Photographing Pakistan

Pakistan is one of those funny countries where I tried so hard to get a trip there for years, and since that first visit I've gone back twice. And I'm going again next week! I thought I would go that first time and it would be a one time only thing - but here I am again all nonchalant about catching a flight to Lahore like it's no big deal. But really it has become so normal these days. 

I always get asked questions about safety and being afraid when I travel to Pakistan and truthfully it feels as safe as anywhere else I've traveled on a shoot. The only difference I find from my other trips is that I have to keep my head covered in the more rural communities and I have to wear long sleeves, we tend to not linger in any one location for more than a few hours, and I can't go wandering off alone. But having said that I've never actually felt afraid of anyone or any situation, I mean at least not afraid of the people. Shooting down a mine isn't exactly a relaxing experience but at least that's a threat I'm subjecting myself to - it's entirely my choice.

We travel along a pristine motorway to our locations, we stop for KFC, chat about where serves the best brownie in Lahore, and I laugh about a chain called Butt Sweets because I basically have the humor of a 14 year old boy - although that also may be sleep deprivation. It all feels very... normal. And it makes me think of how influenced we are by the news, and how much that dictates our fear. There are problems, but they're not "news" as such, they're just ongoing situations - similar to the ones we find everywhere these days, even on our own doorsteps...

The people I'm here to photograph though, they live truly harsh lives. The coal miners are stuck in a way of life that is so isolated and lonely. The women raising their children in a slum and spending their days collecting garbage, they have bruises on their face and they looks so, so exhausted. But from the moment I arrive they're all smiles, the coal miners try to look serious for their photos but they burst out laughing and soon everyone is in fits of giggles, including me. The women are serious, but as soon as you show an interest in their story they're keen to show off their kids and their home - making each other laugh while the little ones hang off my arms trying to look through my view finder to see what I'm seeing.

If I've learned anything from shooting for charities over the past few years, it's that the adverts you see on the bus or on the TV - there's so much more to the life behind that sad looking photo. And that photo, while it's true, the picture it paints is sometimes a disservice. It's too one dimentional. A life in need of help and support is not always a life without love and laughter, it's not all misery and despair, more often its a life without choice or opportunity. And making change isn't about giving things or solving problems; it's about clearing some room for freedom, for opportunity, and giving people the chance to have some options, to make an informed choice.

p.s. my Q&A post is coming up next so keep an eye out! And if you have any last minute questions about my work, or photography or anything, leave them in a comment below.

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One Week in Jaipur

Looking back on these photos I still can’t quite believe December was only last month – it feels a whole world away now! I had to be in Nepal and Pakistan for work and with only a week in between the two trips it seemed so pointless to return to London. So I took a week-long layover in India and hired a taxi for the three and a half hour drive to Jaipur.

Jaipur is like my refuge in the east, and whenever I’m in-between trips or I just need some down time while I’m working I always call up my mum’s friend Devena and ask if I can come to stay for a bit. Her house, which is also a bed and breakfast by the way, is so beautiful and relaxing. And because I always arrive there in the midst of a chaotic work trip, it always feels like heaven on earth to me. She always feeds me up, lets me sleep, and gives me lots of advice on places to go and things to do. And because it’s an artist’s retreat there are always so many interesting people to meet and talk to.

This time was a bit special however, because Adam came to meet me for the week in between my two trips. It was his first time in India and I was so excited to show him around and see if he would love it as much as I do. It’s one of those countries I spend time in where I feel instantly at home, and no pressure for him! but I’m sure he knew how important it was for me that he liked it too.

I’m hoping that the next time we go we can travel around a bit more. I’ve been to India so many times but I rarely get to travel as a tourist and there’s so many parts of the country I would still love to see. But until then, here are a few of my photos from our time in Jaipur…

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In Print

Can you believe it wasn't really that long ago that we were using film cameras? My first camera was a film SLR, my mum bought it for me just as I was dropping out of university (temporarily) to travel around Spain and Morocco for a few months. I've always taken photos with various cameras but that was the first time I ever felt serious about photography... of course I shot on automatic the whole time and only had the cheap and plasticy kit lens, but the camera was heavy and that made it feel credible. 

To this day I still have two albums full of photos from that trip, and I'm pretty sure that was the last time I had any photo of mine printed. I loved using that camera, but I was never planning to become a photographer - making a career out of any kind of art form was for someone braver than me, someone with more motivation and drive. Who knew I had it in me? I didn't. But as it turns out there was something to that love of photography, and now here I am.

 

 

But these days I rarely see my photos in print. I live in a tiny two room flat with walls that clutter easily, all my client work is delivered digitally, and it wasn't something that ever really came up. It was only this past year that I saw one of my photos printed in a book and I found it so mesmerising - to actually touch and feel a moment that I captured, it's just so different from seeing it on a screen. And I think seeing something in print is that final and solid test to see if a photo turned out well, so I was interested to test out some of my other shots.

My dad has been bothering me for some of my photos for months now, so I finally got down to the task of putting together a book - which I knew would take ages because I'm so picky about how these things look while also being terrible at design. I went with Blurb because for years and years, Adam's family have used them to put together an annual family photo album, and the occasional wedding or anniversary book - they always look so good.

I wasn't sure how my photos would stand up to print because I shoot a little dark and I know light shots work best on paper - so I adjusted them a little in Lightroom and put together a photo book using Blurb's native design tool, BookWright. I could have used something else but I found it really handy to use a tool that had a template where I could drag and drop into a pr-set design - an eye for creative layouts and book design is just not one of my talents and trying to come up with something on my own can take me hours! This took me about 45 minutes, the image selection however... that took a lot longer.

I'm so pleased with the way it turned out that I sadly never actually gave it to my Dad! I bought him a cook book instead (bad daughter). I love the wrap-around cover and the quality of the print, and now I'm thinking I'd love to put together something like a magazine that people can buy through my website, what do you think? A collection of my best shots from the year, or one mini-magazine per trip - something like that. Add that to my list of projects this year!

This post was sponsored by Blurb, a brand I've known for years which I think you'd really love.

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