Anam Saeed – The Socially Conscious Photographer
“I am a part of those millions of thriving individuals from Pakistan who are not ready to settle down with the existing societal norms of complacency, materialism and prejudices.”
Anam Saeed may look young but she encompasses a world of experience and wisdom. The young Fulbright scholar has already delved into a variety of fields working as a part-time researcher, analyst and writer at the age of 18, and at 22, she explored creative mediums like acting, theatrical performances and photography. Even though she kept her corporate career as a way to make a living, Anam’s real passion was for the arts.
“I have been a photography enthusiast where I usually try to capture a story and then write it in my own words. “
As a photographer, she tends to do things differently. She uses her work as a platform to tell a story of the people of Pakistan that may go unnoticed in society. Her aim is to show how the common man strives in Pakistan or as her Psychology professor puts it “There’s no such thing as a common man”. Anam says “These words have motivated me to capture as many anomalies and variations in human emotions as I can”. Finding people who want to share their story is not as difficult as it may sound and she has been embraced by the eagerness of Pakistani people to express their voice.
“Every time I go out for a photo-walk, I come across individuals who are willing to share their happiness despite of their debilitating conditions. Their stories are something I want to bring up to a level where everyone can see this surprisingly colorful, blissful, talented and content part of our society which is much more than the notion of Poverty in Pakistan. I want to cover not their sufferings rather their struggles and their urge to survive for a fulfilling life.”
Anam’s work has a social activist approach. She strives to break stereotypes and challenge the way we think of the different people who make up our society.
“I want everybody to understand that an artist, a laborer, a housewife, a transgender woman, a cobbler or a dancer, nobody’s worthy of your pity or disgust based on their social status, religion, gender or profession. You never know how they’re as a person until you know them at a personal level!”
Her work takes the forms of blogs, written pieces and street photography which are “all directed towards negating the norm of sheer poverty and weaknesses of our people.”
It is quite the challenge to break the stereotypes that are so ingrained in our society. Her intentions “are neither to highlight the grim part of the society, nor to evoke sympathy! I want to interpret the thought process and emotions of every single person I encounter.”
She hopes to show a brighter and livelier side of Pakistani people. She explains that “‘Contentment’ despite the societal odds and financial instability is one emotion which in particular captures my heart, (and) is usually what I try to decode within the underprivileged sections of our society.”
Anam’s empathy and compassion towards the underprivileged is apparent throughout her work. She is passionate about highlighting transgender people in her work. She understands the need for progress in our society mindset and the government’s ability to help accept and protect this group of people.
“We as a nation are still incapable of comprehending the meaning of “transgender” and acceptance is far ahead of that. Recently, a few legislations have been passed in their favor but social acceptance is one thing that needs to be inculcated through social media, government laws, promotions and our insensitive minds.”
Another passion for Anam is theater and acting. “I love the notion of living a hundred lives through acting and theater and can’t comprehend why ‘Acting and theater is a synonym of vulgarity in our society’. She sees that there is a major gap for theatrical expression in our society that is secluded for “the literate elites and some segments of our society, (while) most of the middle and lower SECs are not exposed to using theater as a medium of expression.” There is urgency for this form of creativity and expressionism in which Anam hopes to one day develop in Pakistan.
Anam’s work has been shared throughout the world. One of her greatest achievements was being selected for an exclusive exhibition of her work at gallery in Texas A&M University. Her reception from the United States has been an interesting one.
“In the United States a lot of people think that Pakistan is a hub of poverty and struggle and are astonished to see a female from there pursuing econometrics and photography.”
Anam likes to phrase her response to the negative conations of Pakistan as this:
“I am an independent woman born and brought up by another strong woman, thriving to lead a life where I don’t want to give up my passions due to any societal pressures. I am a part of those millions of thriving individuals from Pakistan who are not ready to settle down with the existing societal norms of complacency, materialism and prejudices”.
She has been able to showcase her work internationally with her colleagues and friends in the U.S. She has shed light on everything that everyone needs to know about, let it be a narrative of Kalash valley and their skillful women, the accounts of the warmth within our countrymen here and abroad.
It is rare to find a person as open and socially aware as Anam in our society. Part of this can be due to her upbringing. She grew up in Lahore with her mother, father and two sisters. Her family differs from the typical family in which her mother and sisters have an independent and strong role.
“We grew up in an environment where my mother made sure that gender biases won’t stop us sisters from achieving anything.“
Her mother has been a source of inspiration for her, motivating and supporting her in all her initiatives. She says about her mother,”She has inspired me to look beyond the norms and always strive for what you want!” Indeed, breaking gender biases is another social perspective that Anam wishes to challenge.
Written by Nayaab Khawar | Interview by Hammad Anwar
All Pictures courtesy: Anam Saeed