Exploring Pakistan’s Soul Through the Lens: Mobeen Ansari’s ‘Miraas’
Exploring Pakistan’s Soul Through the Lens: Mobeen Ansari’s ‘Miraas’

“Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognize as modern. Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.” (Sontag, 2005)

Award winning1 photographer Mobeen Ansari needs no introduction to the photography world, having exhibited nationally and internationally in countries like the UK, Italy, China, Iraq, the US and UAE. Having his work displayed in many famous places including the Times Square in New York City, Ansari has proven himself to be one of the best this country has ever produced. After the highly successful ‘Dharkan’ and ‘White in the Flag’, Miraas, is the third book published by Mobeen Ansari.

Ansari’s Miraas, meaning ‘hereditary’, a follow up to ‘Dharkan’ is a photographic odyssey that delves deep into the cultural tapestry of Pakistan. The book is a testament to Ansari’s unparalleled skill as a photographer and storyteller. Lighting, props, backdrops, and editing can all assist the photographer in achieving a great photographic composition, but conceivably the most important facet of portraiture is facilitating your subject by putting them at ease in front of the camera, so they can show their true nature and spirit— making a genuine and meaningful connection. Each photograph is a window offering a glimpse into the world of the people portrayed in them. But perhaps the most compelling aspect of Miraas is its ability to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about Pakistan. Through his photographs, Ansari showcases the country’s rich cultural mosaic, highlighting its diversity and resilience in the face of adversity. In a world often plagued by misunderstanding and prejudice, the book serves as a powerful reminder of the humanity that unites us all. Miraas was published in 2023 by RN Scanner Process House & Digital Press System, Islamabad. Including 209 photographs of personalities from all over Pakistan, the book is available in hardback and is 215 pages thick. Accompanying the photographs is a brief introduction by the photographer on the subjects in the images.

Ansari possesses a rare gift for capturing the emotional depth of his subjects. His masterful use of natural and ambient light infuses each photograph with raw energy, breathing life into the individuals depicted. The book opens with probably one of the most iconic and graceful actresses the country has ever produced, Sania Saeed. Ansari has composed a truly admirable portrait of hers in a way that captures the gentleness and the vulnerability the actor possesses, at the same time the fiercely intense and empowered personality that Saeed has cannot go unnoticed. The accompanying text quite suitably mentions the storyteller that one can witness in the images.

The immensely charming and cerebral Syeda Arfa Zehra also graces the pages. Once again, how Ansari has captured her true personality is nothing short of brilliance. A woman of many talents, an educationalist and one of the most prominent Urdu language experts in the country, it is immediately evident as to why she commands the respect that she does.

Syeda Ara Zehra, Lahore, 2017

The late Krishan Lal Bheel comes up after, a folklorist of the Cholistan desert, you can immediately see how Ansari shifts  gears from the previous personalities to demonstrate the vibrance of the nature and the culture that the artist belongs to. There is no ‘style’ that Ansari works with— a trait that is uncommon for an artist that has been in the field for the number of years he has. According to Freeman, “But isn’t this just a question of style? The object is the subject, while different photographers just treat it differently? Isn’t this just complicating the obvious? The answer lies in the intent—in what you are setting out to do.” (Freeman, 2011). Mobeen’s intent is clear, he lets his subjects inform the style, composition and nature of technicality they require for them to be shown as their true selves.

Moving on a few pages, we see a completely different set of heroes as compared to the celebrities we have come to know— the coal miners of Quetta. Here you get to witness the approach Mobeen has taken for this book. It’s not just about the celebrated heroes of Pakistan, rather the unsung heroes that go unnoticed have been allotted a respectable presence in the midst of all the celebrities: this feature makes this book truly remarkable. Similar is the story of Shamim Jan, a carpet maker from the village of Gulmit, Gilgit Baltistan. The play of light in the photographs taken inside her home is nothing short of the work of a master photographer. The candid appearance and the relaxed nature of the subject tells you a great deal about the photographer capturing her. It is evident how Mobeen manages to make his subjects comfortable in front of the camera.

The minimalist approach of photographing Muniba Mazari then, is stark contrast to the vibrance and busy images of the previous subjects. Mobeen has chosen to capture the essence of what Muniba Mazari stands for by making the viewer focus on the woman, the human being, an apt choice considering the nature of the work that she is known for.

Moving forward in the book, we witness one of the most iconic persons to have ever graced our screens, Talat Hussain Sahab. An actor whose career spans over half a century, someone who has given the Pakistani audiences some of the most enjoyable moments in television. A personality known to millions as one of the pioneers and veterans of Pakistan television— a man with an authoritative voice— is captured by Ansari; a towering and imposing personality, simultaneously reflecting a gentle, perceptive and warm nature.

