Pakistani photographer ran to save the past
LAHORE, Pakistan – Before Shahid Zaidi was born, his father opened a portrait studio and captured the country’s budding history, before his home country was an independent.
His father, Syed Mohammad Ali Zaidi, captured a Hindu couple in 1939. The man wore a conservative double-breasted suit, with his hair cut short, while the woman wore a sari with dangling earrings and bangles on her wrists, which were contrasted with black. -and white negative.
The next year she captured a Muslim couple, listed as Mr and Mrs Mohammad Abbas, the bride in a shimmering shalwar kameez and the groom in a browband, an embellished headpiece, and a wedding turban. .
Talk about his studio spread, and Syed Mohammad Ali Zaidi’s clients began to include the elite of the new nation of Pakistan. He photographed Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the lawyer turned separatist who became the founder of the modern country. He first photographed Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, who was gunned down by an assassin’s bullets in 1951.
Shahid Zaidi, 79, wants to preserve that history. He has assembled a small team to create digital versions of images captured by his father 91 years ago at his studio in Lahore. Their goal is to bring the entire collection online so that families can trace their ancestors and explore the coming era of Pakistan.
“It’s my responsibility,” said Mr. Zaidi. “We have images that belong to someone. They may want them or never want them. that’s beside the point. As far as I’m concerned, I owe him something.”
It will not be easy. A studio called Jadis Photographer has an extensive collection of nearly half a million negatives. Although he received some financial support from the United States Institute of Peace, which promotes conflict resolution, he is self-funding the rest.
Bade Zaidi opened the studio in 1930, when he rented a piece of prime real estate on The Mall, a British-era main street in Pakistan’s second largest city. Despite its sought-after location, the studio struggled to find clients in a tough economy.
Mr. Zaidi, who grew up in the studio, said, “The elder Zaidi had the courage, commitment and wisdom to make it happen when he had nothing else.”
Mr Zaidi moved to London to study film as a youth. He returned to Pakistan with his wife Farida in a Volkswagen bus, nearly replacing his Leica camera in Tehran in exchange for gas. The pair later moved to Reno, Nev., where Mr. Zaidi worked as director of photography for a studio portrait company.
When his cousin, who was running the studio, asked Mr. Zaidi to take over the business in the 1980s, he felt he had to return. “There was something inside me telling me, ‘You have to go back,'” he said. “‘It’s your father’s job.'”
Mr. Zaidi and two young colleagues photograph each negative with a digital camera and add names, dates and watermarks to the files, drawing from stacks of notebooks where customers hand-written their personal information.
When he travels to Pakistan, Mr. Zaidi said, he meets people whose family histories are tied to the studio. “There’s always some kind of story related to some of the pictures we’ve taken,” he said.
Today the studio is surrounded by chain restaurants and a luxury watch shop. The studio’s archival efforts have progressed as fit and initially, depending on the amount of funding available. Keeping the portrait business open in the age of the ubiquitous selfie is not easy, Mr. Zaidi said. He admits that he has not fully adjusted with the times as the change in photography and Pakistani society does not fit with him. He shoots with a digital camera but prefers the style and format of his old, analog setup.
If he doesn’t finish preserving the photos, Mr Zaidi said, he fears history will be lost. To his knowledge, some of his father’s contemporaries preserved his archives.
“Every day that I spend here,” said Mr. Zaidi, “I learn something of what he did to achieve what he did.”
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