Living Human Treasure, ever heard about such term? Put in very simple words, it is a kind of Oscar that some nations give to their most renowned artisans. Well, after a glimpse to Humans of Karachi, you might well start thinking it is not just “high art” that defines a country’s living treasures. The HO project, launched by photographer Khaula Jamil together with Citizens Archive of Pakistan, brings stories and images of common Karachiites – “resilient survivors with an almost unhealthy passion for their city” – into a photographic census of a touching beauty. Ode to the living human treasures, that’s right.
“Initially, I started out with Brandon’s formula of questions and composition, but over the year, Humans of Karachi has formed its own style. We don’t really have any fixed goals or objectives – we just want to go get great stories and share them with people. We would love to be able to cover all streets of Karachi one day”, says Khaula Jamil, co-founder of the project.
Bastart: Tell us more about the origins of your project.
Khaula Jamil: My inspiration was Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York and I thought doing this in Karachi would be a great adventure. I started the project together with Citizens Archive of Pakistan as I was heading the Photo Department there at the time.
Now I’m an independent photographer and continue to do the Humans project as well. I’m assisted by Kamran Bhai (KB) who helps me out by taking me around the city in areas where it’s better not to travel alone. He is my partner of sorts since he can speak some provincial languages I can’t and has been involved in the project from the very first day as me.
B: Who are the humans you photograph?
Kh: Anyone and everyone I meet out in the city on the streets or elsewhere, belong to the page. Usually I’m attracted by what they are doing or wearing or by some particular attitude that they have. Though sometimes even the quietest person can have the most moving conversation with us and that’s a very important factor on the page – the story. If there’s no story and no spark – it just won’t work.
B: Do you find it hard to get people tell stories?
Kh: No. Everyone in Karachi loves to talk. :)
B: Story or photo: which weighs more?
Kh: Both are important. I could end up taking a great photo but if I can’t get the story, the photograph won’t be half as popular as opposed to taking a hurried bad photo but getting a fantastic story. I try to do both to the best of my abilities.
For external collaborators who wish to contribute with their photos to the project, Humans of Karachi have developed one of the most detailed set of rules that Bastart’s seen so far. Just to quote a few: “Sorry guys, no instagrams please – we have worked too hard on this page to let that happen!”; “Play with angles, with subject matter, go up close, move far back, experiment with light – show us a part of Karachi and the inhabitants no one has possibly seen or capture loved ones in artistic ways!”
B: Why Karachi? Hometown or just a temporary location?
Kh: Karachi is where I was born and raised. I felt it was important to do this kind of project in a city that I knew really well. Now with my year-long experience I’m confident to explore other cities and do this elsewhere in Pakistan while continuing in Karachi.
B: “Humans”, not “People” – what’s your view on this?
Kh: There’s only a rhetorical difference in the two words. They mean the same thing, it’s just that “Humans” is a more basic, rawer word. I like it better than “People” because it’s less generic and reflects humanity which is the common denominator in all of us.
B: Humans of Karachi in five words?
Kh: I can do it in four: “This is also Karachi”.
B: Would you locate the “Humans of” phenomenon closer to Wikipedia or Google Maps?
The Citizens Archive of Pakistan
A non-profit organization dedicated to cultural and historic preservation and educational outreach, with a mission to document Pakistan’s rich history, cultivate a unified identity and develop civic responsibility for building a better tomorrow.
This is our 500th portrait on Humans of Karachi. This is also one of the most beautiful faces I have had the privilege of photographing in this city. His disposition was as humble as the shyness in his eyes.
These naughty little ones, armed with fire crackers, teased me by pretending to throw them at my feet as I was trying to photograph someone. When I asked them to be in the picture next, they transformed into these little angels.
I bought a piece of silvery rock from him which if crushed would become ‘surma’ (kohl). He told us he got it from a mountain somewhere. His eyes had a far away look in them and his story about the mountain was never completed. Made me think of all the mysterious tales he may be harboring in his head which, unfortunately, may never be told.
Two girls hide from the scorching sun underneath the shelter of the flag. That was weirdly poetic.
Addicted to Texting! (Thanks to the cheap packages from cellular companies)For more information about Humans of Karachi please visit the official Facebook page. For more information about the HO phenomenon read Ode to the Humans.
Words and interview by Jurgita Po.Alessi