Pakistani photojournalist Mobeen Ansari (left) speaks to USC Annenberg lecturer Miki Turner (right) and a room of students and faculty during a Journalism Director’s Forum in Wallis Annenberg Hall on March 22, 2016. Ansari showed his work and described how he overcame obstacles while trying to create work in difficult situations.
USC Annenberg / Brett Van Ort

Pakistani photojournalist shows humanity, emotion in photographs at Journalism Director’s Forum

Pakistani photojournalist Mobeen Ansari recalled photographing the former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and remembered that everyone who photographed him prior would talk about politics.

“I talked to him about arts and it struck a different chord,” Ansari recalled. Ansari, who has hearing challenges after a bout of illness at a young age, became more cognizant of using other senses.

“I like to think because of my hearing challenge I think I’m able to able to read a person’s body language more and try to understand a person better,” Ansari  said.

He was part of a Q&A session with USC Annenberg lecturer Miki Turner during a Journalism Director’s Forum last week in Wallis Annenberg Hall.

His photos showed a side of Pakistan the public normally doesn’t see in an age where stories of terrorism and corruption monopolize the headlines.

During the event, Ansari shifted between showing photos of snow covered mountains in northern Pakistan to portraits of wrestlers sitting in mud in Lahore, a city considered a cultural mecca in the country.

In one slide of the presentation, a leader of a gypsy tribe wanted to have his photo taken only to have his camel turn around and kiss his face. In another photo, a woman from the Kalash tribe — an indigenous people in the Chitral District of the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan — was wearing a beaded, red and white cap sitting atop long braids. Ansari said he felt intimidated photographing her because he knew media like Time and National Geographic had sought her out for a photo in the past.

In addition to being a photographer, Ansari is also an author. His book, “Dharkan-The Heartbeat of a Nation,” shows images from a country not usually seen by the public. During the presentation, he also showed a few photos from his forthcoming book, “The White in our Flag.”

Ansari, who has been dabbling with a camera since a young age, said taking photos isn’t without its challenges. Pakistan is a country with four provinces that couldn’t be more different from each other — with at least five major languages thrown in the mix. He said he attempts to take photos in all of those places.

“You have descendents of Alexander the Great on one side and you have people next to the Indian Ocean, and you have people up north,” Ansari said.

It can be difficult to capture the essence of human emotion — particularly challenging when you’re shooting random people who may or may not like being shot, according to Turner.

“Mobeen has that ability to not only capture it, but do it in a way that it resonates with people from all walks of life. As a photographer, that's when you know you've been successful,” she said.

Turner said Ansari is multi-talented. He is also behind a short film “Hellhole” that follows the silent story of a Pakistani man’s day-to-day life as a gutter cleaner, or someone who dives into sewers to remove waste with his bare hands.

The film, Ansari said, took about two weeks to shoot, recording the man going in and out of the gutter.

Ansari previewed it during the forum and showed in Turner’s JOUR 330: Photojournalism class in which Lauren Dunn (B.A. Broadcast and Digital Journalism ‘18) is a student.

Dunn said she was shocked when she saw the film. She didn’t know much about Pakistan, but seeing the country through his eyes was cool.

“His range of photography is incredible — the landscape photos to the portraits,” Dunn said. “I really liked the portraits the most because you can see the story behind the people through his photos.”