Tag Archives: Movies

Reflections in a Pashtun Cinema

Photographer Omar Mullick has spent the last decade passing through the countries of Central Asia on assignment. Here, he reflects on his photographs of a Pashtun cinema in Karachi, a space he found defied the preconceived images of the region.

These photographs were created, if I am brutally honest, from a loss of faith. Not in my religion or way of life, but from my understanding in how the eye of documentary photography portrays the Muslim world.

I didn’t buy it: the blurred melancholy and humorless conviction with which we documented native, usually Muslim peoples. It did not resonate—not even slightly, and even if I registered good intention in the work, it never mitigated my feeling that there were a thousand ways of looking at people in the West and only one way of looking at other people on the brunt of war. They were often confined to one visual language, or, to extend the metaphor, one set of visual phrases: suffering, victimhood, violence and trauma. And in the effort to prompt outrage and underline how bad war was, their subjects were often confined to the ‘other’. More specifically, people never surfaced in photographs—only symbols of war. What resulted was the worst absence possible in a photograph of another person: empathy.

The resulting photographs were shot, I realize now, as a response to that.

They were taken in Karachi at a Pashtun cinema before I was scheduled for an embed in Afghanistan. Working on a project called Basetrack and a documentary film about a Pashtun runaway boy, the photos were snapped on my days off. This place was my retreat, just as it was the retreat for the subjects in my photographs. My work, I hoped, was a portrait of people as they collectively exhaled. And in that I also hoped they kept, modestly enough, the company of photographers that emphasized sympathy over a desire to continue the string of visual metaphor: Kuwayama’s doves at Mazar E Sharif, Balazs Gardi’s tender Afghan father holding his son or Ladefoged’s The Albanians.

Pashtuns are known by legend and myth as warmongers, kohl-eyed and unforgiving, even unconquerable patriarchs to the last man—the blood and muscle of the Taliban. Here, displaced and withdrawn from their beloved mountains and heaped en masse in Karachi’s urban sprawl, they came to this movie theater—feared by outsiders—to see films and hear songs in their native tongue. And I—with my personal stories of bloodlines running all the way to Kandahar and Waziristan—schoolboyishly wanted to lose myself in their fold.

Men huddled and laughed in the aisles, smoking hash in advance of the film, people who saved their pennies for stale popcorn or samosas to be had in the intermission. Also men who, left alone, sat in the front aisles waiting in anticipation for a Pashto song to come on and then rushed the screen to dance against the projection to the song, cheered on by all. Runaway boys, who had made their way from Afghanistan or Waziristan to Karachi to pick trash by day, now chose the afternoon after Friday prayers to see a film. They preferred the sound of cinema to the buzzing drones that soundtracked their nightmares. Then there were the drug dealers, the boys looking to pick up johns by the bathrooms and the bulk of men who swore to kill any pedophiles they found taking advantage of children. But mostly it was of people at rest, disarmed. They were having fun.

These were men and young boys at ease enjoying themselves. In that they mirrored the loose pop flash photos I took of friends back home. I photographed the cinema barely looking through the viewfinder, the camera lofted above the fray and through ongoing laughs and phrases in Pashto, asking them what Waziristan looked like and who had been to Kandahar. And then I would shoot more, telling stories about my grandmother and her pride at being Pashtun and my mother’s own deep reservoirs of will and piety—markers they would surely recognize. In this recognition I found the most personal visual language I could muster.

Shoot them like you would your friends at home, I told myself: free of abstraction, their dignity intact. Shoot a portrait they might recognize of themselves, something they might love, something that may make them smile. At least once, let’s do that.

Shoot them as if your loss of faith in photography were redeemable, as if an image might actually be a chalice for humanity and you were all going to pass around the cup.

Shoot them as if your faith were already back.


Omar Mullick is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York City. He was an embedded photographer in the Basetrack project out of Afghanistan in 2011. His work on Muslims in America titled Can’t Take It With You received a solo show in 2009 at Gallery FCB in Chelsea, N.Y., and his recent film These Birds Walk was selected for 25 new faces of Independent Cinema in 2012.



‘Barbarella’ at 45: David Hurn’s Iconic Images of Jane Fonda

A member of Magnum since 1965, David Hurn had been photographing behind the scenes on films for years in the 1960sincluding the Beatles’A Hard Day’s Nightand the first four James Bond filmswhen he was asked to take pictures for the 1968 sci-fi cult classic Barbarella.

Forty-five years after snapping the enduring images of the film’s daring star, Jane Fonda, the photos continue to send their legendary photographer checks in the mail and thus fund his ongoing project documenting the changing lives and landscapes of his home country of Wales.

During production in 1967 in Rome, however, Fonda had become a challenge for photographers, rejecting so many frames that few were left to promote the film in magazines, Hurn said.Once he got on set, he discovered the famously beautiful Fonda was insecure about her looks.”She actually said to me, ‘I feel like a squirrel with one cheek full of nuts, … Anyway I managed to get her to laugh a lot and we then became very good friends,” he said.

