Interview by Olivia Volkoff

Mahum is a Junior concentrating in Government, with a secondary in VES. She has taken Chris Killip’s Intro to Photo, Intermediate Photo, and a Special Project in Photography.

Olivia Volkoff: The most immediate question for me was, where were these taken? But now I realize we’ve already met and I know that they were taken in Kashmir. In that case, my question is, what is the relevance of location in your photographs?

Mahum Shabir: Pictures are about the place. It’s very difficult to put your finger on what you want to do. It’s about finding other places in places. Places that you haven’t been to. Places that you haven’t been able to go. Where I grew up was a very violent place while I was growing up. I was born when the war started in 1989. Before that, Kashmir was supposed to be very famous for being beautiful and idyllic; a place where everyone makes merry.

It changed after I was born and never got to see the place that people talked about. I got to create an imaginary place, a home where I am proud to be from. Not that I’m not proud to be from there, but it’s been an experience, and I’m proud of where I’m from. I just feel like there is a part of home that I wanted to visit that I hadn’t seen. It is so wildly beautiful that I can understand why people would fight for it and go to war for it. It is exactly what the world means. Go into the cities and because in spite of living somewhere, even for your whole life, you still might not know where you live, you have the same routine. You probably don’t know what life is like for people other than yourself. I was trying to explore this place myself, because I was going around this place and trying to find beautiful things and trying to, in a way, sort of make friends with the beautiful. It’s an attractive offer.

OV: Can you tell me a little bit about how you went about naming the photographs?

MS: The names are the names of places. The names of where the pictures are being taken. Even the ones of portraits. Not the names of people, but actually of where the pictures were taken. I don’t think the context is such that it makes it impossible for the person to understand. I feel like the process of one someone being able to understand the picture from somewhere else. The tendency is towards simplification: I’ll tell you what the photo is about. You need to come inside. This is really, really personal. It is more like an album.

If you show someone their album, you wouldn’t change something for their convenience, wouldn’t change the titles to make it more accessible. It is the responsibility of the viewer to put some work into the process, to try and transcend. It is also the responsibility of the artist, not to translate everything. The titles that I put were the titles I used when I was titling them for myself. If they were being exhibited and if there were to be a broader collection, I might title them.

OV: In a number of your photographs, the focus is strongly on one subject. What was this choice meant to convey to the viewer?

MS: When I was taking the pictures, I was with my boyfriend because he was always with me. It was this idea of, the solitary or companionship, but it’s no overarching feature. They are both significant. They are both meaningful.

OV: There is only one photo where the subject is looking directly into the camera, why did you choose to include this photo?

MS: I included it just for variation.

OV: Is there anything else you want to say about your photographs?

MS: It is a collection of emotions.

OV: Has this been helpful in trying to understand your home?

MS: I don’t know if this is about my relationship with home. I think it’s more about…and it’s not home that I’m after. It’s an obsession. When you grow up in a place that is really violent, the way that you think about your identity is tied to that place, I can’t even explain, it’s different than people just saying “I’m from New York” or “I’m from Delhi.” When you are from a place that is violent…It’s a way of trying to figure out what you are feeling about yourself. When you see horrible things happen every day, it’s like trying to take in the emotion and wash it over.


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