TelePk.com takes an inside look at the world of photography through the eyes of Amean J – the photographer who likes telling stories through his portraits.
Amean J opens the door with a smile and asks if I had a hard time finding his place. He looks picture perfect in a crisp white shirt and black pants. As he guides me to his office, I look around and see a big blown up image of a man standing at a train station in Prague. "It's a part of my exhibition," says Amean sheepishly. It's his first online exhibition and he looks excited at the idea, knowing that people from all over the world will log on, hoping that those who do will realize that it's a Pakistani man doing it. Yes, Amean is a patriot at heart, even though he has lived in the US for quite sometime. Karachi is his home and he doesn't want to leave it ever!
With a fashionable hint of a beard, Amean looks more like a businessman than a photographer. Photography is his craft, but it is also his bread and butter. It is this approach to photography that really sets him apart. Some of the most prolific photographers have a side business to bank on. Be it Tapu Javeri who has his jewelry business or Ather-Shahzad who are make-up artists as well. But Amean J is a little different from the lot. He works under the label 18% Grey. "It's not just a name. 18% Grey is registered as a company, I pay taxes. It is a profession and a business, one that I live on and my clients should now that I work in a professional environment," he says thoughtfully.
His taste is that of a minimalist. His office doors are gray; a glass table is located in the middle of the room with funky ashtrays lying around. Before we talk, Amean goes and brews a hot cup of coffee. Over two steaming mugs, we go back in time as Amean tells his story...
Amean J has been around for almost a decade now, working with the likes of stylist par excellence Nabila, designers like Sonya Battla, musicians that range from Rushk to Josh to Overload. But just like everything else in life, this fling with the camera was purely a game of fate.
Amean' stint with the camera began when he was going through a phase of confusion, undecided about what he wanted to do in life. Starting from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 1992, Amean moved from school to school – he joined University of Texas at Arlington with a major in fine arts, then the Rhode Island School of Design and finally finished his degree from Academy of Art University in San Francisco with a major in photography. "Yeah, I was confused. I came from a conservative background but I didn't want to be a businessman," he says reminiscently.
In 1998 he landed his first big shoot with cricketer Wasim Akram. From then on, there was no looking back.
His inspiration comes from mundane things in life, as he points out, "When was the last time you appreciated how green the grass was?" and further adds, "On the other extreme, I am very interested in politics and decisions that are made by the policy makers."
While talking, Amean looks straight at the walls, sometimes at the floor with his legs stretched out as he sits on a chair. He has a spontaneous energy inside him that bursts out as we talk about Stanley Kubrick, the filmmaker who began his career as a photographer. Amean comes across as a philosophical man but he's definitely not boring. He is friendly and quick-witted in a very unpretentious way.
As a photographer,Amean is an all-rounder. His work ranges from shoots in various fashion publications to corporate work as well as personal portraits. In Pakistan, photographers don't specialize in any one form. Those who do commercial photography are often the ones shooting the glamorous world of fashion. Amean explains this phenomenon and says, "Unlike the west it would not be easy to focus on one area yet, as the industry in Pakistan is still small. In the long run quality will only improve when photographers will start focusing on specialized areas." Amean is of the opinion that this industry is open to newcomers, provided they have the ability to do diverse projects.
Glitz of the celebrity world
Working in the fashion industry is surely not easy. Everyone has fragile egos and competition is ripe more than ever with Fashion Week around the corner. Now so more than ever as fashion schools such as PSFD and AIFD are gaining precedence. With new blood coming in, be it modeling or being a designer, it is, a cut-throat industry. In such a scenario, how is it operating in the fashion world?
Amean takes a pause and says softly, "Initially I had problems but solely because I was not trained or inclined to do fashion photography at all. Perhaps due to the same reasons I ended up breaking into the industry with fresher ideas. I still feel I have a smaller clientele in the fashion industry, because my style of work does not appeal to all and I don't intend to compromise," and continues, "Its always a team effort and our models have always been great to work with. The only models I haven't worked with are the ones who restrict themselves to only few photographers, I feel it hurts them more than anyone else. As for the designers I do sometimes feel that some don't know what they want, and the miscommunication leads into uncomfortable results, but new school designers are great to work with because they have the education and the exposure. Some of the senior ones who have the maturity in design also promote contemporary ideas."
Surprisingly, Amean has not suffered the weight of fashion battles. And that is because he is smart enough to not get involved in the politics of fashion. "I'm known to lay my cards on the table well, leaving minimal room for miscommunication and most appreciate it. It's very rare that we end up with results that leave a bad taste," explains Amean.
Nowadays, fashion publications have become a trend. In fact, there are so many magazines coming out that one feels lost. This certainly does not mean that the quality is always good. It looks and to a certain extent is more quantitative than qualitative. Amean agrees, "It's the same situation with the designers, too. There is a new shop opening every week, but that doesn't mean that there is quality, though there is a lot more activity in the fashion industry and the competition does force people to improve and be on the edge to survive. So in that respect it's good."
But how does one change it then? More people don't always guarantee good work. There has to be a standard, be it designing or being a photographer. Unless a proper standard and a guideline is present, people will continue to churn out mediocre work. As someone who has been a part of this media boom and expansion, Amean does have a view on things. "We need to take our industry more seriously, may be slow down in the rat race a bit and concentrate on quality instead. We as a nation unfortunately tend to think short term. I feel we should look at the larger picture and that too globally instead of living in our little bubbles," says Amean logically.
Amean has a funky taste in fashion. He tells me that he likes what Sonya Battla, Maheen and Maheen Karim does, he likes the classic Rizwan Beyg and the traditional work of Bunto Kazmi.
A lot of shoots that Amean does are with Nabila. Some of his best shoots have come out of this team-up. And how does it feel working with the pioneer of styling? "Nabila is extremely quality conscience and I'm a quality freak myself so we get along really well. Her team is extremely professional and sound, which helps me worry less about the look and concentrate more on the shoot itself," says Amean smilingly.
Speaking of fashion, we come to the subject of the two fashion councils. Everyone has a side to pick; the question is where does Amean stand? "I'm neutral. The day photographers start taking sides, it'll be bad," he says firmly.
At 32, Amean is content with life. To him, it's not about pictures but stories. He finds them everywhere, in faces, known or unknown, famous or obscure, local or international, bankers or singers – it is the love for telling a story with an image that drives him and motivates him.
This is a man who realizes how important it is for photography to be taken seriously. In Pakistan, there is not one school that teaches photography at a professional level. Knowing this fact, Amean himself teaches from time, conducting workshops and passing on the knowledge that he attained while studying abroad.
A few years ago, he directed his first music video and it was shot with a photographer's eye. It was an anti-war video, 'Khuahish' for the band Rushk. Will he take up video-making anytime soon? "I have to connect conceptually to a song. Rushk's album was fabulous," he says retrospectively.
These days, Amean is planning to put together a photographer's club. One wonders if it is going to be on the lines of the fashion council? Amean brushes off the comparison and says, "The idea was suggested to me by Tapu (Javeri) a few months ago. I'm really trying to put it together. It is really unfortunate that in 6 decades we still don't have a society or a club for professional photographers.
There is really a need on a professional level where photographers would be able to exchange notes on a platform and help the newcomers in the industry.
For starters I'm working on a yellow pages of photographers in the country, which will be out in the next few months. This will also help international publications and clients to search for the right photographer in Pakistan."
Who knows, someday Amean may even venture into filmmaking or production but just for now, it is the camera and its power that make Amean click!