A journey into the heart of the city

January 5, 2020

Amna Zuberi’s pictorial book on Lahore depicts the various sides of the old city that tell a thousand tales

Finding Lahore, a coffee-table book recently published by photojournalist cum travel blogger Amna Zuberi, is an exploration of Lahore and all that her home city has to offer.

It’s a compilation of photographs, from the colourful and cultural side of the city with the aim to tell stories about the sights, sounds and emotions that make up Lahore.

The photographs capture more than just the standard image of Lahore; they go beyond the outward, touristy appeal of the city and travel right into its inner recesses, focusing on the stories told by each person, item and building that form part of the multilayered façade that is Lahore.

Zuberi first visited the old city when she was a student at the National College of Arts (NCA). Years later, she returned to her alma mater, albeit as a documentarian, a photographer, and a storyteller. The images compiled in the book were taken over a span of six years, with the intention to simply capture the different moods of the city.

Zuberi kept going back to the same streets and gates of Lahore, capturing everything that intrigued her emotionally. It was only a year ago that she, along with her layout, text and design team, began to compile the images. The result was Finding Lahore, a holistic overview of the journey Zuberi took into the heart of the city.

Her images include scenes from busy streets and quiet corners. Going through the book, one almost feels like walking through the city, noticing little, details that one would otherwise overlook. It is these details that make up the landscape of the book. Consider, for instance, the vibrant pictures of food stalls and street food vendors, the image of the overhead cable wires; all depicting what life has come to, in this 2000-year-old city.

One also finds candid shots of people residing in the old city. Besides, Zuberi captures the architecture of the city in a fascinating way. For her, Lahore is a combination of its people, sights and sounds that make up a story worth telling over and over again.

The book, published by Markings Publishing, is available in bookstores as well as online across Pakistan.

“The journey is never-ending”

A chat with the author of Finding Lahore

The News On Sunday: Lahore seems to be a huge part of most things you do. What is so special about the city that inspires you personally?

Amna Zuberi: I started exploring the city six years back, to be precise. I went beyond the physicality [of the city], and tapped into its emotional aspect. The journey is never-ending, as there is so much to see and find.

I was born and raised in Lahore. My first interaction with the old streets of the city was during my college life [at NCA]. Lahore has layers of cultural practices that are evergreen and make the city an extremely rich visual exploration.

TNS: How has the city been a part of your personal journey, and was this personal connection a major factor behind your decision to work on the book?

AZ: Despite growing up here, many of us Lahoris tend to explore the city as tourists. This reality compelled me to visit the old city and observe it like an insider. It is what I saw there that continued to inspire me to work on the book.

TNS: How did you narrow down the places and locations covered in the book?

AZ: I didn’t go with a specific plan in mind, rather I started exploring one street which led me on to another, and yet another. I captured whatever emotionally appealed me, and all the little things that are part of the rich cultural layers of the city. For example, you’ll see a lot of doors in the book, each door and each colour tells its own story.

TNS: Tell us why you titled it as Finding Lahore?

AZ: Lahore is beyond the obvious. It is not just the basic tourist attractions that form part of the mainstream narrative. There are so many little things that make up the city. When I started off, I wanted to know all these details. It was this process of finding my city that led to the title.

TNS: How long was the process? Was it structured and systematic, or did you just let it take its own course?

AZ: While I had been exploring [the city] and taking pictures for about six years, the actual process of compiling the book began a year ago. The process of taking pictures was very natural, and I went with the flow of things. Compilation was made keeping the perspective of the readers in mind. We chose whatever we thought would intrigue them and would tell a story.

TNS: Throughout this process, what were some of the most memorable instances and takeaways?

AZ: The most amazing aspect of my journey was the welcoming attitude of the people of the inner city. I was offered drinks and food everywhere I went. I felt completely safe as a woman walking around the city on my own. People would even invite me inside their homes to photograph their surroundings. One instance that stands out for me is the time I was given a complimentary heart-shaped naan by a food vendor on the street!

TNS: Finding Lahore is about the history and vibrant culture embedded in the roots of Lahore. Will we be seeing something on the modern side of the city also, in the future?

AZ: One thing I’m sure about is that I’ll continue to explore the city. This process might take me to a completely different side of Lahore.

TNS: What parts of Pakistan have you travelled so far as a photographer? What’s in the pipeline?

AZ: I have covered all of the borders. I’ve photographed Gilgit-Baltistan extensively, and I keep going back to Kaghan and Naran. I’ve also travelled to the border of Gawadar, and documented interior Sindh. Moreover, I’ve been lucky to have done a travelogue on the absolutely beautiful Balochistan, especially as a female photographer.

Compiling a book is a completely different process, though, and I haven’t planned on it yet. But let’s see!

— Marium Mazhar

Finding Lahore: Amna Zuberi’s pictorial book takes a journey into the heart of the city