"I am a run away..." , Shehzad Noorani in conversation with Contact Sheet

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Shehzad Noorani, a freelance documentary photographer with a special focus on social issues affecting the lives of urban poor and marginalised people for over 30 years. Worked in over 60 countries and documented major emergencies resulting from men-made and natural disasters including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Haiti, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Sudan, Uganda,Kenya, Tanzania and more.

Bangladesh-born Shehzad Noorani later emigrated to Canada, roaming around the world with the passion for photography in coversation with Contact Sheet , shared his views in several areas. Interviewed by Saud A Faisal

Hi Shehzad. Thank you for your time, tell me about your start. When did you start shooting and how did you become a full time photographer?

I was in grade 7, I believe, when my class-teacher asked me if I could take pictures. Any answers to a nice teacher like Salim Sir was always a thoughtless ‘Yes Sir!’. In reality, I did not really know how to take pictures. Next day when I went to the school, he handed me a Yashica Electro 35 and asked me to take group pictures of teachers for the school newsletter. It was a rangefinder camera, like Leica, so if you didn’t know where to look, you could not really see focusing through the viewfinder. To cut a long story short, the pictures turned out fine and after that Salim Sir started engaging me for all other school functions. Soon people in the neighbourhood started to request me to shoot their birthdays and weddings, and so on. That’s how my photography career started.

It took me couple of years to eventually buy my first camera. One that showed me focus, as well as made an impressive shutter sound. It was a Cosina CT-1 Super.

I had a new confidence after that. I started to practice shooting manually and gradually figured out how different shutter speeds and apertures impacted my photographs. I stumbled upon some work from a university which had a public health department. They were interested in documenting lives of people living in slums. That lead to my first documentary photography assignment. a major turning point for me. I was young and really poor, which left me with little choices on what I could to do. I used to take on anything and everything, including weddings, birthdays, community events, portraits, school photos, you name it. However, once I stumbled upon ‘documentary photography’, there was no looking back. I started walking the streets with my camera whenever I could manage time, and some money to buy films.

In life, sometimes when you start something, it’s not possible to know what you are really passionate about. If you are out there trying different things, it just appears. It could be food, fixing cars or bikes, leading tours, designing, architecture, or photography. How would you findout what you like if you don’t try different things. It certainly cannot come to you when you are busy staring at a screens on your phone or computer.

Some Photo Books Reference :

Tell us about your inspirations and what motivates you?

I feel I don’t need any inspirations and motivations. I know anything I want to do is and will be a long process. Something that happens over years, not in days or weeks. I am not inspired by money. I somehow always knew, that money has to be the consequence of what I like to do, not my ultimate reason to do something. I always believed that if I did something I like, with my heart and soul into it, work really hard, money will eventually follow, and in my case it always did. And that applies not only to photography but life itself.

I think I am not goal oriented, I simply enjoy the process of getting there. When I am standing under a high hill or a mountain, I know if I look up, my task will look impossible. Becoming great, the best, or most successful, does not inspire me. I only like to think about my next step. I know if I take one firm step at a time, I will be at the top of the mountain, and I also know once I am at the top, even higher mountains will become visible. I will take a break, enjoy the view and start the same process of “one step at a time” once again. I guess that inspires me – the fact that there will always be roads ahead and I will never really reach anywhere that will be a final home. There will always be something new to look forward to. It is the journey that I cherish most.