January issue 2010

By | Arts & Culture | People | Profile | Published 14 years ago

Koel Gallery is no lightweight space. It’s played host to culture mavens, art aficionados and renowned photographers galore. It’s a brand name with a year-long waiting list. It’s where 16-year old Kayhan Qaiser exhibited his photographs last June, to rave reviews about his eye and prospects. Pretty good for a teenager whose skills are “mostly homegrown,” “never thought [his] pictures were that good” and who, frankly declares he is “not such a photography buff.”

Honesty and understatement are characteristic of the young photographer. He attributes his success to his family’s support — it was on a family holiday when, at age 6, he was handed a camera and declared the official family photographer. This nurturing environment has given him room to experiment. But it also helped him fully exploit his potential. His first show was a joint one with his father, noted architect Tariq A. Qaiser. Entitled From Father to Son, the exhibition showcased his burgeoning raw talent, alongside his father’s more mature pieces. Overnight, the “mildly nervous” Kayhan went from a kid looking for “something fun to do” to a rising star. The 25 pictures he showed were “mostly abstracts of light mixed with quite a few of animals.” Taking such intricate pictures is a serious, daunting job. Yet he has never lost that sense of fun — it’s what he advises all prospective photographers to preserve at all costs.

What strikes one is the simplicity of his work. According to Kayhan, there is nothing you can’t take a photograph of — the trick is “not about taking pictures of beautiful things, but making ordinary objects beautiful.” It’s a philosophy gaining ground the world over. But it is also one most youngsters, impressed with stature and grandeur, reject. Through unrelenting practice and an inner passion to “capture emotions at the right time,” he has done work far beyond his years. This eye and dedication underscore his promise. And his unique voice is nowhere more evident than in one of his favourite photographs: a sharp study of an eagle, a construction site in the background. It was the “symbolism of nature in the dirty creek” and the “perfect focus” that drew him to the image. Forgettable to most, the image was ideal to him.

Kayhan has branched into origami as well. His pieces were shown at an architecture collection in November, again at Koel. Here, too, it was by a mix of innate vision and his father’s encouragement that Kayhan made it to the limelight. He began noticing how origami mirrored the process of construction — “architects start with just a grid of land, but then they fold and see the possible permutations.”
Kayhan wants to keep his options open when it comes to careers. In the coming decade, however, he yearns for more opportunities to set forth his “computer folders full” of photographs. Planning a trip to interior Sindh, he envisages the possibilities of a solo exhibition of portraits. He talks of details and practicality, “raising awareness” and “encouraging” the youth, perspective and luck. With roots this strong, any growth in his style should be interesting.

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Akbar Shahid Ahmed is a Washington-based reporter for the Huffington Post, writing on U.S. foreign policy. He has contributed to Newsline since 2008.