In celebration of Women's History Month, The Game magazine interviewed Hafsa Javed, the 2022 IMAGO scholarship winner. In this interview, the young photographer discusses how she overcame challenges in her home country and how the award helped her to present her first solo exhibition, "Pak Sar Zameen," as a stepping stone into a new professional path.
When Hafsa Javed first began working as a photographer, she first believed that equipment played the most crucial part in the photographic process. But once she began comprehending it, Hafsa understood that it was more than she had imagined—love, patience, lights, colors, and the people around her.
Hafsa won the IMAGO scholarship prize while she was a fine young artist just starting as a professional photographer last year, and now her first exhibition, “Pak Sar Zameen,” is taking place in Lahore, Pakistan. In her statement, Hafsa refers to the exhibition as “a twisted love letter to the homeland,” noting in the interview that “being a female artist in a nation like Pakistan demands a certain sort of guts and endurance.”
“Don’t be discouraged by tough circumstances or setbacks; rather, use them as opportunities to grow and improve your craft.”
When you won the IMAGO scholarship, you said that the prize would be a new professional camera to help you keep working as a photographer. How did you develop and evolve to the point that you are now holding your first solo exhibition?
Better equipment helped me with better quality and flow of my work, my new gear that I got because of Imago’s scholarship helped me take more detailed pictures. Having a vast collection of photos & getting international recognition from agencies like Imago or MoMa along with my family’s support, I got to have my own solo interactive exhibition that was quite a success.
You have stated “A twisted love letter to the homeland,” about your exhibition, “Pak Sar Zameen”. Can you explain about your work in this exhibition, what did you mean by this description?
Usually, when individuals create art that pays homage to their homeland, they tend to focus on its positive attributes and their fondness for it. However, I aimed to use my artistic perspective to portray my country truthfully, showcasing both its favorable and unfavorable aspects through my lease.
Based in Pakistan, which also is the main subject of your exhibition, you primarily work as a street photographer. What brought you to this kind of photography?
As someone who enjoys experimenting with various types of photography, I have found myself particularly drawn to street photography. Its raw and candid nature appeals to me, and I appreciate that it doesn’t require any additional equipment or staged setups. Additionally, living in a lively and culturally rich country like Pakistan adds to the joy of capturing candid moments in the streets.
Colors are crucial in your photography, is there anything you want to draw the audience’s attention to? What is the narrative you want your work to convey to its audience?
I have always been a fine artist, but my artistic expression evolved to incorporate photography as I grew up. As such, I place great importance on contrasts, lighting, and shadows in my work. I strive to create photographs that have a painterly quality and experiment with color and grading to evoke particular emotions or atmospheres. For me, colors are vital in storytelling and conveying meaning in my art.
“Street photography is an art form that allows you to capture the world around you in unique and unexpected ways. So, get out there, camouflage yourself, and let your creativity flow.”
Can you explain to our new street photographers what kind of equipment you intend to use; how do you get ready to go out into the street, and how do you start taking pictures of the people on the street?
Go with the flow! You never know where your next shot might come from, so keep your camera ready wherever you go. And when you’re out on the streets, blend in with the crowd by using a scarf and a non-camera bag to conceal your gear. Remember, less is more – bring only the essential equipment like lenses and batteries.
To capture the essence of your subject, pay attention to their body language, be an observer, and if you’re targeting a specific demographic, dress the part so that you blend in. Above all, don’t forget to have fun. Street photography is an art form that allows you to capture the world around you in unique and unexpected ways. So, get out there, camouflage yourself, and let your creativity flow.
What other regional or international photographer’s work do you especially admire?
I look up to Ashraful Arefin’s work and mostly take inspiration from women photographers like Sajal Sajjad and Natasha Zubair from Pakistan. It takes a different kind of courage and resilience to be a female artist in a country like Pakistan.
When you first began photography, what challenges did you face?
The fact that I thought good photography only relied on good expensive equipment but had only a basic beginner’s camera. I practiced and got to explore. I realized it is all about lights and shadows and very little about the equipment that I used. I also had people around who thought I’d never make it as a photographer in life and that it was something anyone could do but I did what had to be done and became a photographer anyway.
What is your advice for a young female photographer who wants to start in the photo industry in your region?
Be brave but be safe. Try to take someone along, share your car ride details with someone. Walk like you own the place but be humble. Ask for help when you need it, people are actually nice most of the time and love to help and trust your instincts.
“For me, colors are a vital component in storytelling and conveying meaning in my art.”
Do you have any special projects upcoming?
My exhibition ‘Pakistan Sar Zameen’ and my website were the only projects I took and worked on since past few months to expand my business internationally, making it easy for anyone to buy my painting like photography prints from any corner of the world.
Would you like to add something?
As an artist, it’s important to remember that your gear or tools are facilitators for your skills, not the skills themselves. Expensive equipment doesn’t necessarily equate to quality work, don’t get caught up in the belief that you need to constantly upgrade to produce better art.
Instead, be kind to yourself and focus on positive self-talk. Believe in your abilities and know that talent is not something that you’re born with, it’s something that is developed through consistent practice and pursuit.
Don’t be discouraged by tough circumstances or setbacks, but rather use them as opportunities to grow and improve your craft. With consistency and dedication, you can achieve whatever you want in life. So, stay focused, keep practicing, and remember that your true potential lies within you, not your equipment.