Photography for me is about telling your story, telling the story of what you see, and being a mirror to self,” says Mobeen, the hazel-eyed young man, known for his exceptional photography skills. Currently basking in the glory of his newly launched book White in the Flag – an ode to the minorities of Pakistan – Mobeen is a bona fide creative at heart. He shares what inspired him to publish yet another book with a story that can melt hearts of even the cold-hearted. “The inspirations behind this book were manifold,” he begins. “My father had abdominal tuberculosis, due to which he needed two bags of blood after his surgery. More specifically he needed O+ which is a rare blood group. His best friend Ronny, a Christian gave him the required blood and that saved his life. Hence, I realised that regardless of one’s faith, all blood is the same.” He says that he was always drawn to festivities of different minority communities and that curiosity turned into celebration, which culminated into this book, which features photos of lives and festivities of different religious minorities of Pakistan.
When asked how his life changed after all the praise he’s received for his work as a photographer, he states, “Even though I started photography some 15 years back, I took it more seriously over time, as I began enjoying this medium, and more so when I received so much encouragement. I eat, drink and breathe photography!”
Born in a family of engineers, the 30-year-old photojournalist hails from Islamabad. He graduated from the National College of Arts (NCA) with a major in painting and minor in sculpture and printmaking. If not a photographer, what would he have been? “Definitely a painter, since I studied to be one,” responds Mobeen, for he is a gifted ingenious who is not just skilled at pressing a camera’s shutter but can also paint, sculpt, print and tell stories with brilliance.
His journey is not as easy as it sounds, for he has faced a myriad challenges by losing his sense of hearing and smell following a meningitis attack as a three-week-old baby. But the young man has fought the odds, made a name for himself and did his parents proud with his extraordinary abilities. What kept him going despite the challenges, I ask. “When God takes something from you, He gives you something else,” Mobeen emphasises, adding, “In my case, it was the ability to see and understand people and things in silence, and translate that observation and understanding into different mediums – photography and painting most of all. Also, encouragement from my family, especially my mother, and friends helped a lot.”
Mobeen is a determined soul who never lost hope and advises the same to those who do. “Life will always have its ups and downs, sometimes, more so for some people, regardless of whether they are abled or differently-abled. Challenges, especially when you are differently-abled, enrich you and put you through trials which make you stronger. You have to turn that strength into something special and unique,” he says, mentioning Hellen Keller’s life as a great example. “Hellen Keller was blind and deaf all her life, yet she became a well known activist, lecturer and author, and is an inspiration for many today,” and shares one of his favourite quotes by her:
‘Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.’
Recounting the most vivid memory from his childhood, he quips, “My first visit to Hunza,” and talks about his visit to the magical valley, while sharing the tale of how his father inspired him to pursue photography. “I got to see Khunjerab pass at the age of 10. Back then it was not a frequented place or the tourist destination that it is today. I was with my father and I remember him taking multiple rotating 180 degree photos, to later make one panorama shot of the pass, since there were no digital cameras at that time. He later developed the photos and stitched them together manually. That moment was one of my inspirations for taking up photography.”
Mobeen took up the art as a hobby but his love for it grew with time. Like most photographers, his eyes have a knack for beauty that a regular eye would never notice, but what is it that Mobeen finds the most interesting when photographing?
“Aesthetics are a primary rule in photography. While I do enjoy the beauty of a scene I photograph, I always look for a scene, or somebody, who has a story to tell; or a moment in time which you can relate to, or something that is easy for the naked eye to miss,” he asserts, for aesthetics are an inevitable element of his skills with the camera which one can visualise in most of his work.
Being a photojournalist, Mobeen has had the opportunity to photograph iconic portraits and Dharkan – The Heartbeat of a Nation, his first book is a testament to that. The tale of inspiration behind his book is as interesting as it could be. “Dharkan was originally not envisioned as a book. The initial idea was to try and promote a positive image of Pakistan by featuring landscapes and portraits of iconic people in an exhibition or on an online blog,” he tells MAG, further listing the names of iconic personalities featured in his first portrait collection enclosed in a tome. “The first person I photographed for my book was the late Ardeshir Cowasjee. His story inspired me and opened my mind to other human interest stories. This led me to photographing Edhi sahib, Dr. Abdul Bari, Yasmeen Lari and many others from all walks of life, including sanitation workers.” From there on, his work started to come together and took the form of a book. It was a celebration of Pakistani icons, who are “The Heartbeat of a Nation.” So as Mobeen states, “The idea was also to remember our icons while they were still alive. For we, unfortunately, only remember them when they pass away.”
In 2016, Mobeen shot a 10-minute-long silent film Hellhole about the life and ordeals of conservancy workers in Pakistan. How different was it from photography, I pose. “I actually shot Hellhole as if it were photography itself, with mostly still angles and time lapses. There is no dialogue in the film and most of the footage was shot with single takes, which made it even more like photography in terms of medium,” he explains, highlighting the fact that the film took six months to complete, as soundtrack production was also involved in the process. The film later made it to the Jaipur Film Festival and New Orleans Film Festival, which according to Mobeen was a “very humbling” gesture, for he made the film in such a way that it would speak universally, regardless of where it was screened.
When asked about his most memorable journey as a photographer, he states, “The most memorable journey to date is to a place called Broghil, located between Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan. It is also called Wakhan Corridor in historical context. It was a gruelling trek but the incredible night sky, the diversity in landscapes and hospitality of the Wakhi population living there made it a journey I will never forget. I have had the privilege of having been there twice.”
Mobeen often teaches his camera skills through workshops or as visiting faculty at different colleges but does he plan to continue with the job seriously? “I do plan to teach properly once I know my craft fully and well. I have a long way to go.” Nevertheless, for all the aspiring photographers out there, Mobeen has some words of wisdom to share. “Always be open to inspiration. Always keep practicing and reinventing. Get out of your comfort zone often and challenge yourself, whether it is visiting places far off, or trying out different angles and getting clothes dirty! Always think like a student and treat every major project like a thesis,” says the talented shutterbug, stressing on the fact that it is always the process that counts, deeming art as “a journey which never ends.” •
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