Wednesday, 9 July 2014

“I shoot for myself”

PERSISTENT: Waleed al-Mushiri (LEFT); (MIDDLE) PATRIOTIC COLOURS: At the Zubara fort; RIGHT: FAUNA IN FOCUS: An oryx in South of Qatar.

Qatari lensman  Waleed al-Mushiri tells Anand Holla why he prefers film over digital photography and takes off to foreign shores alone sometimes for just a single shot!


At the laid-back meeting lounge of the Qatar Photographic Society (QPS) in Al Hilal, veteran photographers chatting about all things photography over long-drawn evenings stimulated by endless cups of tea is a regular affair.

Lend them an ear and rest assured that everybody has something invaluable to share. Professing his love for natural, least-edited photos, and convinced that film still trumps digital, Waleed al-Mushiri is one of them.

For the past seven years, the affable Qatari has been unwinding with his friends down at QPS on an almost daily basis. “The idea of QPS is to have a community,” Al Mushiri says, “As a meeting point for discussion, it helps us share knowledge. How much ever you read about photographic techniques, you can’t really learn without discussing them in person.”

To be able to keep up with that, the 40-something makes sure he never loses touch with his passion. Often, Al-Mushiri, who has been working at Qatar Petroleum (QP) for 17 years, takes off to random locations across Qatar to shoot landscapes and portraits.

“When I wrap up my work in the afternoon, I take my camera and drive away to some far-off place. As I step into another world of chasing the picture I want to take, I completely forget about work. It’s really relaxing,” he says.

While he also shoots on his fully loaded DSLR, Al-Mushiri is at heart, a purist, who can’t get enough of shooting in the old-school manner — on film. “I believe shooting on film gives you significantly better quality than a DSLR can; the tone, the grains, the feel is all better,” he says, “The dynamic range is a big problem with digital photography.”

Dynamic range, which is the difference between the lightest light and the darkest dark that can be seen in a photo, refers to the range in which the camera can capture those aspects without losing detail.

“In night photography, for instance, you always risk losing highlights for the want of shadows, or you capture shadows only to find the highlights blown out. To rectify this, when the dynamic range is stitched up using photo-editing softwares, that photo often doesn’t make the cut. It looks unreal. I find it best to control light while taking the picture so I don’t have to undergo much editing at all, and shooting on film helps a lot,” he says.

By doing this naturally and patiently, Al-Mushiri says he manages to recover all the light. “It’s impossible to get such nuanced details on a DSLR,” he insists, referring to what excessive photo-editing takes away.

“While the film camera has 10 dynamic range between the shadow and the highlights, the digital variants cover around three. A couple from softwares can bump it up by one or two. But I recover a lot more, you see,” he says.

Now, during summer, Al-Mushiri sticks to his digital cameras though. “Humidity is not kind to film rolls,” he admits. In winter, his fridge is stocked up on films and his personal dark room at home is buzzing with activity. “I prefer shooting old things on film; like architecture,” he says.

Sometime in the mid-80s, as a 10-year-old, Al-Mushiri got a gift from his father with which he would develop a life-long friendship. “It was a Minolta 170EX,” he recalls. It helped that his father ran a camera shop Al Mushiri Company in Doha, which is still popular.

Towards the end of 2001, when Al-Mushiri travelled to Australia to study, he took his obsession with photography to another level. “I had changed completely. I had discovered a newfound enthusiasm for taking pictures,” he says. Once he returned to Qatar in 2004, Al Mushiri would find himself going to every length to capture whatever fascinated him.

In fact, he often goes abroad to only shoot pictures. “I travel only in search of a good photograph, and I prefer going alone. It would be boring for my wife and kids to see me chase the sunset or the night sky,” he says and laughs.

“Sometimes, I stay three or four days in a foreign land just to shoot one picture. If I am looking to capture a beautiful seascape in a coastal town and the tide is high, all the rocks are hidden and things aren’t the way I’d want. So I wait till the water recedes,” he says.

It’s merely the privilege of freezing a peculiar set of lights and colours that keeps Al-Mushiri going. “You should know the golden hours, like what time is best around sunrise and sunset, and also the place you are going to. For instance, you can’t capture the seascape in Dukhan on an early morning. You need to go there during sunset,” he avers.

In Qatar, Al-Mushiri likes to photograph everything from old houses in far-flung villages, to deserts and the interesting plants that they have. Does being a Qatari enable him to see the country more closely? “Being a Qatari is definitely a plus. But it depends on the photographer, as to what he actually sees. The challenge is to figure how best you can capture what lies before you.”

Citing the instance of the rash of photos that pit the Doha skyline against the Corniche, Al-Mushiri says, “Everybody ends up taking that same picture. The key is to try a different angle, visit it at a different time, and understand the conversation happening in the photograph. You must know what picture you want.”

This, and many such lessons, is part of Al-Mushiri’s lectures or workshops that he often holds for young photographers at QPS. “I started giving lectures on photography here about six years ago, and I find it largely satisfactory” he says.

 Founded in 1995, the QPS is a fantastic forum to explore the evolution of photography in Qatar because almost all of Qatar’s senior photographers — even those who started out, say, in the ’70s — actively participate in it.

“Khalid is one of the oldest and best photographers here in Qatar,” Al-Mushiri says, pointing to a gentleman with a warm smile who is seated to his left, and then turning to his right, he adds, “This guy, he has been a photographer for 30 years.” It has close to 800 members, of which around half are Qataris and the rest, expats. “It’s always a warm, friendly atmosphere here,” Al-Mushiri says.

And then, when asked about what he plans to do with his work for which he takes so much trouble, he surprises you with the calmest response. “Oh, they are only for me,” he says, smiling, “I shoot them for myself. I am happy keeping it that way. But all the knowledge I gain by shooting, I implement in my lectures. That is enough for me.”





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