It has now been almost a year since our world as we know it changed completely. Life transformed in various ways but Tasweer Ghar has been very keen in understanding how the art of photography also evolved. As the public and private spheres merged, the idea of online classes, working from home, and even virtual weddings came about. The virtual space was certainly being occupied before too, but after the pandemic hit and lockdowns implemented, it became an integral part of everyday life.
Tasweer Ghar decided to speak to photographers Marjan Hussain, Mahnoor Zahed and Mahnoor Farook who have gone through these transformations in their work. Considering how popular things like “FaceTime Shoots” became, it is worth investigating how virtual spaces broke barriers and created new forms of photography and expression, in the process.
Do you believe FaceTime shoots gave international exposure to photographers by reaching out to people everywhere and collaborating with them?
Mahnoor Zahed: It was definitely an unexpected turn in the world of art, one second we were restricted to shooting within 5 to 10 feet of our presence and the next thing we know, outer city shoots have become a normalcy. I myself participated in shoot via Islamabad to Lahore. It was bizarre in a sense, since we were now connected in newfound ways. Artistically as well as socially, I felt a sense of openness; I could create with so many people without city and even time restrictions. Indoor shoots could be done at 1 am and that helped our creative surges as we could create with anyone, at any time.
Marjan Hussain: For sure! I think it removed physical barriers between photographers and their subjects. Personally, I did a FaceTime Photoshoot with my friend Soophia while she was in the states. However, the only problem that arises is the time difference, but that is still not as inconvenient as being physically away from your subjects.
Mahnoor Farook: Definitely! Even though I didn’t collaborate with any international names, still I got to work with people from my own city that otherwise due to commitments etc we weren’t able to do so. FaceTime shoots also gave me a chance to work with some of my favorite artists I’d been following but were cities apart. This idea literally opened up so many new ideas and the possibilities were endless so it was super fun and definitely a new challenge.
In a FaceTime shoot how does one work with consent and privacy?
Mahnoor Zahed: Before each shoot, strategizing the spaces with model and sticking to them during the shoot is a must. I felt this approach established spaces where I could ask them to pose in without taking away their privacy. As for consent, I personally feel asking before every pose or taking their advice in posing is a must. This especially because they are more aware of their surroundings and the poses they can do.
Marjan Hussain: I feel like consent and privacy is not that complex a subject, like the easiest way to go about it is by simply asking and being transparent. All the FaceTime Photoshoots I did, I messaged the people beforehand and asked if they were okay with me taking shots from the call.
Mahnoor Farook: I think virtual shoots aren’t at all different from a regular face to face soot, consent is absolutely necessary regardless. The whole idea is very much the same, it’s just a difference of technique. In one of my shoots, the artist I was working with, she didn’t want to reveal her face and that’s completely fine so we made sure our poses were thought out accordingly so I don’t think it made any difference in that regard.
Art comes in many forms. It’s the most fascinating form of human expression because of its endless possibilities and the infinite creativities of the human mind. Art can be political, it can be cathartic, or simply an outlet. When times change, so does art. It’s as fluid as our world. So when our world changed so drastically in the beginning of 2020, so did our art.
When asked about the significance of virtual photoshoots in terms of photography as art, both these photographers had some interesting reflections:
Mahnoor Zahed: I feel every move a human makes towards adaptation and improvising is a work of art. This turn of events is quite the same, as we see ourselves changing for art, to achieve art no matter what restrictions we have.
Marjan Hussain: Any type of photography is an expression of art right, like everyone takes pictures different. The way you compose a picture, the edits and placement – everything is a reflection of a person’s creative abilities. I’m sure that FaceTime Photoshoots are an unconventional mode of photography, but it is art nonetheless.
Mahnoor Farook: For me, personally, it was just a fun challenge, a new idea, something different to do. It’s still definitely very much an art as any other. But I wouldn’t want to see it long term, permanently. It was fun while it lasted, gave everyone something to do during quarantine where we all were basically just stuck behind screens, even more than usual perhaps. I can only explain it like we can’t compare drawing to painting; they both essentially serve the same purpose, art, but just through different mediums and not any form is better than the other. To each their own, I guess.
Do you believe that a crisis has impacted the arts and FaceTime shoots are a way to survive?
Mahnoor: We read art history; analyze the shift from Gothic to Renaissance, this pivotal moment was just that. I disagree with the term ‘survival’ as I feel it is a little too unromantic in its connection to art. I would say FaceTime shoots are a new discovery, a new opportunity and a new medium for us to explore that was a result of an unlikely situation. This exploration will lead to further discoveries if we continue to branch out and take this seriously as a unifying element which will bridge people across cities and even countries.
Marjan: Yes! Personally, this is why I started doing them as well. I was back from my university, and stuck at home, going out was not really an option for me because my dad is immune-compromised. It really started taking a toll on my mental health, and I remember seeing Cindy Crawford posted a picture from a FaceTime photoshoot, and it seemed like a very fun experiment to do, given my restricted mobility. Given the pandemic, this is the safest way to take pictures. It shows the resilience and diversity in art and how it can adapt to all sorts of changes.
Mahnoor Farook: For sure. COVID-19 was unprecedented but I think, art and self-expression, definitely helped us navigate through this tough time. So many people I know around me started their online blogs, pages, small businesses during this time and that’s what has kept them going, taken their mind off of the ugly parts of it all. It gave a sense of normal life, however little or whatever that may look like for you. It gave a sense of community in a time where one couldn’t even go out to meet their neighbors. So yes, it definitely helped.
The idea of space has been very interesting in learning about these changes – the pandemic made all of us think in a new way about space, as our worlds merged through online classes, working from home etc. Our public and professional worlds permeated into our private spaces through the camera and came with its own share of stories like unbeknownst blunders of unmuted mics and videos turned on. This new way of understanding space was also explored in our discussion:
Mahnoor: As I talked before of having two spaces during FaceTime shoots, I will take the same theory forward and say the trick of a good FaceTime shoot is to figure out how to control spatial variables. To figure out how you can communicate through the distance and make it personal still.
Marjan: I believe that the whole concept of FaceTime photoshoots is quite an intimate one, it’s like a bonding experience since you are in someone’s living space taking their pictures. You get a very close view of their lives, how they live etc. I got to see people’s gardens, their rooms, libraries, and it was a very wholesome experience. I also think that the fact that I didn’t have anything under control, it was very interesting to see what the subjects would do because usually the photographer would pick a setting etc, but for these I told everyone to decide what look and setting they wanted to do and that we would make it work regardless.
Mahnoor Farook: It was hard, trying to capture on such a small screen, combined with low quality and made worse if you had a bad Wi-Fi connection. One thing I struggled with is art direction, because you can only do so much through a screen and you have to basically plant the image you have in your head to the other person all over a video call, so it was definitely a challenge. I’m more of a candid photographer but you can’t really do that over a laggy video call, and you don’t have any lighting in control so it’s basically a make of it what you will sort of situation, you just gotta work with what you got and hope for the best.
Art is ever-evolving. Especially when times change drastically, artists use various ways of not only expression but also documentation. This documentation may not always be done consciously – but it is part of it. Evidently, such virtual shoots will be looked back on years down the road when people try to understand the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The writer is an undergrad in Social Sciences (Political Science major and Media Studies minor). Please contact for writing on social issues, media, film studies, popular culture, history and politics.