All of us coast through life’s ups and downs in some form or the other. As my friend Ammar puts it, we have an autopilot in us that allows us to navigate through life, and to absorb or put aside things.
This pandemic challenged the autopilot greatly. It is an unprecedented time in history and it has amplified the good and bad around us, because it forced all of us to pause and reflect, and vulnerabilities of human beings were revealed to us.
It was no different for me and I went through some professional and personal changes. As 2020 ended, I came closer to understanding the meaning of reinvention. I had to reinvent the way I work, at a time when photoshoots are not possible. I found myself exploring other photography styles.
I started appreciating modern structures and started incorporating people and manmade structures in my landscape photography, as opposed to photographing both separately. For many years I would only focus on old buildings, history and landscapes standing on their own with no coexistence with humanity. In changing this methodology, I was able to show the scale of things and show our evolution.
I usually travel to far off places to capture the beauty of Pakistan. In doing so I never focused as much on my nearby surroundings. As skies cleared up due to less pollution, I took photos from comfort of my balcony, and did more street photography in my birth city of Rawalpindi. Less traffic and lockdown allowed me to take photos very easily and capture old buildings as well as human interest stories without the clutter of too much happening in the frame. I started appreciating my nearby surroundings.
This year also allowed me to challenge my comfort zone. As a photographer I’m always behind the camera and I always feel at home there. Since I was open to change, a memorable collaboration with Selfie TV and W2W Events came about and we created an online podcast show called Talking Portraits, which I hosted, and I interviewed iconic people who I have photographed over the years. This experience allowed me to have conversations and connections with them like never before.
As travel restrictions were lifted, I visited valleys closest to my heart – Kumrat valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Hunza and Hoper valleys in Gilgit Baltistan. My last trip took place just a week ago, in December and it was a trek through Hoper valley. It was truly memorable as it was my first trek after a four year gap, and it was my first winter expedition in a long time.
Even though I had gone to these places before, this time around somehow felt like a spiritual journey. I witnessed a lot of incredible wildlife – from magpies to Markhors, and I saw surreal ice formations and glaciers which I absolutely loved photographing. Besides the stunning landscapes, this trip also turned into an impromptu archaeological discovery, since we were staying in old Mongolian settlements from Genghis Khan’s time. The graves of his soldiers and their families are still there and upturned due to floods over time. Many skeletal remains and even jewellery are still there and preserved due to snow and subzero temperatures. It was physically grueling and a challenge trekking through ice and snow and in extreme conditions, but it provided personal solace after months of standstill.
I also resumed work on my third photo book called Miraas, a sequel to my first book Dharkan, which features portraits of iconic people of Pakistan. It follows the same concept and features a new set of people. I’m hoping to release this within a year or so.
2020 taught me many things, but most of all it taught me about humanity – that we humans can be resilient, and we can be kind to people and nature. We can adapt. It made me value and cherish more my friendships and people around me, and the world that I live in.
Mobeen has published two photography books Dharkan: The Heartbeat of a Nation & The White in the Flag.