Hurn exposed about 500 rolls of film over the course of a month.His most published images from the assignment were a fashion-inspired series of Fonda in her costumes against a white background. A dedicated and agile athlete long before her fame as a workout guru, Fonda was a natural at the kicks, squats and stretches Hurn captured.

At about 6 o’clock in the morning there’d she be cavorting around with a foot behind her neck sort of thing. So it was comparatively easy to do shots of her in the various costumes with very exaggerated poses and things which was exactly right for what was after all a comic strip, Hurn said.

The photographer enjoyed his time on Barbarella and felt well-treated by the director, Fonda’s husband, Roger Vadim, but the project was not without its annoyances and hiccups. For one,Hurn grew tired of Vadim and his entourage talking about free love.”It seems to me if you want to get your pants off, get your pants off, but not try to justify it by some theory, you know,” Hurn said.And then, a week into the gig Hurn’s cameras, including Leicas, were stolen. They reappeared two days later, however, replaced in a secret act of generosity by Fonda.

Hurn remained friends with Fonda after Barbarella, photographing her at her country house, her and Vadim’s next film Spirits of the Dead and later director Joseph Losey’s A Doll’s House in 1972.

Today Hurn, who is also a renown educator, is at work on several projects including a third book about Wales, where he’s been living and photographing since leaving behind the expensive glamor of London in 1970. He’s planning a project detailing life in his 400-person village for his final five years. But he’s not rushing into it.

I have had a blissful life, he said. I always puzzle when people sort of grumble about their lives. article writing submission . I really, really enjoyed my life and I’m clinging on desperately. They’re going to have to really drag me! I think life’s so pleasant and can be so funny, so, so funny.

Stefano de Luigi Photographs the Cinema of Iran

With Iranian cinema in the news after A Separation took home the prize for best foreign film at this year’s Oscars—and after last week’s announcement that, in Iran, the planned celebration of that win had been cancelled by government authorities—LightBox takes an opportunity to revisit a 2007 project by Stefano de Luigi, in which he went behind the scenes to document the country’s filmmakers. These works, taken from the larger project Cinema Mundi, have until now never been published in North America.

At this year Oscars, there was no more poignant speech delivered than the one by Asghar Farhadi, Iranian director of the film A Separation, which won the prize for Best Foreign Language Film. “At this time many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy,” said Farhadi, the writer and director of the film. “They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or a filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture. A rich and ancient culture that has been under the heavy dust of politics.”

Stefano de Luigi—VII

Posters from national movie scenes are displayed Tehran’s Cinema Museum.

Amid the bluster of Washington neo-conservatives, hawks in Tel Aviv and messianic diehards in Tehran, Farhadi stood out, a voice of reason, a voice of art. His film is hardly propaganda: it deals with the travails of a middle class family in Tehran, which is torn apart by the desire of one member to escape what seems to be the shackling, limiting conditions of life in the Islamic Republic. Indeed, if anything belies the demagogic sheen of Iran’s image in the West, it is the irrepressible sophistication and class of Iranian cinema. Veteran filmmakers like Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarastomi grace Cannes and are adored by cognoscenti the world over. In an era of 3D blockbusters and faddish directors, Iran’s cinema luminaries remain auteurs in an almost classical sense, the descendants of various New Waves that palpably reach back into the smoke-filled cafes of 1960s Rome and Paris.

The photographer Stefano de Luigi’s long-term project Cinema Mundi, which addresses changes to global cinema over the past decade, has taken him to filmmaking stories from around the world. His photographs from Iran are featured in the gallery above. The magic of Iranian cinema can transform stories of a missing goldfish or a wayward ostrich into profound allegories of faith, society and politics. Invariably, though, censors get in the way. Most recently, director Jafar Panahi was thrown into jail for his alleged collusion in the peaceful 2009 pro-democracy protests that rocked the powers that be in Tehran; his last film, Offside, related the struggles of a group of girls desperate to attend an Iranian national team soccer match—a spectacle from which they are barred under law. That awareness of a story suppressed, a “rich and ancient culture” under firm watch, suffuses much of Iranian film. It is up to the courage of its actors and artists to make sure the “dust of politics” that settles can be easily brushed off.

Stefano de Luigi is a Milan-based photographer represented by VII Photo Agency. See more of his work here.

Short film: Constantin Brancusi, sculptor, photographer, filmmaker!

Bande annonce : Images sans fin… par centrepompidou

Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi was a visionary artist who delighted in the play of light on form, shape, volume. What many people don’t know is that he was also an avid photographer (which makes perfect sense), and he made movies with a hand-held 35 mm movie camera!

The Centre Pompidou in Paris has pulled together a remarkable exhibition of the photographs and movies — and Brancusi’s studio itself was moved intact to the site, offering an amazing opportunity to see an artist’s creative work environment. jd . The studio installation is permanent, however the exhibition of photos and movies ends tomorrow. If you can’t make it in person, you can enjoy the excellent book and/or a DVD of his short films, both available at the Centre’s bookstore.