My odyssey through the world of art

I am a doctor, currently working as a professor of Medicine. For a student of science, an interest in arts looks odd. Some of my friends consider it  weird, others use it as an evidence of being weak in mind or character (depending on the level of their relations with me) Some genuine well-wishers are seriously concerned about my salvation in the hereafter.

How it started? Let me think who pushed me in this deep abyss?

My introduction to photography occurred quite late. (I won’t mention my age, though by that time some impudent brats had started calling me ‘Uncle’— but that proves their poor family upbringing).  In 2003 I realized the need to include pictures and graphs in my power point presentations. I planned to take pictures from books and incorporate in lectures. A point and shoot camera was bought through some one considered an ‘expert’ in these esoteric matters. That was the first time, I learned the basic anatomy of a camera.

The plan proved futile as it was quite cumbersome to take pictures and then add to my lectures. Downloading it from google looked much easier. Soon the camera was abandoned and forgotten.

Good riddance for bad rubbish

Few years passed. One day I rediscovered the camera in a cupboard as a symbol of a bygone folly. Oh! What a waste of money. But then I decided to use it and try to take pictures. After all that junk should serve some purpose.

Gradually I learned the basics from some online free courses. Downloaded few books from pirated sites, thus violating international intellectual rights and watched video tutorials. During those years, one of my connections mentioned about Mr. Umair Ghani, a Pakistani photographer whom she had met in some international conference and was quite impressed.

Through Google I was able to see his images on After browsing through the collection I came to the conclusion,’ well! After all he is not that bad’.  During this search I found his e-mail address and decided to write few lines of appreciation with a request to have a look at my images and guide.

To my surprise he not only answered, but had few words of praise for my work as well (Though I still doubt and consider them as proof of his courtesy). In the end, he advised me to concentrate on capturing our people and culture rather than still life, abstract or macrophotography

That was probably a major turning point in my approach to photography

Two other incidents had a great influence on my thinking. My father died in 2009. Then I realized that (apart from my pictures of him) we had only 3-4 pictures as a record of his more than 82 years of life. Luckily, through my snapshots, I am able to look and recall last few years of his life.

Meanwhile my mother handed a family archive of pictures. It was such a wonderful experience to know about my ancestors. Grandparents of my mother, soon after pilgrimage, with that familiar pious satisfied smile on their faces. Uncles of my parents in prime of their youth. An old brownish picture showing great-grandfather, with a falcon on his arm, standing with some British lord (trying to exude an air of importance) and a servant with a horse lurking in the background (both grinning foolishly). My own uncles, soon after their marriage, beside their petite shy brides (some of them later proved to be most ferocious aunties in the history of our family)

Then I realized the importance of photography, especially of people and cultural photography. The wisdom of Umair Ghani dawned on my personal horizon. Since then he has been my main inspiration.

So gradually photography has become a passion. All arts like literature, poetry, painting and sculpture and last but not the least, photography; are means of self-expression and self-actualization. I have learnt a lot, visited may different places. Met some unusual people. An altogether different sphere of life, and this has enriched my life. I am much wiser now (there was an urgent need for that in the first place).

I have been able to get out of the rut of patients, diseases and human misery all the time. Before that I used to feel that even a social evening would bring monotony of the same faces met in the morning with same topics discussed and fought over. Doctors ‘burn out’ rapidly but this hobby has helped a lot to remain fresh and focussed.

Art helps us to slow down, take a look around and appreciate the beauty of world. Portrait photography has helped me to detect subtle expressions of joy, misery, grief and grace under pressure. It has made me a keen observer, who is able to pay attention and decipher shades of emotions.

We are lucky to be in a phase of rapid evolution of art of photography both at national and international levels. It has become much easier to practice, learn and share this art. I have met wonderful people like Razaq Vance, Azhar Hafeez and Sami Ur Rehman who have been a source of encouragement and guidance for me. Have learnt about giants like OR Owaisi,  Nayyer Reza, , Nadeem khawar, Atif Saeed and BK Bangish. I wish to see and learn from their wisdom and experience as well. Now I realize their greatness and contributions for the sake of art and for our country. There are probably many more unknown to me, as true artists tend to be shy of publicity.

This nation desperately needs heroes in every sphere of life.

They have emphasized the importance of a lifelong learning attitude. Taking photography as an art rather than just accumulation of gear.

I have not been able to visit exotic places and capture portraits of weird looking people. Basically it is due to my laziness, though I offer an excuse of professional commitments (with that look of importance on the face). As a result my photography is mostly limited to urban life around me.

Documentary/portrait photography is interesting as people respond differently to it. I have been approached many a times for a ‘glamorous photo shoot’. Despite a hidden desire, I have refrained from it as at this stage of my life I don’t want doors (and windows) of my house closed for me at the end of the day.

What irks me most is that people tend to see art through a haze of their own personal biases and convictions.  Art just captures what is around us without taking sides. A picture of children sitting near a garbage dump is not an insult of Pakistan and does not need to be pushed under the carpet. Similarly capture of a ritual or festival does not threaten or ridicule a particular faith or a group.

Now few words about my failures and inferiority complex in this art. Despite all these efforts, somehow I have never been able give intellectual talk on photography. I feel lost when a learned talk about various camera models and lenses is going on. What is a photograph? How to take a good photograph? In fact I have realized that I am still as ignorant as I was on the day one

I have realized that I am just an average person, so have lowered my standards (though there was not much space for further lowering) and decided to be contended with some ordinary work. I can just envy the greats and wish………

Through this medium, I am writing my autobiography. After many years, my grandchildren or great- grandchildren might be able to know about ‘Life and times of Aamir Shahzad’. Some of them might shift to some other country and this pictorial record would help them to rediscover their roots. They would browse through all those albums, learn about their culture, traditions and festivals in early 21st century and exclaim with a joy

Oh! Those were the times.

To a viewer these images may appear disconnected, but for me they are part of my life. They remind me of times passed by- never to return- and of people– without whom life seemed impossible once– never to be seen again till eternity. Looking at these glimpses of my life makes me gloomy and depressed like gathering dusk in a wintry evening tends to make one melancholic.

When I am old and no longer able to take any more picture, turning the pages of these albums with a blurry vision would remind me of my life and of (by then) vanished culture.

It reminds me of verses of WB Yeats. He wrote these lines for his beloved, an Irish nationalist, Maud Gonne.

When you are old, grey and full of sleep

And nodding by the fire take down this book

And slowly read and dream of the soft looks

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep