This week we're featuring the very talented, Saadia Mahmud. Not only do we love her work, but we're inspired by a girl who leaves a long time career to follow her passion!
When did you develop a love for photography?
My interest was sparked in college when I took a couple of classes on black and white film photography. I started shooting black and white film in college (a long time ago) but at the time I had a very limited budget and really could not afford to buy a lot of film so it was a relatively short-lived affair. When I graduated and entered the corporate world, I found that time became a major obstacle with respect to pursuing my interest and so for a period of time, I completely left photography and focused instead on my career. When my son was born in 2000, like any doting mother, I began to document him, initially with a film camera. In 2004, I bought my first digital camera and began to actively shoot more. By 2008, I began looking for and participating in workshops and on line sources to improve my skills and knowledge. From that point onwards, my interest in photography grew into a passionate love affair which has continued to this day.
You recently left a 23 year career in finances to pursue your passion. Can you tell us more about that process? How you made the switch? And what have been your challenges/rewards?
I was working in an investment banking environment, pursuing and honing my photography skills on weekends and holidays. Over time, specifically during the last three years of my corporate career, I found myself gradually losing interest in the financial industry segment as a whole. A number of factors that had originally motivated me to stay in the segment lost their appeal. I suppose in a way it was my version of a mid-life crisis and I went through a long process oflooking at my life, my accomplishments and re-prioritising what was important to me. My family was extremely supportive in this process and while leaving a very lucrative career was a difficult decision, I eventually came to the conclusion that the only way to feel fulfilled was to pursue a career that I was passionate about - Hence my decision to quit my day job in March 2014. In terms of challenges, well, clearly there is a loss of significant income but this pales in comparison to the rewards - I get to do what I love and I get to do it on my terms!
What do you enjoy shooting the most? Why?
I love street, travel and documentary photography. I like telling stories and enjoy creating visual representations of a story or a concept. For me, the images I shoot are a visual representation of my relationship with or view of the subject. I also like the thought of being able to capture images that might serve as a historic record in the future. I love reviewing images taken in the 50s and 60s and hope that one day photography lovers would view my images in a similar manner. Commercially, as an extension, I focus primarily on shooting portraits and selectively, lifestyle and wedding photography.
Have you ever felt burned out? If so, what do you do to get re-inspired?
There have been moments. Living in Dubai has some wonderful aspects but give that it has a very modern infrastructure and a great deal of focus on tourism, it can be somewhat limiting. There are already so many photographers who present glamorous perspective that is so well known in the media these days. For a relatively long time, I was shooting the touristyside of Dubai and to be honest, sometimes I still do. I hit a bit of a photographer's block in the sense that I was tired of shooting those often repetitive and touristy images that have become synonymous with Dubai. While those images were technically good, they lacked soul. For quite a while, I stopped shooting images in Dubai and only took my camera out while traveling. It took a while before I realized that what I needed to do was confront my immediate surroundings and use them as source of my subjects; concentrating on not just the new and beautiful side of Dubai, but shifting focus towards the peripheral, the every day, the banality that makes up a significant part of most people's lives but yet has meaning for them. I started looking for foreign landscapes in familiar surroundings - attempting to show that Dubai is multi faceted society with many communities and not just about the plastic and glamour. It’s a real city with all the issues that a growing city often has – good, bad and sometimes even ugly. In an effort to stay inspired, I now have a number of personal projects on-going and I make sure that I contribute to one or more on a weekly basis. If it’s too hot to go out and shoot (that’s about 7 months of the year) then I use that time to research the study the work of other photographers. I have a scrapbook in which I add images of photographer who inspire me and note down my project ideas and plans. I also extensive research the technical aspects of photography - shooting techniques, updating myself on latest gear and honing my post processing skills. I also travel out of Dubai frequently and this gives me an opportunity to contribute to my travelogues. Teaching photography also inspires me. I am a part-time instructor at Gulf Photo Plus (www.gulfphotoplus.com) - the premium place for all things photography in Dubai. GPP was very instrumental in supporting me in my process of improving my photography skills and I was thrilled to be able to make the move from student to teacher for this amazing institution. I have been teaching for a year now and still love the expressions of beginning photographers when they gain new insights into photography. The folks at GPP are absolutely fantastic and if you ever get a chance you must check out their website.
Favorite piece of gear?
Other than my camera, it’s my Mac and my iphone. I spend a quite of lot of time honing my editing skills and researching photography on my mac. I use my iphone camera extensively especially the hipstamatic app these days! I love hipstamatic and the retro “no rules” kind of imagery that comes out of it.
Favorite city? Why?
My favourite city is Lahore, Pakistan; a wonderfully multi-facted, chaotic and historical city with lots of wonderful sights and stories to document. As a photographer, you can never be bored in this city. Another fantastic city that I recommend for photographers is Havana, Cuba. From a photographer’s perspective, it’s an absolutely wonderful city to document and you can find a gallery as well as a couple of posts dedicated to this city on my blog.
Three tips for someone starting out?
- Shoot a lot.
- Don't be afraid to make mistakes.
- Extensively research master photographers and their work. As David Duchemin has said, “Craft matters - it's in the accumulated wisdom of others that we find our starting point”