Tag Archives: Way Of Life

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 Here, displaced and withdrawn from their beloved mountains and heaped en masse in Karachi’s urban sprawl, they came to this movie theater—feared by outsiders—to see films and hear songs in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.

Alexi Hobbs

Some photographers are born story tellers.  They make work that feels like a visit with an old friend, or a relative who is sharing memories of a life lived–a scrapbook of images that tell our stories.  Alexi Hobbs is one of those photographers. He has the gift of the narrative and brings us along on his insightful explorations of place and family.  His project, Hunters and Heirs, looks at family traditions and shared experiences that stem from a time of need, not want.

Alexi is a fine-art and editorial photographer from Montreal. He has shot editorial work for publications such as Time, Monocle, Dwell, enRoute and Afar. His prints have been fortunate enough to have graced the walls of galleries in Canada, the United States and even a museum in Russia. Most recently he has been selected as a winner of the Magenta Foundation’s 2012 Flash Forward Emerging Photographers competition.

Hunters and Heirs: In 1941, my grandfather, Antonio ‘Pit’ Allard deserted the army to avoid fighting in World War II. He spent four years in hiding on the Gaspesian peninsula and four winters isolated in the forest, working alone as a lumberjack, living off beans and lard. He broke the monotony by trapping hare and shooting partridges. This was a time when hunting was a means to a very vital end, not a weekend hobby. It was a way of life and a source of food.  

When the war ended, Pit settled down in the city, started a family and moved on. However, he never gave up hunting. It reminds him of who he is, where he comes from and why he is still here today.

My grandfather is known for his storytelling. His stories, based both in historical fact and myth, have become part of our family’s identity. They tell of time spent in the wild and many of them find their origin in these hunting trips. In October of 2009, I followed him into the woods, not only to document part of my family’s history, as a photographer, but also to become part of it by actively participating in what would undoubtedly be added to the library of folktales, recounted at the next family gathering. I went to document my family during this transition and to remember who we are, where we come from and ultimately, the reason we are all here. 

Justin Kaneps

Justin Kaneps may be at the starting line of his photography career, having just received his BFA from The Art Institute in Boston, but he is in no way a beginner.  He embodies those great qualities that makes a photographer succeed: curiosity, affability, compassion, and intelligence.  He is an involved photographer, looking for the next opportunity, the next adventure, and each new door that opens allows for another layer of knowledge.  Justin has been exhibiting in the Boston area and it doesn’t hurt that he also holds an Eagle Scout Award, something that seems perfectly appropriate to his person.
I am featuring work from Justin’s in-progress project, In Our Veins, that explores a natural resource: coal, and it’s affects on the communities that surround it’s production.
Images from In Our Veins

The interdependency between our American coal industry and its surrounding communities is deep and complex. While embracing the realities and myths surrounding coal production revel the socioeconomic impact on Appalachian communities that mine it. Pointing out the realities of a rural environment in constant transition, my work explores coal as a problematic but longstanding staple in Appalachian culture and economy.


In spite of awareness about the impact of coal, some know little about the lives of those who produce it and live in the effects. With profound compassion and respect I provide some insight into their world. I explore the evidence of an American ideological past and the nostalgia that exists within the way of life and traditions encompassing coal. An underlying connection exists to my subjects through the air we breathe and the resources we take from the land.


Robert Schlaug

Robert Schlaug lives and works near Nueremberg, Germany.  He has a simple intention with his photography: to raise awareness in times of sensory overload.  Not an easy task, but he uses the idea of how humans intersect architecture, especially architecture that is placed without concern to aesthetic or environment. He considers space and place and how human navigate through it. 

His website reflects his ability to look at the world, and see phenomenon through typologies and simply by taking the time to recognize our changing landscape.  This grid taken from his website reflects some of his explorations:

An example of one of his typologies:
Today I am featuring Robert’s series, Gigantomania and Oversizing: The Wonderland of Kitsch.
Gigantomania and Oversizing: The Wonderland of Kitsch
On Lara Beach just a few kilometers from Antalya away in Turkey, there are sixteen so-called theme hotels, and it leaves on speechless.  It is believed to be in Las Vegas.  Hotel disguised as the ultratsonic aircraft, Concorde, as an imitation of the Titanic, as the Moscow Kemlin, or as Topkapi Palace, without reference to the environment and the local building tradition,in rank and file on this beautiful stretch of beach on the Turkish Riviera.

