times