In conversation with Zahra A.
Photography by Zahra A.
What was life like growing up for you?
I always had my head in the clouds.
It was terrifying but I’m glad I did it because it helped with confidence.
You interned at Times of India? What was that like?
When I interned at TOI, I was very young. I was fifteen and had just gotten out of school, so I was not prepared for that kind of world. It was terrifying but I’m glad I did it because it helped with confidence. I wrote my first feature there, I wrote my first article in TOI.
If you enter the office at 12 pm, you’re the early bird.
Are there any secrets about the publishing world you could share with us?
Press usually ends at 11pm, so if you have any stories past 11, it goes into the next day’s paper or carries forward. And nothing starts before 12pm. 12 pm considered is early. If you enter the office at 12 pm, you’re the early bird. Everyone comes in at 2, but stay till really late, like 2 to 3 am. It depends on the story. When we used to close an issue at TimeOut, when one issue was completely down, it was called closing issue day. We would be in office till 2am to make sure that all the pages were perfect.
It’s unpredictable. Some days you get it, some days you don’t.
I saw that you do a lot of street photography, every picture tell its own story, you can look at it long enough to derive something out of it. I wanted to know more about why you shoot that genre so much? What did you like most about it?
It’s so unpredictable. That’s what brings out the uniqueness of the photograph. You’re not prepared. I didn’t know that today when I got into the cab, that I was going to get that photo. In fact, you also learn how to let go of a photograph. It hurts, but you learn to understand that some photographs are just meant for your hand. That’s what I like about street photography. It’s unpredictable. Some days you get it, some days you don’t.
Five people we should check out on Instagram.
He’s a Bangladeshi photographer. His work is so gosh moving It is poetry, honestly.
He is a Mumbai-based photographer. He’s actually not a photographer by profession. He’s a teacher in Ahmedabad. But his photographs paired with his words – beautiful. His wife is suffering from cancer and he documents that on Instagram. He’s another person whom I completely admire.
She is a National Geographic photographer who lives with pandas and elephants. So you can just imagine her life. I need to be her. I need to be Ami Vital.
He’s a writer and photographer.
Alex and Rebecca Webb
They’re very well known colour photographers. Beautiful work.
Where have you worked previously?
I was working for TimeOut Mumbai. When I turned 22, I was heading the digital team in Delhi and Bangalore as well. But Timeout shut down in India in 2015. But it does still exist in New York, London and Singapore.
So was that difficult? How was that transition? How long were you there for?
I was there for one and a half years, working with the digital department, which I headed. I also wrote and shot for the magazine, and worked production for Timeout Explorer, a travel magazine. I was rather proud about being sent to New York alone for my very first assignment, It was like, so much fun!
I wrote about the different tours in New York.
What was the assignment about?
It was one of those media junket trips, where they take journalists and have an itinerary planned out for you. The take you to a tour of the city so you can write about it from experience. I wrote about the different tours in New York. They had a bus tour, boat tour and cycle tour. I wrote about the tours and how New York can be explained with these different modes of transport. Essentially, that was my story. TimeOut was the agent the played a huge role in shaping who I was because I had a very supportive team. We used to love going to work. We loved Mondays and hated weekends. We had a fabulous writer and we learned a lot.
Sounds like any 20 year old’s dream job?
It really was. That’s why it was honestly heartbreaking when we got the news that it was shutting down. Honestly heartbreaking. It wasn’t so much as we are losing our jobs, as much as we were losing each other. But it has been three years since and we are all still very close so touchwood, that’s kind of stayed.
It was as much about the fashion as it was about the surroundings.
Tell me about your fashion shoots? You did mention that it is something you do primarily? So what is that about?
I worked with GQ, for about 3 months. I was doing a project with them but I didn’t enjoy it. It just seems like a world in which I personally do not find much depth to, you know. I guess my understanding of it is different. I was never inspired by it. I assisted the photo editor at Verve, another fashion magazine that’s India based. That is when I photographed at Lakme fashion week and things like that. The reason why I enjoyed this particular project was that it was as much about the fashion as it was about the surroundings, and because we were in Jodhpur which is a place which has lovely architecture, I could play with the architecture. It was fun. I don’t think I can do studio fashion. If I have surroundings and natural light to play around with, then it’s fun. It was great because I was shooting at the British polo day and the Royals of Jodhpur were present. We were shooting in the royal mehraab and the palace as well, so they had a royal dinner and a royal procession at night, so that was like 1500 people going through the palace. At every turn, there were different performances, fire breathers, camels. It was lovely to experience that, to shoot that. Of course, the thing with all of these shoots is that it is so hectic. You don’t get a second to breathe. You’re so caught up in that world that you forget to eat, so I had badam and khajoor in my pocket. My mum was like take this. Without it, I’d be on the floor somewhere.
I am a Dawoodi Bohra.
How do these different roles intertwine, come together and interact for you? Is it conflicting?
No matter whom I meet, one of the first things they figure out is that I am a Dawoodi Bohra. One of the first things they say is the Dawoodi Bohra community is so forward, so advanced. And just living with that perception in their head, and having an extreme respect for women, it breaks the perception of what the worldview of Islam is. That is also who I am as a person. I am a complete feminist. And when I say feminism, I mean equality, I don’t mean women over men. I don’t mean that at all. That is what our teachings believe in as well. That’s I think where it all comes together for me.
It’s their life. It’s as simple as that.
A memory/teaching of Burhanuddin or Mufaddal Moula you hold dear.
I realized that both of them have a very strong belief not to get into other people’s business. And that is something that resonates with me so much. Because I feel like in our society we are always talking about who did what, let’s get this one and this one married, you know always butting in. Someone is unwell and suddenly everyone knows. Nobody leaves anyone alone, and I feel like this is so important. Our generation and younger – we know acceptance. I think that is so important. It’s their life. It’s as simple as that.
Do not let yourself let go of your creativity.
How do you deal with the negative dialogue in your head? Do you think it makes us do better?
I, too, am learning to deal with that negative dialogue. I wasn’t so much of a cynic before. I was a lot more positive, a lot more confident in my work, and now that the negativity has seeped in. It’s just having that technique to not let it overpower your creativity. Do not let yourself let go of your creativity. Again to quote a Cinderella story- Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. You learn not to look for outward, get that from inside. I feel it when I take a photograph that I am very happy with. And for me, I don’t post anything on Instagram that I find just okay.
Don’t force photography. Don’t force writing. It shows.
Any parting thoughts? Advice for someone pursuing a career in journalism?
You have to be at the top of your game. There’s no time for slacking. I’m not saying I don’t slack off, I do, but you have to tell yourself to look at things differently.
And don’t force it. Don’t force photography. Don’t force writing. It shows. I am guilty of it. Many times, if I don’t have a post, I will try to find something to post. And I instantly delete it, because I realize I don’t like it. People appreciate work that the creator is passionate about.
One thing in your morning routine you can’t start your day without
Scrolling on Instagram
5 things that have to be in your handbag at all times
Notebook, Pen, Portable charger, Iphone and Wallet
What you’d like to be if not a journalist
One magazine you’d love to work for
Deal or no deal?
I don’t know what that means! DEAL
One article you wish you could cover
The refugee crisis in Syria
One article that should never have been published
Badly written and insensitive pieces on rape
Cupcakes or muffins?
Cupcakes any day!
A fictional creature you’d keep as a pet
One item you would NOT save if your house was on fire.
Life would be meaningless if this food item did not exist.
Flaming Hot Cheetos
One word that starts with Z to end off this interview.
Follow her on Instagram: @zahra.amiruddin