In the middle of them another hotel giant, which has been completed.  Its spire looks like an imitation of the Chrysler Building top in New York,  Nut for this hotel, one tower is not enough.  It must have four identical towers next to one another.

On the whole beach, nothing to see from the charming Turkish Villages, and the Turkish way of life, only the commercial triumph here..  Shopping malls replace traditional bazaars.

Behind the hotel, just across the street, there are twenty uniform blocks of flats, 18 of them are vacant.  Signs of gigantic bad planning.  Due to the lack of Infrastructure, the homes are standing empty since a few years marked by decay.  Sad scenery in an oversized, artificial world.  An autonomous island of commercialization on the coast of Turkey.

Jean Laughton

I love all photographs about the west.  My father was a cowboy and though I never lived in Arizona, my heart is on the range.  There are lots of photographers making work about cowboy culture and the American West, but none are as authentic as Jean Laughton who lives it on a daily basis.  In fact, it took Jean awhile to send me images as she was busy with calving season.  Her commitment to her work is evidenced in this image:
Riding Drag on the Brunsch Ranch
Jean grew up in rural Iowa and spent a lot of time on her grandmother’s farm. She moved to New York City and began taking photographs.  In 1997, she had an overwhelming urge to venture across the country in search of disappearing Americana.  She met cowboys and country western legends and fell in love with all things western.  
After several more trips over the years, Jean eventually bought property, cattle, and a whole new way of life in South Dakota. She has since learned to cowboy from scratch and has been
ranching on Lyle O’Bryan’s Quarter Circle XL Ranch near Belvidere, South Dakota
while documenting her My Ranching Life series from horseback. Jean now manages
the ranch – riding and working alongside old time cowboy and mentor, Lyle O’Bryan
(age 78) while continuing to document the intersection of her life with the
The two consistent things in her life have been her love of photography and the glorious West. Jean write a blog about her adventures on the range, My Ranching Life.
I am featuring work from two series, Go West and My Ranching Life.
 Go West

I grew up in rural Iowa near the South Dakota border, on
the edge of the West. When I began this series I was living in New York City. I
was longing to GO WEST, back home and beyond, to photograph the people of a
region that so captivated me – to escape back to reality and wide-open spaces –
and travel across the vastness of the West on a journey that became not only a
photographic one but also one of personal discovery – finding links between
photo subjects and past family members, making friends with old bronc riders
from my great grandmother’s days – mingling with the past while documenting the
present as I looked to the future and the reinvention of my life.

I didn’t watch many Westerns but the fabricated reality of a scene from
John Ford’s ‘’My Darling Clementine” and so many from silent movies lit a
spark. I wanted to head West and document real people in their western
‘costumes’ of sort. Pull them out of their current reality into a constructed
one. So I left my then home of New York City, starting in 1995, for several
summers and meandered about the West in my Bronco loaded with backdrops and my
beat up $75 4×5 camera – stopping at selected rodeos and events. To me, this
was like walking onto a movie studio back lot with characters straight out of
Central Casting – but with the twist of naturally occurring authenticity. This
was the beginning of several years of experiences that would eventually lead me
to my current ten-year ranching adventure. What started as photographing the
myth with this series lead to me actually inhabiting it with my current series
MY RANCHING LIFE – stepping into a real life version of the backdrop scene and
going beyond the role of spectator.

GO WEST summers alone on the road were some of the best times – driving
throughout the cinematic landscape of the West as an outsider with no ties,
with a feeling of awe – watching a continuous ever changing ‘drive-in movie’ of
the West through my windshield. They were such days of discovery for me. And
the first time I actually stopped someone to ask to take their portrait.
Watching me set up my backdrop in the wind behind the scenes of rodeos and go
through the process of photographing each person with the 4×5 while talking at
top speed was probably just as entertaining as the rodeo itself and I liken it
to some sort of Buster Keaton silent movie scene from The Cameraman.  I mostly did one shot of the people I met in
Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

When I asked each person to step in front of my backdrop, it transformed into a miniature movie set and they became the leading actor from the countless legends of the true and imagined West of the past. Their look, stance or clothing evoked many a character from many a movie scene and made me aware of movie characters based on real life and real life based on movie characters and the blur between the two. I shot most of the B&W images from this series with the beloved Type 55 Polaroid film – which allowed for a endless array of accidental blemishes and ‘instant’ timelessness.

What started my thousands of miles driving throughout the West was a
personal photography project that eventually morphed into me searching for
something. As with many from the past, I headed West to transform my life –
moving to the tiny Last Picture Show back
lot of a movie set Badlands town of Interior, South Dakota and stepping into my
current cowboying role.


