Gone are the days when the photographer left a dangerous trap of long, coiled wires and artificial lights powerful enough to blind an eagle. Nowadays, smartphones and DSLRs have turned everyone into something of an Instagram journalist of sorts, but it takes more than a fancy camera to prove yourself a professional.
We live in a male-dominated society where a Pakistani woman has to make calculated decisions that follow the boundaries set for her. Women in photography are often overlooked in favor of better-known male counterparts, but there’s no denying that female photographers bring a unique perspective to the field.
Pakistan found its first female photographer in Rashida Afghan, who started photography in 1964. People were shocked. A field overshadowed by men, they mocked: ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Do you even have film in your camera?’ ‘This is not a woman’s job!’ She didn’t get much approval from her male colleagues either.
The niche for female photographers is growing steadily in our country, although it is mainly limited to wedding photography, but women have been able to make brands out of their names with their exemplary work. Countless names like Maha Wajahat, Palwasha Minhas, Waliya Najib, Fatima Tariq and many more have taken the photography game to another level, where they are on par with their contemporaries. Every photographer has an individual way of seeing the world, and women photographers bring their own point of view with them who have stepped out and decided to explore the world through their lens.
“When we started in 2009, there were already established male photographers in the industry who at times seemed threatened by our growing popularity,” share the two sisters of Rammal & Nabia M’s Photography – The Visual Storytellers, who turned their passion into a business. âIn the beginning it was more difficult because we weren’t taken seriously. We were ridiculed for carrying a camera as it was just a trend. When we started making it big on our own, the same people came up to us and said, ‘Aap ki tou hawa chal rai hai aaj kal.’ (You fly high these days) or spread rumors that we were taught how to take photos by them. It took some perseverance and courage before our work began to speak for itself. “
The wedding industry has willingly accepted the role of photographer as brides and their families are more comfortable hiring female photographers. âPhotography with a feminine aesthetic attracts brides to our portfolio. There is always an added element to being more comfortable with a girl photographer. We can talk about everything. I don’t think most men can bond with their customers like that. It makes us happy to know that we may be able to make a small contribution to this acceptance, âexplain the sisters.
âWhen working with a male competitor, we make sure that our limits are respected and that the shoot does not become a battlefield. Regarding the glass ceiling (when women are excluded from leadership positions and discriminated against based on their gender), we want to believe that we have made our mark with our work, âthey add.
The girls told of obstacles they had to face initially, as the market was then completely overshadowed by men. âOur trip didn’t go very smoothly. It’s always hard to be a new entrant, but it’s definitely harder as a woman. We would stay in the same room as male photographers and try to shoot as creatively as possible. However, customers were delighted with the end result. âThey believe that while it’s a bumpy road for them as women, at the end of the day they want to be known for their work and talent:â This is what we’ve been focusing on throughout our journey to be hired to be good photographers, not female photographers, and we have always asked our customers to choose us based solely on their performance. We live in a very stereotypical patriarchal society and the stereotypes have been difficult to break; If we look back a decade later, we see how many girls are in this field and couldn’t be more proud. âBoth Rammal and Nabia envision women photographers reaching the next level, making them international and recognized for their talent be praised, not just for their gender.
Break the shackles of âLog kya kahaingayâ? (What will people say?) Hira Iqbal of Hira Iqbal Photography is another woman who became a successful business woman and has been in the photography business for seven years. While telling her story, she explains that it was not easy for her to realize her dream of photography as her father opposed becoming a professional photographer. âIn the beginning, when I was an amateur and made mistakes, male colleagues made fun of me and mocked me instead of leading me,â says Hira. âAs a housewife, I have managed to remain determined and not deviate from my path. I still come across comments like “Ab shaadi hogayi, kya zarorat hay, ghar betho, bachay paalo” (You are married now, what do you need? Sit at home and take care of your children). My answer to that is why not? If I have the skills, why should I settle for less and not improve my skills? “
Hira trusts that nothing is impossible when you are ready to make your dreams come true at any cost. âI see more girls embarking on their photography careers and excelling themselves like in any other field. It seemed impossible to me, but I kept fighting because I believed in myself. “
Overcoming tons of distractions and difficulties along the way, Hira has made a name for herself and believes that “behind every successful woman is herself”.
Another inspiring story is that of Umbreen Ibrahim (Umbreen Ibrahim Photography), who began her career back in 2012 when you could count the number of female photographers on your fingers. Her army father raised her no differently from boys. âThe trust he gave me shaped my personality and made me what I am today,â she says.
Why are there only a few female photographers in this area? To this end, Umbreen says: âThe number of female photographers is even lower than that of male colleagues. Since this is a very time-consuming job, we have a lot of responsibilities and duties to fulfill in addition to our professional life.
A woman needs the full support of her family to achieve excellence and I am a prime example of that. I would not have been able to work in this industry without their support. âUmbreen sees a lot of potential in young female photographers. âAt the moment I see a lot of potential and I would like it to stay that way. But the main concern is, will it still be here for the next 10 years? We live in a male dominated society and no matter how talented women are; Without the support of society they cannot flourish in their careers. ”
Harassment in the workplace is a widespread issue and women photographers are not spared either. Pictroizzah’s Izzah Shaheen Malik decided to talk about it. She recently visited her Instagram to share her experience in which she said she was harassed and bullied by a very respected male photographer in the industry. She was the first of many to speak out against discrimination. There was a difference of opinion between the two photographers on a technical issue, which ultimately led to a bitter argument. According to Izzah, most male photographers sided with the oppressor, although he used inappropriate language for the former. Izzah’s stories reveal a dark side of many workplaces where it is extremely convenient for men to blame and shame women. Even the supposedly empowered women find it difficult to oppose this discrimination.
However, the history of women in photography is developing optimistically. Women photographers are still clearly undervalued in the art world. But as history progresses, we see signs of how women fashion photography for themselves.
One example of this is aspiring 27-year-old photographer Rabiya Mughal from Rabiya Mughal Photography, who at a young age managed to turn her passion into a full-time career. âWhen I turned 19, I started doing paid shoots. Since I was an introvert, my parents always told me to never give up before I tried, and that’s how I started. ”
When asked about the gradual change in the industry, she says: âWhen I started, Karachi was initially mostly subjugated by male photographers and there weren’t many female photographers to hear from. However, in the last 3-4 years there has been a drastic change in the industry and today there are so many incredibly talented photographers who create an enormous foundation for future women to easily enter this field. “
In the wise words of Annie Leibovitz, American portrait photographer: âYou never stop seeing. You don’t stop framing. It cannot be switched off and on. It’s all the time. “