Talat Hussain, Karachi, 2016

Archived in this book are personalities from all over Pakistan, a world brimming with history, tradition, and diversity. From Krishan Lal Bheel of Cholistan, to Shamim Jan of Gilgit Baltistan; from Quratulain Wazir of KPK, to Abdul Joshi of Shimshal, one will find photographic stories of heroes from all corners of the nation. Miraas , thus, becomes a repository of well-known celebrities like Babra Sharif, Shahnaz Sheikh, the late Reshma ji, sports personalities such as Misbah ul Haq, Sana Mir and Naseem Hameed, musical geniuses such as Strings, Junoon, Atif Aslam and Sajjad Ali, visionaries like Shoaib Mansoor, Nilofer Shahid, Jehan Ara, powerhouses like General Raheel Sharif, Sultana Siddiqui, Qurutulain Wazir and Aslam Azhar, artists like R. M. Naeem, Imran Qureshi, Rumana Husain and Jimmy Engineer, and many more— there is no shortage of stars from all walks of life. Through his lens, Ansari weaves a narrative that transcends boundaries, inviting readers to embark on a visual journey through the heart and soul of Pakistan’s heroes.

Studying photography books of this nature, I ask myself these questions: What is the true purpose of this book? Who is it for? While we have notes from the photographer in the introduction, as a photographer myself, I like to go beyond the images and try to read into the mind of the artist. By juxtaposing images of everyday citizens alongside those of notable personalities, Miraas conveys a powerful message about the shared humanity that transcends social status or fame. As mentioned by Ansari, in the introduction, “Miraas is about people who have laid the foundation for powerful movements, pioneered many careers, and opened doors for future generations” (Ansari, 2023). It underscores the idea that each person, regardless of their background or achievements, contributes to the rich tapestry of a nation’s identity. Miraas serves as a visual testament to the diversity and unity within society, celebrating the unique stories and experiences that shape a collective heritage of Pakistan.

Accompanied by Ansari’s insightful commentary, Miraas provides readers with invaluable context and perspective, elevating the visual experience to new heights. Ansari’s words offer a poignant insight into the passion and dedication driving this ambitious project, enriching the reader’s understanding of each photograph’s significance. What sets Miraas apart is Mobeen’s ability to capture the intricacies of everyday life with both intimacy and reverence. Whether it’s a candid portrait of the coal miners or an imposing portrait of Jameel Yusuf, each image is imbued with a sense of authenticity that is both captivating and humbling.

As stated by Sontag, “Nobody ever discovered ugliness through photographs. But many, through photographs, have discovered beauty” (Sontag, 2005). Ansari’s photographs are not merely snapshots: they are moments frozen in time, inviting viewers to pause and reflect on the beauty and complexity of the people that exist in the world around them.

Miraas is available to purchase from Liberty Bookstores, www.kitabain.com and www.amazon.com

Works Cited

Sontag, S. (2005). On Photography. New York: RosettaBooks LLC.
Freeman, M. (2011). The Photographer’s Mind. Lewes, UK: The Ilex Press Ltd.
Ansari, M. (2023). Miraas. (E. Griffith, Ed.) Islamabad, Pakistan: RN Scanner Process House & Digital Press System.



  1. In 2023 Ansari became the recipient of the Swedish Red Cross Journalism prize for photography for a story on manufacture of FIFA World Cup Footballs for Arbetet Global. In 2019 he received the Excellence in Photography Award from Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid International Photography Award, Dubai, UAE. In 2017 he received the award for the ‘Best Short Documentary’ nomination at NYC Independent Film Festival. He has also been the recipient of local awards including ‘Best Short Film (nonfiction) for ‘Hellhole’, Pakistan Calling Film Festival in 2016.

Nomaan Bhatti is a multi-disciplinary visual artist and educator who was born and raised in Karachi, Sindh. He graduated in Fine Arts from Karachi School of Arts in 2002 and in 2004 moved to London, UK for his higher studies where he completed his Master’s degree in Film Making from Kingston University. Nomaan has exhibited his work on a number of occasions and has a number of publications to his name. He is currently teaching as an Assistant Professor in the Communication Design department at Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture.

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Comments (2)

  • I love the passion of this article!
    I can guess the quality of the knowledge
    of Nomaan Bhatti and his wonderful respect for art!

    Silvia Morar
  • All of the pictures of Mobeen Ansari are beautiful! I know the book „ white in the flag“, it’s a very interesting book with a lot of very beautiful pictures in it.

    Elisabeth Rust

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