A Photogenic Photographer with a Photographic Memory – An EXCLUSIVE Interview with Mobeen Ansari

CoverMobeenMobeen Ansari is a photojournalist, painter and sculptor who graduated from NCA Rawalpindi. At a very early age, he suffered a meningitis attack which affected his hearing, speech and sense of smell but this challenge actually helped him being more observant which he translates visually through his Art.

Mobeen is one of the best photographers in Pakistan. His personal mission is to promote a positive image of Pakistan. He has published two books which are his personal projects. “Dharkan – The Heartbeat of a Nation” is a book that celebrates Pakistan’s heroes – known and unknown both. He very recently launched his second book “White in the Flag – A Promise Forgotten”, which focuses on the religious minorities of Pakistan. (Both books are brilliant and an absolute MUST have!).

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Mobeen’s books that have been a permanent feature on our coffee table and have made us proud as Pakistanis.

While photographing a conservancy workers (gutter cleaners) for Dharkan, he was shaken to the core by the life of these workers that not only did he start his book Dharkan with this picture, he made his first short documentary called “Hellhole”. It was nominated for Best Short Documentary at NYC Independent Film Festival.

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The first photograph in his book – Dharkan

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My favourite shot from his new book -White in the Flag. The woman pictured here, she and her family have been the grave keepers in Mewa Shah graveyard for generations. I was so surprised to find that it’s an old Jewish graveyard, as my family ancestors are all resting there. My uncles actually know this woman, as she takes care of my grandparents’ graves as well.

Mobeen gives credit to his family, teachers and especially his mother who has been his pillar of strength. She never let him learn sign language because she knew if he would start talking in sign language, he would never be pushed to make an effort to talk – such was her conviction. Being a mother myself, I cannot even imagine how proud she must be of her son today. He hasn’t just made his mother and family proud, he has made Pakistan proud of him.Mobeen Ansari-7Mobeen Ansari-2

 

He was recently in Doha for a photo exhibition and we had the honour to know him a bit more. Me and my husband have been following him for a long time on social media. My husband loves his patriotic spirit and what he is doing for Pakistan, and I of course as an amateur photographer have always been a HUGE fan. His books have been sitting on our coffee table and I NEVER imagined that I would have the honour to host him and he will sign them for us at our home!MobeenAnsari-3I feel so lucky to have had the privilege to spend some time with him and know him more as a person. He is not only a great artist but a very humble man. My daughter wanted to show him some her own photographs and he sat down on the floor to be at her eye level. A man (especially a celebrity) who sits down to talk to a child, is a man who was raised with great values! I have so much more respect for him as a person.Mobeen Ansari-4

I had the chance to do a photoshoot of him and I was nervous like hell! Photographing one of the best photographers can be quite intimidating. It felt like giving a viva exam, face to face with the examiner and with the fear that I would fail miserably. But he was absolutely amazing to work with and even helped me do the light setup and posed for me! He made a brilliant subject himself and is so photogenic! I was so happy that he was pleased with the results and asked me if he could use them as his profile picture! (talk about ethics!). Needless to say, I am on cloud 9 and this has been the peak of my journey as a photographer! (I can die now!)

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The photo by me, that he made his profile photo. 

Meeting him and spending time with him has been a life-changing event for me. Not only have I learnt a lot from the Master Class he conducted but also watching him shoot at the photo walk, gave me an insight into his perspective.Mobeen Ansari-9 During the photo walk, I decided that I will be shooting him and observing how he shoots. I learned a lot in the process of chasing him, chasing the light.  He was like an unstoppable body of energy in search of light, and I had a hard time keeping up 🙂DSCF5954

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Mobeen Ansari-8Mobeen is one of those people who has turned his challenge into his strength. He made me think and believe,

“Sometimes it is essential that you close your ears and listen to your inner voice!”

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So, let me share with you a few things I learned about Mobeen, that most people don’t know about him, followed by a very fun and candid interview with him (with some juicy details ;))


Things people don’t know about Mobeen Ansari

Photography runs in his blood!

His Grandmother took the first ingenious selfie of the Subcontinent before the word was even invented! Photography is something he gets in his genes. His grandmother’s grandfather, his grandfather and grandmother, all of them enjoyed photography. His dad also enjoys photography and is the one who taught Mobeen.Mobeen Ansari-14

Related to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Naseeruddin Shah and Tapu Javeri

I never knew that! Talk about having good genes!

Mobeen’s grandmother is the granddaughter of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s grandson (take a minute and read again or see the image below to understand that, lol). He is also related to legend Naseer Uddin Shah and the very famous Pakistani photographer Tapu Javeri. That pretty much solves the mystery of how he is a combination of patriotism and creativity – combined!

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Health conscious and works out every morning!

People hardly know this about Mobeen, but he is a very health conscious person. His daily routine includes Yoga every morning (except Sundays) followed by a healthy breakfast that he makes himself. He believes that the daily exercise helps him physically as well as mentally.

All the long hours of trekking that he does to shoot the unexplored places of Pakistan, has given him some footballer’s legs! (Sorry to disappoint you ladies, but I don’t have any pictures of those legs lol! Though, I told him he should wear shorts more often!)DSCF5953

He follows up on his subjects and develops a bond with them

Mobeen is one of those artists who develops a bond with his subjects and re-visits them to photograph them. He takes about 15 minutes to do a shoot, where he spends 10 minutes talking to his subject and making them comfortable while he observes the surroundings and light at the same time.5

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Mobeen has had a Near Death Experience!

Mobeen told us about the near-death experience he had when trekking his way to a British era trade corridor, called the Wakhan Corridor, which led to Broghil. The corridor borders Afghanistan and stretches through Pakistan, Tajikistan, and China.

