There is a surreal and mystical quality to Javaid A. Khan’s photographs; from chestnut trees in Nathiagali to autumn leaves in a park in Islamabad, the rich colours and the play of light transform a seemingly ordinary moment into a celebration of nature’s irresistible beauty.
Javaid A. Khan has been taking photographs for decades. His domain is the mountains surrounding Murree, the town he grew up in, and the areas around Islamabad where he now lives. It is the aesthetics of the woods, the mountains, clouds, rain, hills and lakes that are the subjects of his work – sometimes a panorama, but most often a close-up. His aim has always been to preserve nature with his camera, capturing the unspoilt scenery of the mountains and trees which, especially in the foothills of the Himalayas, have fallen victim to the government’s blinkered priorities and decisions that have eaten up the trees and denuded forests.
“Photography for me is like taking a walk with nature, more like a spiritual thing, and my passion for conservation probably comes from that. The silence of nature is always better than the sounds of man – unless it is music or Beethoven’s symphony!” he says. Khan describes himself best as a tree-photographer – he has photographed the poplar, the chestnut, the oak and the pine in the Himalayan foothills and the enchanting hues of the trees of the scenic Potohar plateau, from multiple angles. “People ask me to photograph them and I tell them that I’ll do it if they climb a tree. And, as someone said, truth is really not like an electric pole, but more like a tree,” he says wryly.
Truth is what permeates Khan’s work and his values are derived from what is called the straight school of photography, which never uses trick filters nor does it resort to manipulation. For years he has used a 35 mm camera. “Back then, even if you manipulated slightly, photographers would say you’ve done it in the dark room and people would appreciate that,” he says. Khan is apprehensive about the amount of manipulation in current-day photography, “Now, no one owns up to it, one has never seen nature as you do now – the grass is so green, the sky is so blue – in nature’s reality, this rarely happens. These photos have all been touched up and changed,” he says.
Khan’s latest collection, exhibited recently at the Gallery Louvre in Islamabad this May, was a subtle departure from trees and woods and a gentle rendition of a diverse collection of individual flowers, leaves and plants. “In this particular session, I did something different. I tried to catch up with the world, but the images have not been photoshopped; they are the actual images,” he says. Khan’s photographs are beautifully rendered with subtle effects which, he explains, can be achieved by using various elements such as frozen ice-cubes, water, glass or even a painted boat, that serve as a backdrop.
Instead of going out into the field, Khan altered his modus operandi to produce this collection. He foraged flowers and leaves from within one square mile of his immediate surroundings, came home and arranged them in the format in which he chose to photograph them. “It’s also because age is catching up, and I can’t go up the mountains so often,” he says. The subtle nuances of his photographic masterpieces portray his artistic sensibility. The bright colours of the flowers and leaves against a smoky grey backdrop, create balance, harmony and equilibrium in each work, “Art, for me, is being in rhythm with nature,” says Khan philosophically.
Khan believes that every photographer’s dream is waiting for that accidental photograph to happen. “Nature is like a spiritual thing and it’s amazing that sometimes, maybe once in a year, any ordinary bush we pass somewhere comes alive, leaf, stem and vein. And if you’re there and you click the shutter to get the best image – it’s fantastic. And when you see it through your lens, all you can say is, oh, my God.”
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This article was originally published in the October issue of Newsline.
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