The Pakistani photographer celebrates the everyday in the bustling metropolis
“I wanted to show an image of Lahore that was modern, youthful and energetic,” says Faizan Ahmad, 25, speaking about his project Lahore By Metro. The Pakistani photographer and journalist moved to Pakistan’s second largest city in 2013 from the village of Punjab, near the Indian border. He first set out taking photos of local life on a “cheap android phone” and later with a camera. Self-taught, Ahmad soaked up visual ideas from photography books in the local library and was also inspired by the Humans of New York photoblog. “I’m more interested in the human subjects at the end of my lens, rather than the background that they stand against. Brandon Stanton’s work really resonated with me,” Ahmad explains. “The idea behind Lahore By Metro is to introduce the amazing people I met on my bus commutes every day to a larger audience. Their stories are fascinating. No matter which part of the country Metro Bus passengers come from, they’ve each lived a life that’s worth talking about.”
After five years of photographing local people on the city’s Metro Buses, Ahmad recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to print 1000 copies of the project in a book, containing images and stories from 27 Metro Stations across Lahore. He has an added target of distributing some copies to underprivileged schools for girls across Pakistan. Although he now uses a camera for professional assignments, the majority of the photos in the book were taken with a mobile phone.
His pictures offer real insight into life in a city and a country that few people know, and one that is often presented to the world in limited terms. “The three things most people think of when they imagine Lahore are terrorism, Mughal-era buildings and desi food (street food),” Ahmad says. “I don’t think people who’ve never visited Pakistan draw a fair picture of the country in their imagination.”
Ahmad describes Lahore as “a bustling metropolis with a rich history but an even richer present.” The busy, fast-moving Metro Bus system offered opportunities to meet a cross-section of society, from Sufis to struggling single mothers. “I came across people from diverse backgrounds in terms of economic class, ethnicity and religion,” he says. They were usually migrants who’d come to Lahore to find work. I quickly realised that it’s these hard-working people who give the city its life. They’re its backbone. What I love most is that they do it simply by living their lives and working hard to earn a living every day, perhaps never realising that Lahore wouldn’t be Lahore without them.
“My aim was to report stories as told by my fellow passengers and to not allow my own voice to interfere with their storytelling,” Ahmad adds. “I asked simple, short questions, like ‘When were you happiest?’ Through this journey, I’ve discovered that, at heart, our most significant, most human experiences speak to each other no matter where in the world we come from. And it’s this side of Lahore and Pakistan I wanted to show for a change, where two young boys offer their seats to two Sikh men on the bus because they’re guests in their country, and where people are able to move past their differences and coexist with mutual respect and even love.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Ahmad has seen life in Lahore grind to a halt. “Covid-19 is a reality that we’ll probably have to live with for a while in Pakistan,” he suggests. “But I’ve still been taking a few trips and photographing as I usually would. People are learning to live in a ‘new normal’ and I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to document that.”
Graeme Green is a British photographer and journalist whose work appears in international publications including the BBC, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, Outdoor Photographer and New Internationalist, covering subjects ranging from conservation to human trafficking. He’s also used his photography to raise money for wildlife charities including African Parks, Panthera and Conservation International. Graeme is the founder of the New Big 5 project, an international wildlife conservation initiative supported by +250 photographers, conservationists and charities.