With unease dominating the scene as males direct bride poses during weddings, many young and brave women located an opportunity in the digital surge for capturing the most important event in the lives of women from conservative Kashmir. They are in thriving business, Insha Shirazi reports
In Kashmir, a silent revolution is unfurling, casting a spell of awe and admiration. Women are fearlessly emancipating themselves from the confines of societal expectations, defying age-old stereotypes, and etching their names in areas seen as male domains. The captivating world of wedding photography is one among them.
The digital age has triggered a huge appetite for wedding photographers. So far, the men wielded the camera, capturing ephemeral moments of matrimonial bliss. Not, any more. Merging their profound passion and professional prowess, a group of young women have transcended the confines of traditional expectations, unfurling a path strewn with novel opportunities. With every decisive click of their shutter, they unlock hitherto unseen doors, evoking inspiration within a new generation of women, urging them to explore the boundless artistry of wedding photography.
Barlina Khan is one of them. Born in Delhi and settled in Baghat Barzullah, this artist embarked on her photographic odyssey in 2013, following the completion of her graduation. Fuelling her insatiable hunger for knowledge and honing her artistic skills, she pursued a year-long diploma programme in photography. Her journey, though initially treading the path of a freelancer and sharing her wisdom with aspiring students, soon beckoned her towards uncharted territories, delving into the realms of freelance photography for both film and television shoots.
As the years gracefully wove their tapestry, she wandered to far-flung lands such as Dubai, Turkey, and Toronto. Eager to transcend the boundaries of her craft, she fearlessly explored diverse genres, seamlessly collaborating with prestigious Indian brands, venturing into the enigmatic world of wildlife photography, and lending her expertise as a still photographer for the Discovery Channel and the Lakme Fashion Week.
“Ever since I discovered the fiery passion that fuels my being, I harboured an ardent desire to pursue this illustrious career,” Khan said. “The joy of uncovering the world around me, and ultimately becoming an indelible part of people’s most significant moments has been an unending source of inspiration.” In the last eight years, starting in 2015, she has captured nearly 350 weddings.
“Being confined to a fixed location, such as an office, stifles my creative spirit,” she passionately articulates. “I yearn to wander, to unearth new locations and bask in their raw splendour.”
Her soul mate, Sajjad Shah is an experienced director of photography (DOP) with exposure to Bollywood and Hollywood. “When we first crossed paths, he was already a senior-level professional, while I was establishing myself as a still photographer,” she recalls. “We collaborated on several projects, and by the time we tied the knot, my husband had already beautifully captured a cinematic wedding in Srinagar back in 2010.”
The concept of a cinematic wedding was still nascent in Kashmir, and the couple set out on a mission to introduce and popularise it. “In 2015, when we decided to bring the magic of cinematic weddings to Kashmir, I expressed my ardent desire to pioneer this trend in our homeland, and he graciously offered me a position within the photography department.”
Barlina still remembers her inaugural experience as a female photographer at a Kashmiri wedding in 2016.”My vision was different, and I brought forth something new to Kashmir. When I arrived to capture the occasion, the response was overwhelmingly positive, with clients expressing their heartfelt appreciation,” she recounts. Occasionally, however, there was unease from the curious gazes of women. As the demand for female photographers soared, Ms Khan is balancing her roles as a team leader and a mother and operates from the comfort of her own home. For a two-day shoot, her team charges around Rs 120 thousand for stills and motion pictures.
One Click at A Time
In Burzuhama, a village that has been home to the first human settlement in Kashmir history, resides the talented Aa’isha Irtika, a communications graduate from the Srinagar Cluster University, who choose photography as her profession. Her parents wanted her to choose medicine but it did not interest her.
“It was in October 2022 that I embarked on my journey as a wedding photographer, and now, nearly five or six months have passed,” Aa’isha reveals, her eyes gleaming with the joyous memories she has skilfully captured.
Initially captivated by the allure of landscape photography, Aa’isha found capturing matrimonial celebrations irresistible. “Upon completing my tenth-grade education, my aspirations revolved around a career in journalism. However, I soon realized that pursuing photography required distinct knowledge and skills, separate from formal journalism education,” she said. “When I expressed my interest in camera work during my internship, it was met with dismissive attitudes. However, as I completed my assignments with finesse, I earned the admiration of my peers and became the sole female cameraperson in the team.”
It was her friend, Sana, a Mehndi artist, who recognised Aa’isha’s innate talent and encouraged her to pursue her passion wholeheartedly. As a female photographer, Aa’isha encountered occasional mockery and scepticism from certain individuals. However, armed with an unwavering determination, she chose to rise above the noise.
Guided by a deep-rooted commitment to conducting business in a Halal manner, Aa’isha places special emphasis on the bride’s privacy. Witnessing a disparity during her cousin’s nuptials, where a male photographer directed the bride’s poses, Aa’isha resolved to create a more comfortable environment, ensuring the bride’s ease and naturalness shine through in every frame.
