“You can’t pay people enough to shoot children,” says photographer Nariman Ansari, who specialises in child and family photography. She is also the first photographer to do maternity and pregnancy portraits. As she leans back on the warm green couch in the living room of her Karachi apartment, frames of all shapes and sizes cram the wall behind her.
She chuckles as she remembers Kulsum, a two-year-old fireball who was brought to her studio a few months ago by her mother Marzia, to get photographs taken. “That girl gave me a gym session I will never forget!” Ansari remembers the day when Kulsum ran out of Ansari’s home studio, outside into the living room, jumping behind their huge sofa, and then running round and round the dining table, and back into the studio with Ansari chasing behind her with the camera and Marzia trailing after, her hands flailing, expression aghast and a stream of hopeless apologies pouring out of her mouth. “There was a moment where Kulsum was running towards me really fast, her hair flying and pink dress fluttering and her eyes full of a delirious kind of joy, and I was running backwards, away from her clicking my camera. I just had to capture the moment.”
Ansari, 31, one of a handful of child and family photographers in the country, started Firefly Fotoworks out of her one-room home studio in November last year. Before that, the young Indus Valley graduate dove headfirst into directing right after she finished university, giving her photography minor a backseat. For two years she assisted director Saqib Malik with high profile commercial music videos like Fuzon’s “Khamaj”, Ali Azmat’s “Na re Na” and even the India-based “Ghoom Tana” featuring actress Nandita Das. She worked for a couple of production firms and briefly directed a Pakistani sitcom called “Minglish”, until she gave birth to her son Izdeyar. It was not until the beginning of last year that she decided to pick up her camera again and start a business from home.
“I spent about two to three years feeling like a failure because I wasn’t directing, something I had wanted to do ever since I was 12. I thought that by now I would’ve directed a serial. It felt even worse because people had had so many expectations of me because of who my parents were,” she says referring to her mother, popular TV personality Bushra Ansari, and her producer/director father Iqbal. “And then I had to make a decision. I couldn’t keep feeling sorry for myself. I decided to make the most of what I had — if my lifestyle was giving me the opportunity to do this, with my children, or with my yummy mummy friends who had children, who was I to say no? It was time I accepted who I was and stopped trying to be someone I thought I was going to be.”
It was Ansari’s newfound appreciation of her relationship with her husband and son which inspired her to take up this kind of photography. She remembers trying to get her son Izdeyar’s picture taken at Jimmy’s studio, and how nerve-racking it was. Izdeyar simply would not allow the man take a decent picture. “There was no chemistry between them,” explains Ansari, “the photographer was a sombre old bearded man waving a ganda sa khilona in front of Izdeyar and nothing was happening. There was no magic.”
It was then that Ansari returned home, took out her studio lights and her digital camera and started setting up a studio space in her home. She called over her neighbour Maroosh and her twin daughters and held a trial photoshoot. “I needed to see if I really had the chemistry I thought I did with kids. I had to see if I could bring magic.” The pictures turned out great. And that’s hardly surprising given Ansari’s playful nature and comforting look. The cuddly yummy mummy has short curly hair, a sweet coaxing voice and lots and lots of patience. It is with this gentleness that she slowly wins the trust of the fussy divas that visit her studio, and once they feel comfortable they allow her in, and she gets her picture.
While photographing, it is relationships in their rawest most natural forms that continue to intrigue Ansari; relationships between a mother and daughter, husband and wife or grandfather and grandson. She captures moments that are as natural as they can get, be it anger, sadness or utter joy.
She clicks away with her camera for hours on end if she has to, never directing. “You cannot direct children, they are not going to listen you because they don’t even listen to their moms.” Ansari simply allows her subjects to interact; interact with their families, their surroundings and themselves. Some of Nariman’s favourite pictures include a little girl, Leena playing with her long curly hair, and another one that she took of the fireball Kulsum in between her fits of energy when she’s rubbing her eyes and her mother is kissing her head, or the one of baby Haadi flashing a smile with his eyes twinkling so mischievously they seem like they’re on fire.
“It is so important to cherish those moments,” says Ansari, “I wish I had somebody take pictures like that of me when I first met my husband as opposed to those emotionless wedding portraits that have been photoshopped to death. They aren’t memorable at all!” She then gets up from her seat to show me a photograph that hangs on her living room wall, a picture of four generations of Ansari women, Nariman holding little Izdeyar, her mother Bushra, Bushra’s mother and grandmother, in two rows of two, with the top row standing and bottom sitting, staring straight at the camera with forced smiles. “This just documents what we look like, but it doesn’t capture what we had between us,” she says sadly, “and for this we went all the way to Lahore to get the photograph taken with my great grandmother. I would make this sort of effort for a photograph…and I would want to cherish the magic that existed between all of us.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2010.
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