Meeting with Umer Farooq in Lahore

In Umer’s home having tea

Back from a press check

“The heart is the driver. The eye is the mind. The soul lives in the heart and it’s the driver.” That’s how Umer began our conversation during our second meeting. He came to my hotel to meet for tea. It was over 115 degrees outside but he was calm and collected.

We had met the week before inside the old walled city of Lahore. I was out photographing in the early morning. He walked past me with his three beautiful daughters who were leaving the madrasa, which they attended for religious study before they started their day at a secular school. Our eyes met. He told me his name was Umer, and he invited me into his home for a cup of tea. He owns an offset printing business that prints the Pakistan edition of Newsweek and we soon got to talking about our families, world events and South Asian history. His grandmother was from Amritsar, India less than an hour away. Back when she was growing up, before partition, it was all one country. He has a cousin who is a doctor in New Jersey.

Our meeting at the Avari Hotel 

Ten days later Umer texted me and asked that we meet again. He entered the hotel lobby carrying two large shopping bags. Unbelievable. Why was he doing this? Inside of the bags were two very large silver- inlaid vases and three beautifully carved wooden jewelry boxes for my wife and two daughters. They were carefully gift wrapped but he insisted that I open one for security reasons. I was speechless. As we walked outside of the hotel and said goodbye he told me, “I only want to tell your people the real picture. My cap and beard are a symbol of peace, not fear.”


Painting and Sculpture Studio Classes at the National College of Arts

It was an inspiration observing the students working on their year end projects at NCA in Lahore. In spite of the 115 degrees (48c) heatwave they remained focused. Considered the most respected art academy in Pakistan, the school has quite a history. Lockwood Kipling (the father of author Rudyard Kipling) taught painting and sculpture and was appointed NCA’s first principle and curator of the Lahore Art Museum over 140 years ago.

Marjan Asadi , a student from Iran told me that she  was trying to catch the model’s feelings, facial expression and body posture. ” I’m using a palette of warm colors which I believe is greatly influenced by the hot weather in Lahore.

A model posing for a painting class as seen above in Marjan Asadi’s painting

Getting the perspective right in a sculpture workshop


Learning calligraphy in a miniature painting class

Working with traditional tools but expressing modern themes. This woman in a miniature painting studio class was working on a drawing about how our minds can easily get distracted.

Minimalist Islamabad

What struck me about Islamabad was the lack of people on the streets. The city was built in the sixties around the same time as Brasilia and it doesn’t at all resemble a bustling South Asian Capital. It’s divided into five major zones each sub-divided into four sectors with a market situated in the middle. In part because of it’s minimal space there is a calmness to the place that reminded me of an affluent southern California suburb.

Uzbekistan Interlude

I’ve taken a detour from Pakistan and am writing from the desert town of Bukhara. I’ll resume with more posts from Pakistan in a few days.

The Flight from Islamabad to Tashkent last week was only two hours but it felt like entering another world. It’s quite the change from South to Central Asia. The Uzbek’s are incredibly friendly and when people ask where I’m from all I have to say is New York and they totally relate. Many Uzbek’s have immigrated to Brooklyn and Queens and some of the faces here remind me of aunts and uncles growing up in Brooklyn. My grandmother is from Russia so it feels like a bit of a homecoming. It’s a quite a change from the California centric SE Asia I’ve come to know.

It’s wedding (they are called Toys) season now. Elaborate shops sell bridal dresses everywhere you look. These huge parties with four or five hundred people help support and sustain local musicians and at the same time keep a tradition alive.

In the desert city of Bukhara there are still a couple of hundred Jews left. Most of them immigrated to Israel and the United States when the Soviet Union collapsed but they still maintain and practice Judaism in the midst of an Islamic society. This morning I had the privilege of attending a prayer service in one of the Synagogues. The men, from 25 to 70 years of age recited prayers in Tajik and Farsi- the local language spoken in the western part of Uzbekistan with some Hebrew mixed in for the blessings. They were kind enough to allow me to witness and photograph this sacred and solemn ritual.

The Face of Fullbright in Pakistan

Zafar Baig is an Educational Adviser with the United States Educational Foundation in Islamabad (USEFP). He holds a masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Oregon State University. Zafar is involved in advising and outreach activities mainly helping  Graduate students pursue their dreams of higher education in the United States. He manages and oversees the preparatory classes for GRE offered by USEFP as well.

