To photograph the much-photographed, says Tapu Javeri, the portrait photographer must wait patiently to glimpse what lies beneath the “stage” face of the celebrity. To Arif Mahmood, the photographer’s brief must be to remember that, celebrity or no, the lens’ subject is always more important than the photographer himself or herself.
The photographs in their new book of portraits reflect and comment on their individual approaches to the art by contrasting their distinct viewpoints on a single subject. Dou Rukh (Two Faces), released last week in Pakistan by Karachi’s Markings Publishers, is a book that has its origins in a photo exhibition. Mahmood and Javeri—also natives of Karachi—put together 15x4 in their home city in 2007. The exhibition featured 15 people, each photographed once by Mahmood, Javeri and fellow photographers Amean Jan and Izdear Setna.
Arif Mahmood and his horizontal cover for Dou Rukh, featuring cabaret dancer Marzi
Javeri and Mahmood then decided to spin the idea into their own book. They had photographed most of the people in Dou Rukh several times before, but all of them were reshot in 2011, to keep the project as current as possible.
Tapu Javeri and his vertical cover shot with Marzi
The 17 people featured in the book are well-known Pakistanis; from designer Rizwan Beyg to artist Durriya Kazi, singer-actor Ali Zafar to humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi. Mahmood’s intimate, lingering portraits of them run through the book’s first half, seeming to capture them deep in thought, or in a moment that takes them out of themselves. The qawwals Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad are caught mid-performance, dominating the space around them, in a sharp black and white photograph.
By contrast, in Javeri’s photograph, Ayaz and Muhammad feature in a blur of lights and almost indistinct colour, their faces half-glimpsed in a shot that tries to express the momentum of their performance, and perhaps the abandon of the qawwali itself. Javeri’s portraits, which run through the second half of the book, find the same people in Mahmood’s shots much more aware of their context and the gaze of the camera. Comedian Durdana Butt is seen laughing, and model Ayaan pouts at the camera in a self-consciously glamorous shot. Zafar, whom Mahmood captures in an unguarded moment during a concert, laughing at someone outside the frame, frowns from the stage, a brooding pop idol wreathed in smoke, in Javeri’s shot.
Television host Mathira, captured by Mahmood and Javeri - Arif Mahmood/Markings Publishers (Right), Tapu Javeri/Markings Publishers(Left)
Javeri thinks Mahmood is “a Romantic; his photographs have a painterly quality”, while Mahmood finds Javeri’s oeuvre a mixture of the candid and experimental. They were both photographers and photo editors at Pakistan’s film/lifestyle magazine Xtra in Karachi in the 1990s, a quarterly project that they both describe as “cutting-edge”; each issue had two covers, one by each of them.
In the quick but heavily premeditated gaze of Page 3 glamour shots, the image appears void of reflection. “There are two kinds of portraits, one that is artificial and staged, another that is informal. Fashion and glamour portraits, like the Page 3, ones are usually changed on photoshop and completely artificial,” Javeri says.
Qawwals Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad during a performance, captured by Javeri and Mahmood. Arif Mahmood/Markings Publishers (Left), Tapu Javeri/Markings Publishers (Right).
“For us, it’s always about elevating the image,” Mahmood adds.
Portrait photography like that of Dou Rukh functions as a doppelganger of sorts to the quick fixes of celebrity culture. It tries to bridge the distance between posed and natural displays, looking for a character, rather than a moment. The portraits in Dou Rukh showcase Mahmood and Javeri’s markedly different approaches to portraiture. Both separately and together, they also create a quiet, beautiful mental composite character for each of their subjects.
Dou Rukh: Markings Publishers, 86 pages, Pakistani rupees (PKR) 1,200 (around Rs 680). Available at Libertybooks.com from 10 October.