I basically inherited cricket photography and was also passionate about it. And simultaneously, we were running a publication, called Akhbar-e-Watan, which accidentally became the pioneer monthly cricket magazine of the country in 1977. Its circulation at that time was 150,000 copies a month. That magazine did everything in the 70s and 80s that now the digital, electronic and radio media are doing. At that time, we saw cricketers performing on the field, but nobody knew their families, nobody was visiting their houses, we did family shoots converting cricketers into models; I would create themes depicting them as something they were not, for example, I’d take them out for shopping, have them converse about social issues, dress them up as fictional characters etc.
I also introduced Chacha Cricket in Sharjah; he used to work as a labourer in Abu Dhabi. He would come to Sharjah to watch all cricket matches and later started bringing cocks with him and would arrange a cock fight there; I even have his pictures.
In 1989, I launched a pioneering fashion magazine called The Glamour in collaboration with the New York Times. We were even recognised as trendsetter publications by the APNS back then.
I later converted myself into a photojournalist because I wouldn’t get the time to write. I depicted a story that I wanted to tell through images. My specialty was moods and moments. I picked one subject as my product, not model, which was Imran Khan. I spent 18 years with him, day and night. I have a collection of more than 5 million photographs of him.
What I also loved capturing was animals because I saw feelings in them. I also learnt a lot from animals, for example I learnt patience from cats. If you notice, no matter how much pain an animal is in, it won’t make noise, but remain silent.
But converting myself into a serious cricket photographer was accidental. It started when the photographer of Akhbar-e-Watan quit, and I jumped in. Nobody used to do action photography of cricket in Pakistan back then. I have photographed at a time when one would use reels and everything from focus, aperture to lens would have to bet set manually. It’s all changed now with digital equipment.
I have never introduced myself as a professional photographer even till now. All the millions of photographs that I have are stories. In my 40-year career, I’ve only published three books, including An Eye on Imran in 1987, wherein I used Imran Khan as a product and photographed him in various angles. Today, when I look back I feel there’s nothing sillier than that book because there was no sequence in it; I published Imran’s pictures randomly with captions and a couple of articles. But I would never be able to get the kind of recognition that book earned me.
During the 1992 World Cup, I was one of the only two official members of the team; the other was Mr Omar Kureishi. We teamed up with the newly launched The News at that time and suggested its sports reporter that she publish a special supplement after Pakistan’s each match; I contributed the photographs and Mr Kureishi the content.
I had also planned to turn this journey of the World Cup into a book, which started from a camp established before leaving for the tournament. I also interviewed Imran Khan at that camp about his plans and aspirations. Then we went to Australia for the tournament, so whatever I saw there is also part of that pictorial book. Nobody was interested in the book, but there was a conviction that I had to release it because it was a treasure of cricket. Covering this year’s World Cup would be my 8th World Cup, starting from the first one in 1975, then 1979, 82, 87, 92, 96 and 99.
I was also the event director of a massive series in 2000 when England toured Pakistan. The event was significant because England was visiting Pakistan after 13 years, as our cricketing ties were really sour and the countries hadn’t played cricket in that long due to a feud between Shakoor Rana and Mike Getting. And we spent lavishly on that series. I was responsible for looking after everything for the guests, from transport, internet services, hospitality to their complete comfort.
The era I was working in was about drama, wordiness, and I never had any problem writing. Nowadays, the drama happens through technology, presentation, graphics. We had to create the drama through words and photographs only. And all of this was very easy for me.
At the end, I feel everyone, the whole nation is a photographer. Everyone has a phone and doesn’t need technology, like a reel or take care of speed or aperture. You just pick up a phone, compose a frame and click a picture. You also have Photoshop for corrections and editing. We had none of this.