One of the pioneers in the world of fashion photography, Nadeem A. Khan is today the only member of the fraternity that continues to pursue his profession locally, two decades after his initial startup.
Though no longer in the limelight as a showbiz lens man, his portfolio continues to grow by leaps and bounds, with the result that he has archival material that could probably fill up a photo gallery.
When asked why he has made the shift from fashion photography to commercial photography, he says, “Actually, it’s not a shift. When I started photography, I had no intentions of becoming a professional photographer that just happened on its own.
I used to shoot nature and do a lot of travel photography because I enjoyed it. But when I began fashion shoots just for the heck of it assignments began to come my way.
I always tried to produce good work and it was appreciated, so I made a name for myself as a fashion photographer quite early. But I was into photography for advertising agencies then as well. Since the ads used to be so small, the photos never made a great impact.
“Now, with an increasing number of billboards, the display has become so huge that I feel good seeing my work everyday, and in the last three or four years have become more immersed in commercial photography. It is undoubtedly more challenging; it has an international language and is appreciated worldwide.
I work for pharmaceutical companies, banks, consumer products and many times, the approval has to come from abroad before a layout is accepted. In fashion, one is limited within one’s boundaries. I enjoy the former more, and of course it pays a lot better and there is no back-biting or leg-pulling as is the case in the earlier field.”
Khan’s first shoot was printed in 1985. He recalls most of the senior designers, models, beauticians, singers and even present-day leading fashion photographers starting their careers with him. “I introduced many of them to magazines, without expecting or garnering any kind of personal benefits. It was later that the clique-culture started.”
He feels the fashion industry has come a long way since he started out: today shoots and fashion shows are professionally executed with designers aware of their role; the criteria for selecting models is defined and television commercials have vastly improved.
He also says that previously the fashion industry was limited to Karachi, where there were just a handful of models. Now Lahore and other cities have also joined the bandwagon, and in fact, Lahore has left Karachi behind.
Nadeem gives credit to developments in the Lahore fashion industry for providing opportunities to fashion photographers. Also, because of a substantial number of glossies now emanating from there, fashion photographers too, are increasingly becoming Lahore-based.
Digital photography has aided photographers, making it relatively easy for them to come up with quality work, and so more and more people are joining the profession. However, by the same token, it is more difficult for photographers to make their mark today as the competition is stiffer now.
Among the prominent names in the world of glamour that were introduced by Nadeem are Mishi Khan, Aijazz Aslam, Humayun Saeed, Farhan Ali Agha and Mehreen Naqvi.
However, although Khan has been doing fashion and advertising photography since he ventured into the world of professional photographers, he feels that his real claim to fame is the thousands of personality profile shoots he has taken over the years, and introduced artistes to the public. It would indeed be difficult for any photographer to match his portfolio.
“I have nominated innumerable people starting out into showbiz to various magazines. There was no mafia then, and no materialistic approach — we were like one big family. My strength has been that I enjoy bringing out the inner personality of the person I shoot. I become so close to them that I have developed family terms with practically all my celebrity clients.”
However, you can’t help but notice a disappointment bordering on bitterness when you hear Khan speak of his achievements and the lack of acknowledgement he has received over the years. “I have to admit that I have been disheartened by the attitude of the industry in general. When the Lux Style Awards was launched, they began with judging only photographers’ previous year’s work instead of basing it on their entire work.
Later, they invited us to send in our portfolios, but I asked myself, why should I? They should have enough knowledge and research done to know the contributions of various photographers.
There was a time when my shoots were carried simultaneously by all magazines, and not one but many shoots. To overlook contribution of so many years, to base the awards’ focus over the effort of a limited time period, and to ask for portfolios is unfair to those who have been in the profession for decades.”
A self-taught photographer, Khan says he used to concentrate on one genre of photography at a time and study all its various facets by himself. He says, “I completed a course on travel photography on my own.
Whenever I would take out a photograph that was bad, I would study where I had gone wrong, and learn to do it right through trial and error.” Khan has also conducted photography courses for amateurs and has taught over a hundred students.
Although he does bridal shoots occasionally, he says he was never attracted to wedding photography. “I don’t mean to undermine the work of wedding photographers for that, too, has become a very stylish profession and an art unto itself.
But I feel one shouldn’t try and get into everything. Today, I am most comfortable in corporate photography. When you shoot mega projects, you feel you are becoming a part of history, maintaining records for posterity.”
Travel photography being his passion though, Khan has travelled half the world, including the entire country, covering all the small towns and villages. He also has a wealth of archival material that could be used to promote tourism in the country. In fact, an interested publisher could pick his collection for a coffee table book.
“Travel photography doesn’t have a good market in our country, but I have so many excellent photographs that there was a point when I wanted to develop an image library so that the photographs could be accessible to everyone.
In 1990, I created an audio-visual show using some of my images of Pakistan called Pakistan The Landed People. It was a unique piece of work and was highly appreciated.
I had audio-directed it and edited it myself. I would love to compile the images of Pakistan I have collected over more than two decades into a book, but lack the finances to do so.” Such a book would hold the potential of being a national asset as well as a wonderful give-away at the government level. Is anyone listening?