He often reminisces about his university life in Corvallis, Oregon. He missed it so much that he went back to visit his alma mater in 2011 after almost 32 years and enjoyed roaming in the corridors of the Memorial Union recreation hall, cafeteria and Beaver Store. When I told Zafar that I lived in Portland and have a relative graduating for the University of Oregon this year his reply was “Once a Beaver, always a Beaver.”

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) can be a major obstacle for students who want to apply for a Fulbright scholarship or pursue a Masters or Doctoral programs on their own. Lack of information about preparation resources and proper guidance on the GRE test has held back many a talented students from taking advantage of opportunities like a Fulbright and other financial aid possibilities at higher education institutions in the United States. USEFP has donated over one hundred sets of standardized test preparations (for graduate and undergraduate admissions) for public sector university libraries  student study groups.

Abdul Rashid has been working with the United States Educational Foundation in Islamabad for the past 34 years. He was one of several drivers who made sure I safely reached all of my appointments on time and in good spirits. Working with such skillful drivers makes a huge difference.

Pakistani Portraits

I would be happy to stay in Pakistan and make portraits for days on end. The faces are extremely diverse. A few weeks back on my first day here I was struck by some of the Pashtun men and women. It was a Déjà vu of the iconic Steve McCurry portrait of the green-eyed Afghan girl. For the most part it’s a man’s world out on the streets and I’ll leave it to the Pakistani women photographers to show how the other half lives. All of the photos below were made in and around Rawalpindi, the twin but very different city from Islamabad.

Getting Healed in Pakistan

A huge thanks to SAMAA TV reporter Shahid Hussain who showed me around Lahore and introduced me to members of the Christian community and Peersaif Ur Rehman.

Life is tough in Pakistan. Between the economy, load shedding and violence from extremist groups on a daily basis the population at large often turns to other kinds of spiritual faith besides traditional Islam. As in most South Asian countries the extended family plays a major role in helping people cope but for some, other forms of practice are needed.

This man was put into a trance by  Peersaif Ur Rehman . He suffered from mental disorders and had previously received shock therapy that he  claimed didn’t help.

Various patients and Shahid Hussein talking with Peersaif Ur Rehman.

The woman below was believed to have been possessed by evil spirits. When her family found her yelling and crying they took her to priest. In the photograph below he treated her while reciting verses from the Bible.

At the Anglican Church before the Sunday morning service began.

Photography Workshop at the National College of Arts in Lahore

A few days ago I wrapped up a series of documentary photography workshops at NCA in Lahore. In addition to traditional arts the school offers a major in graphic design, visual communication and interactive media.

Despite the heat and it being finals week we had a motivated group and explored the old walled city. I was glad to see that the students weren’t at all intimidated in photographing strangers in the bustling streets. As always, the Lahori’s were good sports about it and took it all in stride.


Shaheera Aslam in action near the Delhi Gate in Lahore

A strange kind of photographers dance

A Fulbright Success Story

I was very lucky to stay at the Avari Hotel in Lahore. It was an oasis where I could return to edit my photographs and recharge my batteries before going out into the walled city or teach at NCA. On my second day there I met the duty manager Atif Umar. Coincidentally, Atif was on a Fulbright in the United States a few years ago. He studied hotel and hospitality management at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington, just south of Seattle. It must have been a pretty good program. The attention to service and details at the Avari was something I had never experienced before.


My driver in Lahore kept mentioning electric-city and after the third day it dawned on me that he meant electricity or I should say the lack of it. The city is experiencing a thirty year record breaking heat wave. It was 47c yesterday (that’s 117). People are without electricity for up to twenty hours a day and many are sleeping out on the streets. It’s been a disaster at several of the hospitals where they have cancelled operations for days on end.

Shahid, a journalist who has been showing me around the city only got two hours of sleep last night because of the heat- and he has two small kids. Everywhere in the city people are waiting in line to purchase blocks of ice. Both government and independent power plants are being strained which makes matters worse. Many believe that the scarcity of electricity is partially driven by politics and when the new Prime Minister takes office next month the power supply will resume and he will take the credit for it.