I made this picture in January 1991 at one of the many Sufi shrines in Multan, Pakistan. It was mid winter and freezing cold most days. Poor people from all around Multan and outlying districts came to these shrines daily to offer prayers, sing or listen to qawwali, or simply socialize with friends in the broad stone courtyards that surrounded the shrines.
This photo and the one below are two of my favorite shots and demonstrate two different ways to capture good images. The first one, which I call Adoration, was taken on pure impulse. I had planted myself at the entrance to the shrine where people took off their sandals before entering the sacred space of the courtyard. To my left, and out of the vision of the camera, a small troupe of qawwals was singing a song with a chimta and harmonium. I have always found it hard to get good pictures of women in Pakistan for all the obvious reasons. It is not something you do, point your camera in the direction of someone’s wife, sister, mother. My thinking was that if I stood ‘unobtrusively’ in the shadows and pointed my camera in a non-specific direction I might get lucky. Well, did I ever! This photo, of a young boy gazing in rapture at a shrouded women passing quickly by, who just happens to look briefly right at me, is a classic. Top it off with her red shalwar, fleetingly caught in the sun, under her burqa, that matches her red lipstick and you get another demonstration of the magic of Intention and Intuition. I wanted to capture a picture of a woman and set myself in the right place with the ‘intention’ to do so. But my Intuition showed me how far more creative it is than my Mind by coming up with an image I could never have constructed consciously.
This photo was taken at the same shrine in Multan but several years earlier. It was end of May and intensely, unbearably hot. But people from Multan and outlying districts were still to be found in the courtyard socializing, listening to music and offering their prayers. This woman was tying a thread to the wooden lattice that looks in on the tomb of the Saint. The tradition of tying a thread as a prayer request to the Holy Man’s spirit is an ancient one. I like to think that this woman had tied a thread a year earlier, before she was pregnant, asking for a healthy boy child. Now, she has returned with her child to tie another thread of thanksgiving.
Unlike the first picture this one was constructed deliberately and consciously. I stood behind her with a 100mm lens pulling the frame to make sure I included the lovely blue tile work on the left. I’ve always loved patterns and this scene is really a study of patterns. Blue tile geometricity, brick work, delicately carved wood door jams and intricate lattice work. Even the chubby arm and fingers of the child grasping the lattice (as if to connect with the Saint’s presence) and the mother’s fingers squeezed together as she pulls the thread of thanksgiving, form a pattern of sorts. Together, mother and child, caught in a moment of adoration!