Pakistan is one of those funny countries where I tried so hard to get a trip there for years, and since that first visit I’ve gone back twice. And I’m going again next week! I thought I would go that first time and it would be a one time only thing – but here I am again all nonchalant about catching a flight to Lahore like it’s no big deal. But really it has become so normal these days.
I always get asked questions about safety and being afraid when I travel to Pakistan and truthfully it feels as safe as anywhere else I’ve traveled on a shoot. The only difference I find from my other trips is that I have to keep my head covered in the more rural communities and I have to wear long sleeves, we tend to not linger in any one location for more than a few hours, and I can’t go wandering off alone. But having said that I’ve never actually felt afraid of anyone or any situation, I mean at least not afraid of the people. Shooting down a mine isn’t exactly a relaxing experience but at least that’s a threat I’m subjecting myself to – it’s entirely my choice.
We travel along a pristine motorway to our locations, we stop for KFC, chat about where serves the best brownie in Lahore, and I laugh about a chain called Butt Sweets because I basically have the humor of a 14 year old boy – although that also may be sleep deprivation. It all feels very… normal. And it makes me think of how influenced we are by the news, and how much that dictates our fear. There are problems, but they’re not “news” as such, they’re just ongoing situations – similar to the ones we find everywhere these days, even on our own doorsteps…
The people I’m here to photograph though, they live truly harsh lives. The coal miners are stuck in a way of life that is so isolated and lonely. The women raising their children in a slum and spending their days collecting garbage, they have bruises on their face and they looks so, so exhausted. But from the moment I arrive they’re all smiles, the coal miners try to look serious for their photos but they burst out laughing and soon everyone is in fits of giggles, including me. The women are serious, but as soon as you show an interest in their story they’re keen to show off their kids and their home – making each other laugh while the little ones hang off my arms trying to look through my view finder to see what I’m seeing.
If I’ve learned anything from shooting for charities over the past few years, it’s that the adverts you see on the bus or on the TV – there’s so much more to the life behind that sad looking photo. And that photo, while it’s true, the picture it paints is sometimes a disservice. It’s too one dimentional. A life in need of help and support is not always a life without love and laughter, it’s not all misery and despair, more often its a life without choice or opportunity. And making change isn’t about giving things or solving problems; it’s about clearing some room for freedom, for opportunity, and giving people the chance to have some options, to make an informed choice.
p.s. my Q&A post is coming up next so keep an eye out! And if you have any last minute questions about my work, or photography or anything, leave them in a comment below.