“Although the winter season has limited my presence to a modest four weddings thus far, as the season progresses, eager customers have already made their reservations,” she reveals. Currently operating without a team, Aa’isha’s sister lends a helping hand with lighting. However, her ultimate vision is to establish an all-women team, excluding male photographers. “The brides expressed their delight in having women behind the lens, capturing equally extraordinary photographs. They felt empowered and confident after the photo shoots, and I meticulously utilised my equipment to bring out the best in each image during the editing process.”
A Lens Empathy
In Lal Bazaar, a young lady is making waves in the wedding photography realm. Syeda Sakeena Qazmi, a visionary artist with a background in journalism and public communication, embarked on her journey into wedding photography seven years ago.
At first, Syeda had no inkling of interest in the realm of matrimonial celebrations. Her Instagram feed was an eclectic display of diverse photographs, each a glimpse into her multifaceted artistic sensibilities. However, it was the relentless curiosity of her followers, flooding her inbox with inquiries that compelled her to dip her toes into wedding photography.
With a profound understanding of the potential unease that brides may experience, Syeda firmly believed that the presence of a female photographer could make a significant difference. “A girl can effortlessly relate to the bride, comforting her and fostering an open line of communication,” she explained.
Syeda’s parents have been unwavering pillars of support throughout her remarkable journey, even though her initial creative pursuits were not entwined with the realms of conflict or wedding photography. They championed her explorations in nature photography, fashion photography, and the captivating world of filmmaking. It started with her sister’s nuptial celebrations that Syeda handled the camera. Then there was no looking back.
Syeda acknowledges the rise of other remarkable female artists within the wedding industry, from the skilful Mehndi artists who intricately adorn hands with henna, to the makeup artists who artfully enhance natural beauty, and the visionary costume designers who weave dreams with their needles and thread. With poised conviction, she proclaims that the time has come for women to offer their unique talents within the realm of photography as well, acknowledging the sensitivity surrounding the act of posing before na-mahram individuals.
Syeda, with her discerning eye for detail and an unwavering passion for her craft, manages every facet of her artistry herself. From the diligent editing of her captures to ensuring that the final results resonate with her client’s desires, she leaves no stone unturned.
Mindful of the significance of intimate settings, she thoughtfully avoids crowded environments, fostering an atmosphere that allows her subjects to truly blossom. While Syeda often finds solace in the company of her dedicated sister, who assists her with equipment logistics or occasionally lends a hand during shoots, she takes immense pride in the personal touch she imparts to every aspect of her work.
“I meticulously curate and edit every single photograph myself, capturing both the deliberate and serendipitous moments that unfold before me,” Syeda said.
Seerat Bashir’s transformative odyssey as a wedding photographer commenced when she embarked on a momentous chapter at the illustrious cinematography firm, MG’s in Hyderabad. Undeterred by the inevitable challenges and occasional whispers of doubt that loomed, Seerat’s unyielding passion and boundless enthusiasm propelled her toward extraordinary heights.
Nurtured by the unwavering support of her family, she has since artfully captured countless matrimonial celebrations.
From an early age, Seerat’s heart was stirred by an insatiable love for storytelling through visual arts. Enveloped in the mesmerising world of cinema, she marvelled at the transformative power of cinematography—a medium capable of evoking emotions and capturing the very essence of a narrative. Inspired by the luminary cinematographers who trailblazed before her, Seerat nurtured an indomitable dream of crafting her own path within the captivating realm of visual storytelling.
When fate unveiled an opportunity to join the ranks of MG’s, a citadel of cinematography, Seerat’s cherished family rallied behind her, urging her to seize the moment. Fully cognizant of the challenges that awaited her – a woman daring to thrive in a traditionally male-dominated industry – Seerat’s unwavering determination and inexhaustible passion fuelled her unrelenting quest to shatter barriers and etch her unique mark upon the world.
Under the tutelage of MG’s, Seerat honed her technical prowess, immersing herself in the intricate art of capturing the essence of weddings. She diligently mastered the dance of light, weaving delicate tapestries of composition, and embracing the ephemeral nature of matrimonial festivities.
Seerat’s transformative breakthrough arrived when she flew home, establishing her very own wedding photography enterprise. Each precious occasion became a canvas upon which she poured her heart and soul, leaving no stone unturned in her relentless pursuit of excellence. Her unwavering dedication and unwavering commitment to crafting personalised photographic narratives ensured that every couple was bestowed with a collection of images that reverberated with the true essence of their unique love story.
Beyond her undeniable talent, Seerat’s unparalleled ability to connect with her clients on a profound, intimate level set her apart from the crowd. She innately understood the inimitable value of trust and open communication, working tirelessly alongside couples to embrace their vision and preferences. Her infectious enthusiasm and genuine love for her craft rendered her an unequivocal favourite among both brides and grooms, leaving an indelible mark on their hearts.