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My parents were born and raised in Pakistan. My mother is from Lahore, a large urban city in the Northeast, and my father is from the tribal town of Bannu in the Northwest. Over 45 years ago they migrated to Minnesota, where I was born and raised along with my 4 siblings. Being raised in Minnesota and coming from a different ethinicity definitely had its challenges, however those events have made me who I am today as a person and as a photographer.
Growin up, I was constantly singled out being in the minority with brown eyes and dark skin amidst a community of Norwegian decent where blond hair and blue eyes were dominant. Like many children, I often looked at my appearance and culture and wanted to distance myself from it because I was different and wanted to fit in, but I could never do it. That would have required me to disown my heritage, ethnicity and my family. Over the years I learned to embrace what made me different from my friends and celebrate the uniqueness of my culture and heritage.
As I ventured through life, I found myself drawn to experiences and imagery that represented cultural differences. I cherished learning more about other cultures through international travel, and sought out experiences where I could learn more about others, their family history and heritage. I knew everyone had a story and finding out theirs, was always an adventure for me to learn more about who they are. Their stories fascinated me and taught me to appreciate each person's journey.
It wasn't until I saw Steve McCurryt's iconic image of the Afghani girl on the cover of National Geographic that I experienced the impact of an image of someone from my own culture. The girl wasn't the typical blond model, perfectly coiffed or styled. Her piercing eyes spoke volumes of her torment as a refugee, her tattered clothes represented her limited daily choice in clothing and food options. But most of all, it was a beautiful and striking image of someone from my own culture. It represented beauty in the darkness of the Afghanistan war, and made me stop in my tracks. The image was simply breathtaking and I saw beauty where no makeup artists or stylist could recreate, and that is what started my personal journey towards utilizing my photography.
Since starting my studio 2 years ago, I've been blessed with meeting so many wonderful clients who I'm proud to now saw are friends. Each persona has a story, each family has a history, and I pride myself on the fact that I am here to photographically document my client's lives and heritage for future generations to cherish. But there was something else I needed to do with my photography. I needed it to share with others the beauty within my own culture. To open the eyes of those around me to something shunned in a world of terrorist attacks, discrimination, fear and hatred towards a culture I know so differently. And now I've been deeply drawn to using my photography to document and share with the world beautiful images of people from my own culture, just like Steve McCurry did for me.
My studio name, Shalimar Studios, is in honor of the famous Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. And in honor of my culture, I purposely set out to specialize in photographing South Asian families, weddings, engagements and events. My goal is to share with the world the beauty I see in my culture, in my people and seen all around the world. Beyond it having a personal connection to my own culture, it also feverishly feeds my soul in no other way I can describe. Having the ability to show others beauty where we typically don't associate it, is groundbreaking. It feelds my soul and rejuvenates my spirit. The magic, message and impact of the images I strive to create, transcends any language or cultural difference. And that is something beautiful.
(Original post 3/2011)