Exploring Lahore’s Visual Narrative

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Exploring Lahore’s Visual Narrative

Curated by three Lahore-based artists, Nad E Ali, Jahanzeb Haroon and Ali Sultan, tasveer is a photojournal focused on providing sanctuary for subjugated voices.

A filmmaker turned graphic designer and artist, Ali Sultan has exhibited his work widely at home and abroad. Harun is a visual artist and educator. It explores the subtleties that define the concept of home and the human relationship with the environment. Nad E Ali is also a visual artist who works with themes of alienation, belonging and the in-between spaces that exist in all cultures.

The inaugural edition of tasveer was officially launched in Tagh’eer, Lahore, last month. The magazine presents a fascinating collection of black-and-white photographs that capture Lahore as it is today, while encouraging readers to reflect on the forgotten remnants of everyday life in the city.

The news on Sunday sat down with one of zine’s curators, Nad E Ali, to find out more about Pakistan’s emerging zine culture, how their first issue visually maps an ever-changing city, and the impact of AI on the creative industry. Excerpts follow:

Image by Jehanzeb Haroon.

Sunday’s News: What inspired you to create? tasveer?

Nad E Ali: In 2018, my friend Ali Sultan and I launched an experimental magazine called Number of doe that [was about] personal stories, comics and illustrations about society and class. Instagram was already popular and many photographers were using it. But we wanted to [to create] something tangible. We contacted our friends and asked them to contribute. We decided to publish it ourselves because that way we felt we could present our content exactly how we wanted. Later we started thinking about something that focused more on Lahore. this is how tasveer got up

The main idea [behind Tasveer] was to arrange contemporary, black and white photographs by various artists in a journal. Along with Dua Abbas Rizvi’s brooding poem, the zine was a truly bohemian endeavor.

In the first issue, we documented Lahore as it is today. Recently, Raghu Rai, the famous Indian photographer, visited the Lahore Literary Festival ’23. He talks about how Delhi has transformed and doesn’t feel the same anymore. I feel the same way about Lahore. A lot has changed [over the years]. With this magazine, we wanted to convey the living experiences of Lahore through the visual language of photography. Any choice of color and focal length [used in the photographs] it aims to resonate with viewers and leave an impact. In this era of TikTok, we wanted to create something different, [something] which will keep the conversation about contemporary photography alive.

TNS: What is a photojournal? How is it different from mainstream photography publications?

WHAT: Zines are small books produced on small budgets and with very few pages. They are quite popular in underground culture around the world, [especially] in the music and comedy genres.

A major difference between zines and other photographic publications is perhaps the quality of the paper. Photo books are printed on high-quality paper and are usually quite expensive. Also, they are primarily for photographer work and have a wider scope. Zines are published on a smaller scale. They are also limited and usually have a specific theme.

Zines are all about free speech. You can say anything without much censorship. There’s also something very appealing about having a physical book in your hands. There was a time in Lahore when zines were popular, with small bookstores in the Urdu bazaar regularly distributing small ones A book (pamphlets). However, artists did not have many resources, so they declined over time. You can still find some zines on platforms like Rekhta.

Zines are primarily about community and the free sharing of ideas.

TNS: tasveer offers an insight into the crumbling parts of Lahore that most people don’t/don’t want to see. What motivated you to focus on this aspect of the city?

WHAT: As an artist, it [sometimes] it becomes very important to talk about the issues in a way that is unique and thought-provoking. Entertainment is important, but there is always a need for work that can start difficult conversations to have a deeper impact. It is very important to do this because art has the power to stimulate minds [and create] meaningful discussions. I think pictures affect us just like music or the written word.

in tasveer, we wanted to capture the essence of Lahore and how it evolved and became what it is now. The city is always changing. We wanted this to be reflected in the magazine through our visual mapping. With photos you can freeze moments in time. These moments become lived memories or representations of current [state of being]. Everything around us changes, but the pictures remain constant, giving us a glimpse of what the city once was. They give us an opportunity to explore the city of Lahore and how it has fallen.

Each photo in our magazine is of a specific time and place in Lahore. It also focuses on the positive aspects of the city. We want people to feel some responsibility and [ask] themselves what they can do to make a difference. We will continue to focus on the changing nature of Lahore in our future editions as well. We aim to [document it] visually through our journal.

TNS: How do you see the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the creative industry?

The pages of the magazine. — Photo: Delivered

WHAT: AI can never simulate the human mind or individual experience. It cannot express the raw human emotion that true artists portray with their art. It may get there in the future, but it will take time.

Artist Boris Eldagsen recently won the Sony World Photography Awards for a piece titled The electrician. During the award ceremony, the artist revealed that the photo was created with the help of AI. He declined the award and said the conversation would continue.

Copyright infringement has been around for a long time; even before AI [emerged]. Initially, people were excited about AI-generated images and NFTs, but I think that excitement is fading. Basically, there is no substitute for something [created by a] a true artist. AI cannot capture the unique touch and personal expression that actual artists bring to their work.

TNS: What value do you see in the tangible zine format in an increasingly digital age?

WHAT: I believe that the physical format of books or magazines still has great value. There is debate about the increasing virtual nature of things and the decline of print, but I think printed materials like books have their own charm. You don’t have to browse them, unlike online content. You can find them in archives or personal collections. They are right in front of you and allow you to discover something new. That’s the beauty of the tangible.

Going forward, we will likely consider a hybrid approach for tasveer. One good thing about online spaces is that they provide access to cross-cultural audiences. But locally, print magazines are more useful. This is also something that is practiced all over the world. I can’t predict the future, but I believe that printed materials will always be around.

TNS: As a photographer, what draws you to Lahore and what fuels your love for the city?

WHAT: Well, the city is my home. There is always a special connection one feels to one’s hometown. But my love for Lahore goes beyond that. It has its problems. There is population growth and environmental challenges that the city is currently facing. But there is still a sense of rich cultural community and a spirit of celebration that is unique to Lahore. It’s like there’s a vibrancy flowing through its streets. It also has a rich culture and heritage of the city which makes Lahore even more special to me.

TNS: What does the future look like for tasveer?

WHAT: We are currently in the early stages of planning our second issue. We collaborate with artists from neighboring countries. We’re also curious to see where it takes us.

Our main focus is on subordinated spaces—neighborhoods that don’t always get the spotlight. We want to shine a light on them and document the things that often go unnoticed. This is basically our agenda for the magazine. We are just getting started with this project, but our goal is to continue [important conversations]. So yes, it’s a small book, but it has a big purpose — to draw attention to things that deserve to be seen and heard.

The interviewer is an employee

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