Game changer: Reinventing Lyari, one photograph at a time

Young photography students use cameras to change the public perception of Lyari

The young participants of the Mehrdar Art and Production institute’s photography camp want to change the way people view Lyari. PHOTOS: AYSHA SALEEM/EXPRESS


If one needs to feel the pulse of Karachi, it has to be felt in a room filled with Lyari teenagers gathered for a photo exhibition after the first-ever summer photojournalism camp in Lyari arranged by the Mehrdar Art and Production (Map) institute.

"The seven-day camp was arranged free-of-charge for children who otherwise cannot afford to learn photography or how to use DSLRs," said Fahim Shad, founder of Map, who himself is a university student. "We aimed to give the same exposure and training to the children of Lyari that the children of the rest of Karachi get. We want to change the narrative of Lyari by hosting programmes that counter violence and extremism," he explained.

Out of the 103 children that applied to be a part of the programme, only 30 were selected due to the lack of space and resources. The camp was held in two batches of 15 participants each. The Karachi Youth Initiative donated four DSLR cameras on which the children could learn about shutter speed, ISO and all things related to photography. The students also went on two photo walks to practice their skills with the cameras.

Read: Unleashing talent: Getting to know the ‘Humans of Lyari’

Nineteen-year-old Mohsin Hussain Latifi, an Intermediate student, came to fill out the form to take the class and left as an instructor. His greatest achievement thus far is the picture he took of an artist and his painting of Obama's family for the 'Humans of Lyari' Facebook page. Latifi still lacks the resources to purchase a professional DSLR camera, in fact, he received his DSLR training while working with Humans of Lyari.

Another instructor, also an Intermediate student, learnt camera functions via YouTube tutorials and by working with Humans of Lyari. "All my friends have professional cameras but I didn't even know how to use a digital camera. After coming here and learning about DSLRs, I think I can become a good photographer too," said Zaid Ghulam Nabi.

"When we went out to photograph on the streets, I realised how much love God has put in making things. Even a beggar brings you closer to God when you take his picture through a camera," explained Hamza Ali, a participant in the camp. "I am from Punjab and when we tell our relatives that we live in Lyari, they get worried because they think it's a dangerous area but if activities like this camp keep happening, we can tell them that this is also Lyari".

"Everyone told me that a girl can't do it but I showed them that I can be a photographer too. By working with boys, I found out that boys are nice to work with too," said Mahnoor Shahoor, one of the four girls at the camp.

The 32 photographs exhibited at the back of the class ranged from pictures of workers on the street in Lyari to cats in backyards.

Read: Glory days: Lyari’s students shine on stage

"I have never been to an exhibition before but entering this room today made me feel like I was entering an art exhibition," said Umair Raza, a schoolteacher in Lyari. "With children like these, I don't think it will take us long to remove the stain of violence from Lyari," he said hopefully.

Metamorphosis: Torture cell turned community centre

The building, once a government vocational training institute, with its broken glass and dark staircases, hosted the camp centre in a surprisingly illuminated space. Carpeted and air-conditioned with a projector in the background, the space that now serves as a community centre was once a torture cell for Lyari gangsters. The building was converted into a community centre in August 2014. Half of the building has been repurposed as office space and the other half holds the community centre, while some corners remain dark and broken, a reminder of the building’s dark history.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2015.


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