Visual Burden: The essence of Photo-journalism

Photographer Agha Rizwan takes the first steps towards institutionalising photo-journalism in Pakistan


Photographs have become an integral part of our lifestyle and society ever since their invention.

They have been the reason for major shifts in political agenda and mindsets; be it the picture of the Vietnamese girl running on the street naked, after South Vietnamese planes dropped a napalm bomb on Trang Bang, in 1972. The photography was shot by Associated Press photojournalist Nick Ut or the recent ‘Death of Alan Kurdi’ a Syrian 3-year old refugee child whose body was washed to the shore during the Refugee Crisis, on 2 September 2015, the photograph was taken by Turkish journalist Nilüfer Demir.


Facebook is filling up with photography pages but hardly any are working on revolutionary changes, rather they are all commercialised as wedding or lifestyle photographers


These two pictures are major examples of how pictures have brought about revolutions; in 1972 the pictures fuelled the end to the Vietnamese war and in 2015 the Refugee Crisis was noticed after the picture went viral.

This intrigued me, as Pakistan needs change among many other things and photographs the world over have become a major tool, but do we have this tool and if we do are we using it right – especially in the field of journalism?

Facebook is filling up with photography pages but hardly any are working on revolutionary changes, rather they are all commercialised as wedding or lifestyle photographers.
In my quest to find some answers, I came across Agha Rizwan who not only is a photographer but also a photojournalist (PJ), he teaches Photojournalism in Kinnaird College for Women University, Punjab University, University of Lahore, University of Central Punjab and Superior University besides many other institutions.

When he was an amateur photographer he reckoned that photography is the basis and initiation to all sorts of communication. He still believes that visuals are the most authentic and unadulterated depiction of a society; be it in the historical context or the current trends.


The fast growth of photographers, contrary to the slow growth of the photo-journalists, is due to the lack of interest on part of the government


Agha Rizwan puts a lot of pressure on the word ‘Visual Burden’ which he believes lacks in Pakistan, he explain it as, “The burden on every individual to portray the society through their pictures in such a manner which is true but not disruptive,” he says while talking to DNA, “When you land in America, at every step you see their flag. The patriotic atmosphere is overwhelming. You too feel like an American citizen for that time. In Pakistan, we aren’t subject to such visualisation of patriotism. Hence there is no visual burden or the feeling in us to protect our land or maybe to portray more of it in the right light.”

Internationally the pictures of massacres and wrong doings in Pakistan are in high demand and Rizwan things that the photographers have not taken upon them the visual burden. “I believe we are photocopying and not photographing. For the past two decades or so Islamisation and radicalism had been portrayed more often, even though we were doing many other things too,” he explains.

The reason he believes that photojournalism is the need of the hour, “The niche who is trying to break through and get into photo-journalism though hasn’t got enough resources but should keep trying.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photo-journalism has been introduced to Pakistan less than a decade ago and Agha Rizwan is trying his best to play his role in this revolution. The minimum requirement being a Bachelors degree, anyone can enrol into his PGD program of Photo-journalism in The University of Punjab.

He trusts that anyone who has an eye can become a good photographer and to become a photo-journalist you just need to take his course. “The course would teach you what is right and wrong. How to inculcate Aristotle’s Rhetoric’s, ethos, pathos, and logos into pictures, because without these pictures are incomplete and meaningless. Theories are very important. Other than that of course to write and build their stories around their picture,” he gives details.

Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York is by far the best example of photo-journalism, he took his time to get where he is and now there is no stopping him. “If Brandon after his first picture would have thought that I need to earn money and shift to wedding photographer, he wouldn’t have been where he is now,” Rizwan wistfully emphasises.

In the race to become an instant hit, people have hurt their society and themselves too. “Though I have a verity of students, out of which if even one excels as a true photojournalist I would think I have achieved my goal. But no one wants to be a photo-journalist rather a bandwagon jumper,” with a sad undertone he puts it.

Being a photojournalist requires a lot of courage and patience; being on the spot before anyone else to get the best click and news out of any tragedy struck location or otherwise is a wise art.

“Spot news in the mother of all news, the photojournalist should know of all avenues he has to cover and most importantly without disturbing or annoying the candidate,” he says.”

It is a job that pays back in its own sweet time, it has a lot of international demand but one needs to be patient.”

The fast growth of photographers, contrary to the slow growth of the photo-journalists, is due to the lack of interest on part of the government.

“The government needs to start owning the photojournalists too, give them some reorganisation. If someone does good work appreciate them. Make it a must to have a degree in photo-journalism so that we have credible workers,” he thinks.

He reflects that photographers are doing a job well done, but they lack the concepts that a photo-journalist would have; the photographers unintentionally portray Pakistan’s worst image the world over by taking pictures in the worst situations only. Like HONY brought out the positive image of Pakistan but just clicking random people, many of us can do that too. It is just the matter of ‘visual burden ‘that we take on ourselves.


Pictures by Agha Rizwan

Originally Published in Pakistan Today



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.