Abdullah Haris: From cobbler to fashion photographer

In tête-à-tête with The Express Tribune, Harris opened up on his early career days, inspirations and ambitions

A still from the video Haris made for Ali Xeeshan. PHOTO: PUBLICITY


In a career spanning seven years, photographer Abdullah Haris has shot just about everything, from music videos to fashion campaigns. Through his diverse body of work he has carved himself a niche as a mixed media visual artist in the ever-growing sphere of fashion photography. In tête-à-tête with The Express Tribune, Harris opened up on his early career days, inspirations and ambitions.

Although Haris started off studying Chartered Accountancy, he knew it wasn’t for him. The artistic vein within him ran deep but at that time, he could barely afford art school. Fortunately, he did not see this as a hindrance. “As an artist, it’s important to have some kind of deficiency so there’s a yearning for more,” he said. He recollected incidents from his humble beginnings. “I used to sit with the neighborhood cobbler and clean shoes with him. That’s where I earned my first salary of Rs10.”

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Struggling with various odd jobs, Haris finally scored a stint as a floor manager at a private television channel. Although, he was not doing anything remotely related to art, the job put him in the right setting. “I fought for the opportunity to shoot and produce but only managed to keep the position for a year.” Six months later, Haris landed a job at another TV channel where he produced a show for renowned musicians who would come and narrate their stories. “I did this so I could get a chance to shoot them,” Haris admitted unabashedly. His plan worked for it was through the show that singers Hadiqa Kiani and Ali Zafar ended up offering him their own music videos. “They took me off the streets about 7 years ago,” said Haris. Thereafter, Haris recorded Ji Dhoondta Hai for Zafar and Be with You for Kiani.

Soon after, Haris happened to meet designer Ali Xeeshan who introduced him up to the fashion fraternity. And now, he is working with some of the biggest brands in the industry. This summer alone, the photographer took on four lawn campaigns which he admitted wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. “I am very careful with being exclusive and made sure I do them justice,” he said. This could serve as evidence for Haris’s success as he is a stickler when it comes to work. It isn’t rare to see him being credited for everything photo shoots entail, from the styling to the concept and shooting.  “I don’t have anyone in my team except for two boys who carry the lights but don’t take this the wrong way. My work is like my baby, I want to do everything for it myself,” claimed Haris.

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Considering he is a film-maker at heart, it isn’t difficult to understand what Haris means when he says, “I haven’t done what I want to do yet.”

His favourite themes seem to have materialised themselves into a clear technique for Haris. The underlying constant in all his projects is his unique ability to use light and colour and transform something seemingly mundane into an object of desire. Not only does he manage to enhance the beauty of the clothes he picturises, he also uses models as part of a larger narrative, allowing them to tell stories through his stills. Haris’s shoots run the gamut from edgy to dark and continually push the creative envelope while fulfilling commercial purposes. His portfolio is versatile and unique. “I have just shot Fawad Khan for a brand that is announcing him as their ambassador,” he revealed.

Through marketable shoots with an artsy quotient, Haris is also feeding the film-maker in him with projects such as the fashion video he created for Xeeshan at PSFW, an extremely dark and cryptic concept which left everyone stunned. He finally disclosed the idea behind it. “I wanted Xeeshan to explore his acting skills as a mental patient who’s lost his mind over Rabia Butt. The idea was to show Rabia taking away his heart but we showed it quite literally with her shooting him.” The video was a classic example of Haris incorporating Xeeshan’s love for shock value and his own predilection for telling stories. “I’m a film-maker at heart so I like to put together a storyline, whether it’s in film or photography,” said Haris.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2016.

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