Photo Focus: Asim Rafiqui

Welcome to Photo Focus, where I examine a single photograph. These short essay’s will give a greater insight into the individual image beyond its context within a group of photographs.Furthermore, this is inspired by an idea a professor of mine always discussed in graduate school. He would talk about what about the photograph brought the viewer in and kept his or her attention. I discuss what personally draws me to the particular photograph and hope that that gives you an entrance as well.

asim_rafiqui_diptych

This week’s Photo Focus is taking a slightly different angle. This week I am comparing and contrasting two photographs by Asim Rafiqui. One of the photographs is from his project, Pakistan’s Hunt for Al Queda, the other from his project, Evangelicals in America. Yes, in honor of this week’s Presidential election in the United States, this post is political in nature.

The black and white photograph seen above on the left is the photograph from Pakistan’s Hunt for Al Queda. The photographs major components are two figures in the foreground and a mosque in the background. The man on the left side of the frame is cropped by the bottom of the frame at his chest. He engages the viewer by looking directly into the camera. His face is framed by the dark fabric of his clothing and turban. The man on the right side of the frame has his body turned so that his gaze looks out the left side of the frame. His who back and side can be see along with his left knee. He is wearing traditional Pakistani clothing however, he is wearing Pakol or Afghan cap. The entrance of the mosque rises up between the two figures creating interesting geometric patterns.

The color photograph on the right also features two main figures, however, the image includes a large group of people. The two men in the foreground are standing with their backs to the camera. The have their heads bowed and are holding hands. One would assume they are praying. Both men are wearing American flag shirts. The man on the left is wearing an American flag polo style shirt and the man on the right is wearing an American flag short sleeve dress shirt. In the background the dome of the Capital building in Washington DC is visible.

These two photographs can be interpreted in very different ways depending on who the viewer is. The similarities between the two photographs include the subjects of the images. Each image has two main figures and one piece of architecture. Furthermore, both figures are male. On the other hand, the differences in the photographs are that one is in black and white while the other is color. The architecture shown in the photographs is also different. One is a religious structure and one is a government structure.

I can only write this post from the perspective of a white American female who has done a little international traveling, however, if anyone of another background would like to add their interpretations in the comment section that would be amazing.

As an American, we are encouraged to see Muslim men as negative and threatening. However, I do not think that was Rafaqui’s intention with this photograph. The men hear are non-threating, perhaps they are keeping watch over the mosque to keep it safe or perhaps the space they are occupying is just a nice space to hangout and pass the time. However, since the title of the photography project is Pakistan’s Hunt for Al Queda, it seem to me they may be providing building security.

From my American perspective it is obvious that the men in the photograph on the right are praying outside the United States Capital building and it is important to keep in mind the title of this project as well, Evangelicals in America. I think this photograph just like the other is Rafiqui’s documentation of specific events he came across while making these two photographic projects. However, this group of people in front of the Capital building do not convene there every day to pray.

In essence, these two photographs have switched rolls. In an American context, it seems to me like people should be praying at the mosque and keeping the Capital building secure. There should not be a need for security at a Holy building and I guess this is where the world at large has gone wrong. We as American, are conditioned to think that Muslims are bad and that Pakistani’s are bad. We are regularly told that Pakistan harbors terrorists and on some level this is true. However, here in United States we also harbor home-grown terrorists.

I have been told that Pakistani’s see themselves as Muslims first and Pakistanis second. Furthermore, I had always believed that American saw themselves as Americans first and Christians or whatever other religion they practiced second. However, with this election season almost concluded I can see the world in the United States is not what I thought it was. To come to this realization, I also know that what the media wants me to believe about Pakistan and its people are probably a bunch of half-truths.

In the United States Islamaphobia is growing and Americans truly seem to understand the terrorism as a backwards Holy War. However, the terrorists are just using religion as a front in order to gain political power and attempt to take over large regions of the globe. It has become apparent to me that this trend is starting in the United States. However, instead of using Islam as the promoting agent, Americans are using Christianity and perhaps more specifically Evangelicalism to promote a political agenda of religious righteousness.

Unlike Pakistan, the United States has a separation of Church and State, so that people are not supposed to have to worry about being prosecuted for their religious beliefs. However, today in America the shrinking Christian majority fears its loss of social control and has begun to push back using religion and the bible to persecute anyone they see as living outside the lines. Westboro Baptist Church is labeled a hate group by the United States government because of their statements and actions against the LGBTQ community. This hate and fear mongering that we are seeing with groups like the Westboro Baptist Church are a home-grown political movement to suppress certain individuals while hiding behind religion. Seems to me that is the same agenda Al Queda, the Taliban, and ISIS have.

Many of my American/Western readers will see the Pakistani men as suspect and instantly negative and the American men as upstanding socially responsible men. However, is this the reality? I would like to think that all four of the men are civic minded individuals who have their fellow country men’s best interests at heart. However, perhaps they do not. We say a photograph is worth a thousand words, however, it is our interpretation that is worth a thousand words. We are each told through or biggest influences how we should see the world. No one sees it the same way. Examining these two photographs and considering how a citizen of Pakistan might read the photographs completely differently than their American counterpart, we can consider how we are conditioned to see one another. We are taught to fear “the other” however, perhaps we need to fear ourselves and the thoughts that lead us to be suspect of people we have never known.

 

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By |2018-10-16T12:39:35+00:00November 4th, 2016|Photo Focus|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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