My Ranching Life
I have always used my photography as a tool for attempting
time travel. And working on the Quarter Circle XL Ranch is a bit like stepping
back in time onto a Western movie backlot. The ranch was once home to Earl
Thode – first world champion bronc rider of 1929 and his family. It is quite a
thrill riding across the same land and the same White River as the cowboys from
the past. I feel as if I have stepped ‘inside the photograph’ – riding my Pony
around and photographing in a diorama of the West somewhere between the past and present – between reality and fantasy.

The area of ranches south of Belvidere, South Dakota is rich
with western heritage – with all cattle work done on horseback. Creating quite
the historical visual against the backdrop of the land and cyclorama sky. I
photograph these scenes from horseback, while cowboying, with a Noblex 120
swing lens panoramic camera I carry in my saddlebags. The Noblex gives me a
medium format negative suitable for large-scale printing. The panoramic format
lends a cinematic quality while also conveying the vastness of the landscape.
And the black & white film helps reverse time. My horse’s ears
intentionally appear in some of the photographs – announcing my presence as
part of the crew.

These photographs are a visual diary of what appear to be
‘film stills’ of some of the many scenarios I have been a part of while
learning to cowboy and eventually taking over managing the Quarter Circle XL
Ranch. I have had the pleasure of working alongside a crew of rugged
hardworking cowboys on the ten area ranches we ‘neighbor’ with. This allows me
to learn a lot, cover many miles of pasture on horseback and document within a
variety of landscapes. Offering an insider’s perspective of the beauty and
timelessness of present day family ranching. With photographs that, at first glance,
could have been taken during another era – depicting a profession that has
changed little over the past century. The land, as backdrop, has a permanence
all its own but the cast of characters are bound to change. I am proud to be a
part of it all.

I continue to ranch and photograph and am ever grateful to
Lyle O’Bryan for being my cowboy mentor. These are the years of my life I will
never forget. It has been quite the adventure so far.

This Must Be the Place: COFFER


Video by Lost & Found Films

"We look at working in documentaries almost like a passport that allows us to see how different people live, across cultural, class, socioeconomic and racial lines. And what better way to sum up that idea than explore people's spaces: their home, their place of work, their hangout spot — to really examine, both visually and emotionally, the places that people LIVE. So we decided to make that the focus of our series, This Must Be The Place." — Ben Wu

Filmmakers Ben Wu and David Usui's This Must Be the Place is a series of short films that explores the idea of home; what makes them, how they represent us, and why we need them. Their most recent installment, Coffer is a meditative portrayal of tintype photographer John Coffer's rural home and workspace in upstate New York. Living off the grid, in a cabin he built by hand more than two decades years ago, the artists explains the philosophy behind his way of life, and his thoughts on the nature of home, while the camera drifts through his space, capturing glimpses of him at work and at rest.

Photographer #433: Magdalena Wosinska

Magdalena Wosinska, 1983, Poland, moved to the USA in 1991 and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works on lifestyle, editorial and commercial photography with a very personal signature. For the large part it is shot in the same style as her personal work. In her photography Magdalena invites you to enter her world of which she is not only an secret observer, but an active player herself. She often appears in her own images. It’s a snapshot representation of the American way of life, full of parties, tattoo’s, beards, rock bands, alcohol and nudity, often set within the American landscape and bright sunlight. Her images are intimate and contain a very loose quality. For Magdalena the moment is much more important than using the most sofisticated technology. In 2010 she released the book Bite It You Scum. The following images come from various portfolios.

Website: www.magdalenawosinska.com 

Photographer #421: Luo Dan

Luo Dan, 1968, China, is a documentary photographer based in Chengdu. He graduated from the Sichuan Fine Art Institute in 1992. He works as a freelance photographer after having been employed as a photojournalist between 1997 and 2005. For his latest series Simple Song he traveled to the mountains of the Yunnan province. Using the collodion wet plate process he captured the people of this region where the way of life has remained intact for hundreds of years. His series North, South is the result of extensive travelling throughout China. The large body of work raises questions about the large economic changes in China. On various levels the images show the effects on the Chinese population, from the new wealth, consumerism to extreme poverty. Two years earlier he also traveled across China for his series China Route 318. All three projects have been released as monographs. His work has been exhibited extensively, mainly in China. The following images come from the series Simple Song, North, South and China Route 318.

Website: www.luodanphoto.com