He faced an experience where he thought he would not survive a trek. He was left behind alone as he wasn’t able to keep up with the group as he was sick and it was already dark.  The harsh weather followed by rain made matters worse. He took shelter with a big rock, slipping in and out of consciousness, and praying. He felt all his senses were heightened and his entire life flashed in front of his eyes. He knew either he was going to die or would be rescued (which he thought was not likely). He then says he felt that a voice in his head told him to get up and he started running. The voice in his head told him to keep going towards South and eventually, he found his group and was rescued.

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Dual storm in Lashkargaz, Wakhan Corridor – Image Credit Mobeen Ansari

He strongly believes in the Power of Mind, a force that guides him and helps him achieve the impossible.

Read all about it on Mobeen’s blog here.

His Backpack is his Survival Kit

Mobeen’s backpack has everything that he needs to survive. I got a sneak peek into his bag pack which has no fancy gizmos that you would think a photographer like him would carry. He carries his camera, a couple of lenses, a gorilla pod, a book, music and even an extra pair of clothing. Mobeen Ansari-15

He has a Photographic memory!

Mobeen can tell the exact date and time of each and every photo that he has EVER taken! His mind takes a picture of the photograph and the time stamp! (I was speechless when he told me that!)

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Photo collage of his work – Image credit Mobeen Ansari

His photos need NO post editing – NONE at all!

Which photographer would show you his pictures in the camera!?? Trust me, no one!! But Mobeen was so humble and showed me the pictures he had taken right in his camera. They are absolutely brilliant the way they are shot! His photographs need NO editing at all! That’s what a real photographer can do!Mobeen Ansari-13

Music plays an essential role in his life

Music plays a very important role in his photography and he listens to music while shooting. Sometimes he has a specific playlist for each location he visits and only listens to it in those places or when going through the photos of those locations. Mobeen is also hobbyist musician who used to play for 2 underground bands.

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Mobeen is multi-talented and makes great sculptures!

He told me that as a fine arts graduate, he did his majors in Painting and Sculpture and photography was not his main subject.

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Mobeen is an Ah-mazing speaker!

He is an amazing speaker, and his talks are extremely inspirational. His talks are a combination of humour and humility. He has given a couple of TED talks which are a MUST watch!


A Fun Question and Answer Session with Mobeen Ansari

Q: Who has been your favourite subject to date?

Mobeen: Dr. Ajaz Anwar who needless to say is nothing short of a legend in the art world and S.B. John, the Pride of Performance winning singer of the  “Tu Jo Nahin Hai” song fame. Although he has photographed them for Dharkan 2, he was kind enough to share some of the shots from the shoots. 6

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An exclusive shot of Dr. Ajaz from Mobeen’s shoot for Dharkan 2
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An exclusive shot of S.B John from Mobeen’s shoot for Dharkan 2

After seeing the photographs, I can see why they are his favourite subjects!

Q: Who would you love to photograph?

Mobeen: Susan Sarandon

Q: Do you prepare for doing a photo shoot with a celebrity? 

Mobeen: Most of the time it is spontaneous. Like with Meesha Shafi, I contacted her through Facebook with the reference of being her junior at NCA. When I went to shoot her, she looked over the window for something and I saw that reflection in the glass. I asked her to do that again and give the expressions that I had seen before and she did that. She kept her hands on the window by herself, and that is how that picture happened. It was not pre-planned at all.DSCF6214

Q: While shooting for Dharkan, who did you enjoy shooting more – a celebrity or the unsung heroes

Mobeen: Both! They were both fun in their own ways.

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Faces by Mobeen Ansari

Q: Favorite time to shoot? 

Mobeen: Early morning and sunset

Q: Favorite Photographer

Mobeen: Steve McCurry and Gregory CrewdsonMobeen Ansari-11

Q: A place you want to shoot?

Mobeen: Blue city of Morocco – Chefchaouen

Q: Nikon or Canon?

Mobeen: Nikon

Q: Favorite Cuisine/Food

Mobeen: It was BBQ for the longest time but these days it is Cheese Kastoori at Bundu Khan

Q: Favorite Book 

Mobeen: Magician by Raymond Feist

Q: Last book you read/reading now?

Mobeen: The Prince of Blood by Raymond FeistFB_Cover1_preview

Q: Favorite Movie

Mobeen: Lawrence of Arabia and the Edge – they are my inspiration for natural light photography

Q: Coffee or chai

Mobeen: Coffee (I found this out after serving chai to him twice! )

Q: Morning person or a Night owl 

Mobeen: A morning person, I wake up early by 5:00 AM

Q: Choice of Pet? Dog or a cat

Mobeen: Dog

Q: Twitter, Instagram or Facebook?

Mobeen: Facebook

Q: A lot of people have been asking me, he is so good looking – is he married? Is marriage on the cards?

Mobeen: Let’s just say I am not shooting down the idea. (All the single ladies, take note! ;))

Q: How do you earn your bread?

Mobeen: I work as a development sector and portrait photographer. And I also do commissioned images and exhibitions.

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My favourite photo from his body of work – he calls her, his personal Mona Lisa.

Q: Aren’t you ever concerned about your safety?

Mobeen: Not scared of places, I have been lost a number of times while shooting and following the light but something in my mind guides me and I am always able to find my way! I am more concerned about safety when it comes to people and not being able to understand them. I was picked up by the Police twice!

Q: Secret Recipe for Success?

Mobeen: If I have to say it in one word, it would be Respect – for your subject and your craft (Respect!)Mobeen Ansari-12


It was an absolute pleasure to spend some time with this great artist, who was emitting creative energy and inspired so many around him! And when you think it can’t get any better than being able to photograph him, he offers to do our photoshoot! What an honour to be photographed by your favourite photographer! 7

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Okay, now I can die! (* sigh *)


 

 

 

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