Interview with Farah Mahbub

Farah Mahbub is lecturing photography at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan. She shows us that when it comes down to it, a photographers passion of their art is the same wherever you work, although in some places it’s a bit more difficult to get hold of the right tools.

Interviewer / Malin Fabbri
Photography / Farah Mahbub

Cyanotype by Farah MahbubWhat is that you do?

Farah:Well fairly basic stuff when one compares to what the other institutions teach world wide… toning and split toning… different uses of the lith film from shadow masking with a slide sandwich to making prints from lith enlarged negatives. Polaroid emulsion transfers and finally hopefully later this year I feel the students will be ready for cyanotypes and Vandyke prints after all the experimenting with lith film. Since it’s a small class I keep trying out different techniques and hopefully by next year I should be able to set the final curriculum for the minors I teach over 3 semesters to the fine art students.

What are the highlights and frustrations?

Farah:Everything has to made with a formula from start, none of the premixed branded stuff made by Kodak Agfa or for that matter any company is available locally… like it would be nice to get selenium toner, gold toner etc of the shop shelf for a change rather trying to make it my self or having it imported from aboard.

How did you fall into this? Was it your destiny?

Farah:Yes. Looking back I remember how much I enjoyed being a part of the image creation processes which went beyond simply using the camera. In the darkroom the possessing, printing, manipulating, layering and toning images was a total high. Getting into alt processes was just a step further into my much loved realm.

Does it pay your bills?

Farah Mahbub:Well the teaching photography as a full time faculty member at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture is the main bread earner, nothing like a regular salary in this day and age. Besides that a few sales of the fine art images I keep churning out. Plus commercial projects that may come along which might require tons of photography for a magazine, calendar, website etc which can bring in good money.

With all this on your plate, can you still find time to go into the darkroom and do your own thing?

Farah:It’s never enough. No set time, but odd pockets of time that allow me to do work. Recently tried something novel… whenever I need to try or experiment with a new technique I get the students involved which is a learning experience for them and a time saving for me.

In the early days I could get work and material together for an exhibition in about 2 years. Later that became 3 years. These days at what time is available there are strange moments of uncertainty… although I shouldn’t complain. Hopefully this time around my work should be ready for display early next year, which will be 4 years since my last exhibition.

How do you feel your teaching has benefited the alt. proc. community?

Farah Mahbub:Between my friend Malcolm who is a visitor from the UK living in Lahore (another city in Pakistan) and me cant think of anyone practicing alt processes to the level we are. He teaches pinhole photography and practices gum printing which sells well in his city. I don’t sell as well as he does but we certainly have our alt presence felt by the truck loads of people who otherwise will know nothing about it.

Malcolm Hutcheson says:

“I enjoyed my stay at Indus Valley. I was greeted with kindness from the staff who never failed in their support for the workshop. In the students I found a willingness to explore unfamiliar ideas and work through a new process with energy. Learning Pinhole photography, where you make your own camera and then explore its unique visual signature, is part adventure and part magic. As such it feels very liberating and the students quickly found exciting ways to express themselves. I believe the speed which they took this work to heart is due to there correct understanding of photographic techniques taught to them at the Indus. I was fortunate to have such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group and look forward to returning in the near future.”

About Farah Mahbub’s courses at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture:

After a research work of nearly five years the photography curriculum has evolved and grown with an assortment of experimentation, trials and errors, these photography courses are divided into 6 levels and are sorted out according to the level of skills taught.

By the time the students reach the final stages, besides learning traditional photography, they learn Alternative Photography Processes… lith processing and printing and Polaroid transfers, basic darkroom manipulations toning, textured screens, multiple negatives printing and also digital manipulations.

In all honesty we are sort of making history here… before this the school board of studies declined to allow photography as a minor subject for the fine art students class. With the passing of time the number of student’s have grown and their proficiency has excelled to new heights, which in its own way facilitated photography much, as its being finally recognized as a valid form of expression in the fine art realm.

In these past years I have had a wonderful and diverse bunch of young ladies and gents. Who not only awed me with their potential in learning and expressing themselves with photography, but also in reviving in Karachi – Pakistan the lost art of black and white photography.

Future plans are bright as the school will hopefully expand the studio and darkroom facility. Optimistically my dream is that one day this subject will be given the status of a department, to encourage contemporary visual artists who challenge and educate the ever increasing young minds who join us with vital aesthetic & contemporary issues affecting present day humanity.

Farah Mahbub is lecturing photography at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan.

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