If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. —Oscar Wilde
Reproduced for your viewing pleasure are the obverse and the reverse sides of the invitation card of my first ever solo photography exhibition titled ‘One for the Road’, held at Lahore’s Alliance Française from 5 until 18 March 2005.
The director at the Alliance Française, Matthieu Pinel, was most cooperative from the beginning and matters such as image selection, print size, and framing were left entirely to my Pakistani imagination mainly because his immediate superior, mademoiselle Giselle, had already appreciated my work in private.
Hectic were the days leading up to the opening night but excitement left panic knocking at the door. To be honest, photography seemed an easier job compared with organizing a major public display of it.
More than half of my images were in colour, with no digital manipulation in Adobe Photoshop software. Long hours spent at yet another photo lab that only processed black and white (silver gelatine) prints paid off as well. Ah, the lengths one must go to satisfy discerning eyes.
The cameras I used were good old film cameras from as far back in time as the 1950s. Nothing was digital, all was either shot using the square 6x6 cm format or standard 35mm negative film. Whenever interested viewers or interviewers wished to know what camera bodies or lens I had used, I laid great stress on the power wielded by something considered quite old-fashioned: the negative.
It was odd to note that ordinary people seemed to equate quality images with unusually expensive and complicated digital gadgetry. There is no short cut to hard work and just about any camera in capable hands automatically becomes a powerful creative tool, and the greater the artistic vision, the less important the fixation on equipment becomes, but even this truth takes time to absorb.
At home, I spent endless hours getting the photograph’s titles and the pricelist right. Since I knew that photographs always sold less than paintings did, the prices were kept affordable.
Mine was the first event to be held at the new Alliance Française premises located at Scotch Corner, Upper Mall. The opening day was extremely busy as nearly all the media people and members of civil society descended in time for free snacks—if not fine Scotch—that the ‘French Centre’ had arranged in the front lawn.
The first ever exhibition of my work was a solo show—a great breakthrough for me. Friends, colleagues, neighbours, strangers, famous names and perhaps unrecognizable old flames, all turned up at the venue during those fourteen days. If the public got any wrong impressions from seeing certain images, it was because it did not look long and hard at them.
The public’s comments in the visitors’ book that I had placed there were equally amusing—I learnt nothing new about myself. While the literati used the same book rather wisely, the ignoramuses of our society abused it by penning thoughts that actually showed me how unhappy they were to witness genuine creativity. The latter group—unable to appreciate the meticulous printing, expensive glass-covered frames and the witty titles of the photographs—expected from a first time solo exhibiter, quantity and not quality, inability to expound and not lucidity, mistakes and not perfection. And hence, the shutter-bugs imposed themselves on my work and took little home to brood over. It was their loss, not mine, and that made me very happy.
Alliance Française invited people from the print and electronic media to cover the exhibition. Interesting were the questions of journalists, some of whom wrote entire articles without having laid eyes on me, preferring to plagiarize the text of the invitation card instead. It made me glad that for a change they wrote fine English.
Interviewers from various television channels, woefully unfamiliar with matters of Art, made me feel they were at a political rally. And by the time the gentlemen from Pakistan Television got over, they imagined I taught photography professionally, something I vehemently denied.
I was asked, “What should the gore-mint do to promote the art?”
Unexpected for them was my reply, “I think the government should only concentrate on running itself without meddling with Art and artists”.
One TV channel aired my interview so many times I was convinced their viewers had absorbed plenty of Art and knew all my words by heart.
Not everyone came as a buyer but some bought what they liked at the exhibition. With urban and rural landscapes, abstractions and street photographs, there were forty-two prints on display. In any case, I exceeded my sales target and was happy to share the cake with my French sponsors.
By the end of the exhibition, director Matthieu Pinel too was a happy customer who bought a black and white photograph titled, Lord of the Rings, which was a street portrait of man selling rings that common folks can be seen wearing in Pakistan.
I had plans of taking the circus to the Federal capital but decided to spare the capitalists so in love with bad policies plaguing this country. Then I thought of Karachi but decided to let the unhappy ethnicities first decide matters relating to ‘the art of war’ between their rotten selves.
These days, everybody needs a painting to match the interior decor, and calligraphy of Qur’ānic verses seems safe since many believe that if they hung depictions of human beings on the walls, God will ask them to breathe life into them. God has better things to do than that.
Art is one’s individual expression and pays tribute to the unity in diversity. Art is the opposite of organized religion and this is the reason why artificially pious persons, unable to attach unverifiable dogmas to each stroke of genius, hate its unfathomable abstractions.
Lahore now has many art galleries and some still wish to put up my work for sale. Since March of 2005, I have not decided if I should become famous as a photographer or as a wordsmith.
©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2011