They made me nervous. So much infectious energy, courage and hope packed into each one of the 34 young people in that room was almost formidable. I was here to conduct a workshop for them about photojournalism. But what could I really add to their pool of knowledge? Photojournalism is about being a storyteller through pictures. Unlike photography that is more about nouns, photojournalism is about verbs … about an action, about being, about doing. And these young people, aged between 16 and 22 years, are doers. They are living the stories that I hope to teach them to tell through photographs. It was not they who were learning. It was I.
I conducted an exercise with them that confirmed what I have always known about Lyari — that it is culturally one of the richest neighbourhoods, boasting some of the most talented people in the country. The participants were split into groups of four. Each group had to come up with a human interest story of a real character from Lyari, and the story had to be one that could be supported by photographs. I gave them a time slot of seven to 10 minutes to come up with one idea; within three minutes, many of the groups had come up with more than one. Each story was unique and real. Facts more interesting than fiction. Of a man who sells snacks on a cart so that he can earn enough to buy musical instruments and eventually form a band. Girls who had been abducted, had returned and were stronger than ever. An old man who was once an army officer and now sold snacks to children and told them stories to promote peace. And the storytellers, these young boys and girls, were perhaps even more interesting. A girl in an abaya shared her passion for football. Another shared how once he was stuck in his house for three days during a crackdown by security personnel, and asked if it would be good photojournalism to take pictures from his balcony, to which we all said a vehement “no” because a picture is not worth a life.
Conflict zones, troubled neighbourhoods or areas that are outside comfort zones should not be recognised by the bad news coming out of them. What needs to make headlines is the triumph of the human spirit, the undying hope in the people, the resilience and the dreams that refuse to die. Young people from Lyari dare to dream big dreams. And undoubtedly, many of these dreams will be fulfilled. This is the headline news coming out of Lyari. This is what defines the neighbourhood.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2014.