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Spotlight: Munna Mushtaq

Photography in Pakistan Seduction and Socialising
Munna is initially hesitant to talk critically about his ‘seniors’. He admits that the pioneers of the ‘style parade’ like Khawar Riaz, encouraged upcoming photographers like him to do better. Khawar supports artists to use his studio and gives hints on how to make up models but ultimately those interested in photography have to learn technical stuff themselves.

With a little prodding, Munna admits moving to Karachi from Lahore was an eye-opener. For the first time he felt more confident about himself and his work. Despite getting a break with The Nation in Lahore, it was only when he started to work with fashion magazines that he got true critical feedback and learnt to better himself.

What’s the difference in style of work between Karachi and Lahore?
“Photography in Pakistan is about being in or out of the brotherhood of fashion”

Munna says candidly. “The Lahore School of Photography is stronger specifically in the field of fashion because I think, no-one is prepared to go out on a limb and instead they stick to the prescribed but successful formula of fashion photography. In Karachi on the other hand, there are more photographers generally so the variety and experimentation is richer. Designers may be equally strong but since the established fashion magazines are in Karachi, this makes a difference in allowing space to upcoming photographers, models etc.”

What makes some photographers more sought after than others?
“Some photographers have come to be the Godfathers of Fashion. In the sense that they manoeuvre which model will be promoted and which designer will be perceived as the top one. The cost of this is that models limit themselves to certain photographers and designers so no one can realistically challenge the upper echelon”.

How would you be any different?
“I don’t prison my models in cages”.

But you do use sister Gia almost exclusively…?
“Actually it’s all connected. Because most
celebrities and models have their own in-house photographers, I never got the privilege initially of getting a foot inside the scene. Infact initially in my career, I only did one or two shoots with Gia but after 4 years of back-breaking attempts I have now started using her as a model a lot. You have to understand that because I’m not a social animal I have a tremendous disadvantage”.

How so?
“Everyone knows if you socialise with the ‘right’ crowd, you get perceived as socially and therefore professionally ‘acceptable’. So new photographers don’t get the space they should. Another thing is that photography is not a ‘shared’ art here because the established artists tend to be insecure that they will lose out to newer talent.

But isn’t it the responsibility of the new talent to break new ground themselves? Why is there such a lack of diversity – for example, hardly anyone does non-commercial photography? We just had a war on our border and how many of you have a portfolio on Afghanistan?
“Look, glamour is seductive and frankly, no-one cares how beautiful K-2 is but they will remember a sexy, revealing shoot of Meera for a long time. How can we change that attitude?

International photographers flew across the world for this opportunity in your backyard….
“Our thinking generally is so limited that media opportunities must be exploited within the mainstream thinking and you’ve got to hurry to achieve fame. If you want to stick out on a limb then be prepared to be poor and unknown for some time. A lot of maturity is required across the board to enable change”.

Where are you in all of this?
“In a limbo. I need encouragement because all artists are sensitive by nature and at the moment I’m just confused as to where I want to go. Sometimes I do feel I prostitute my abilities just to gain fame. At other times I get inspired by the Mario Testino story internationally and follow their argument that fashion photography is a higher art form. I don’t know….”

What are your dreams?
“I’d really like to get into video direction and design sets. But until producers and editors change their thinking, nothing exciting is bound to happen in the industry”.

Are you single?
“Sometimes.” I laugh, he stays serious. “It’s hard for artists here”, he goes on, “sometimes it’s just a matter of survival for us. Lots of backs to scratch and artificial smiles to throw. And I know models bitch about us photographers behind our backs but as long as they are professional and nice on location – that’s fine with me!”

Munna brightens up and shows me some shots of a model, a horse and a beach. So how did he handle all three in this shoot, I ask him. “I think I’ve said enough already but it’s a good shoot don’t you think?” I wished him luck.

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