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January 3, 2021

‘Nothing appears to be beautiful unless you make it beautiful’

January 3, 2021

A shower of lights cascades down on a group of photographers as they set foot in Karachi’s Chagla Street. Despite the looming threat of a second Covid-19 lockdown in the city, the Kharadar neighbourhood has an air of festivity: buildings and flats decked with colourful bulbs and fairy lights. It’s the eve of Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi, the birthday of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which fell this year on October 30.

“The word ‘photo’ comes from the Greek word for light,” explains Saad Saeed, who has arranged a photowalk, an activity in which a group of photography enthusiasts walk around taking pictures of things of their interest. “Know thy light well, if you wish to excel,” proclaims the group leader as the photowalk begins.

Hill Park, Karachi

Changing perceptions

Photography is the only source of earning for Saad. But he does not charge money for photography lessons. “All you need is a DSLR camera and respect for my time to be at a photowalk with me,” the 30-year-old smiles.

Given the pandemic, Saad has restricted the number of photographers to six for the activity in Kharadar. Since evening, the camera enthusiasts have taken hundreds of pictures, capturing life in the Old City area: from children enjoying swings to adults shopping in the streets. Before packing up, they manage to get permission to go on the rooftop of a residential building. “With time, we have learnt how to win people over and get access to their rooftops.”

A couple of days later, Kharadar becomes a subject of interest on social media. The enthusiasts’ photos are making the rounds on the internet, garnering hundreds of thousands of reactions on popular websites.

Native Jetty, Karachi

“Even Karachiites know little of the Old City areas,” says Waqas Usman, a participant of the photowalk. “A picture imbued with creativity can change our perception of a place.”

As the pictures go viral, social media users show their interest in visiting the location. On Facebook pages and groups related to Karachi, some users post pictures of their own visit to Kharadar after the photowalk.

Image-building

A photo which attracted the interest of foreign nationals in Karachi was taken by Saad at a beach. The picture bagged the 12th position in a competition hosted by Canada-based website 500px.com that had received entries from across the globe in 2020.

Saad’s picture was the only one from Pakistan that was ranked among the best 150 pictures by the website. At first glance, it looks like an aerial shot captured stars twinkling in the blue sky with the lower half

of the picture featuring an inhabited land, as if the photo was taken from outside the world, creating a 3D effect.

Sea View, Karachi

“The picture was taken with a drone at Do Darya in Karachi,” Saad’s eyes glitter with delight. “What looks like stars are seagulls flying over the sea.”

In a sudden change of mood, annoyance flickers across his face as he deplores a lack of investment in what he describes as the image-building of the metropolis.

“This is the age of social media. Nothing appears to be beautiful, nothing seems to have an intrinsic value, unless you make it beautiful, unless you give it a sense of value.”

‘Karachi my muse’

Like a passionate poet who makes sure you listen to their poetry, Saad shows his work on Karachi to the people in his company. “I’m madly in love with Karachi. It’s as if the city is my muse,” says the photographer who has graduated in media sciences.

“I’ve been to many cities and countries, but Karachi has my undivided attention. Even when I work with brands for their products, I make sure I take pictures of the city too and post them online for the world to admire my city’s beauty and encourage them to visit the megalopolis.”

In the middle of the first coronavirus lockdown, Saad would walk through the deserted streets with his camera on. “It was frightening, and pretty haunting,” he recalls. “But it was the only chance for me to capture the silence of an otherwise talkative city.”

He says he is well aware of the administrative and security problems in Karachi. “I don’t enjoy a conversation over these issues, though I face them too. Maybe this is because of my unconditional love for Karachi.”

For him creativity is synonymous with exclusivity. At times, one has to shut a couple of windows to adjust the amount of light inside a dwelling. “Light is information,” he grins. “Don’t let unnecessary information ruin your perspective of life and love.”