Pakistan Photo Festival Fellowship became successful owing to the brilliant mentors who led the way for the young photographers who participated in our months-long rigorous exercise.

If there was ample dedication on the fellows’ part, there was also unparalleled devotion from the mentors as well, who put in their time, effort and energies into polishing and refining the works of their students.

The mentors onboard the fellowship were not only spread across continents, but also across platforms and visual styles – each bringing their unique individual insight and experience to the table. Our mentors were Asim Rafiqui (Pakistan), Wendy Marijnissen (Belgium), Matthieu Paley (France), Didier Ruef (Switzerland) and Mahesh Shantaram (India).

An independent photographer from Lahore who is also based in Sweden, Asim Rafiqui is known for his critical social and political commentary, and documentary photography. Juggling multiple other projects, Asim took out time from his immensely busy schedule to conduct the daily and weekly sessions of the fellowship that spread over a span of two months.

He not only gave individual attention and advice to the fellows, but also gauged them for their personal styles, their strengths and their weaknesses, to be able to lead them better into sculpting their projects with more precision.

“You are not going to do history research. We are working with life. And life has no boundaries,” Asim said this in one of the sessions, to emphasize the need to develop larger-than-life projects that evoke a greater sense of the society we live in.

During the sessions, Asim also discussed and highlighted the stunning works of some not-so-famous but definitely smart photographers who are exploring, gathering stories from the globe and working hard each day to make a dent in the world. The list included people like Rob Hornstra and Fazal Sheikh.

However, Asim made sure the projects the fellows pursued were not merely based on pretty pictures. And to instill this school of thought, he would not only share and critique work of other photographers but also provide multiple book references for the fellows to study related to their projects.

Asim also shared his own project development methods with the fellows that he undertook to achieve several grants and fellowships. For him, being a part of PPF meant producing pioneers in the field of documentary photography in the country who would produce substantial work that is at par at the rest of the world.

Belgian photographer Wendy Marijnissen was another key mentor of the fellowship, who has worked extensively in Pakistan.Despite a broken elbow, Wendy conducted multiple Skype sessions with the participants. She would share her experience of working in different countries, meeting with common people and survival stories of pregnant displaced women during floods.

In one of the assignments gave the fellows, she asked them all to pick their favourite photographer, and write about one of their projects – an exercise that helped them critically view photographs.

In the first month of the fellowship, Wendy and Asim focused on guiding the fellows on locating a subject of importance in the society, framing topics around it and then rigorously researching on them, before stepping out in the field to shoot. They introduced a process of documenting a detailed framework, which would include the execution summary, ideal subjects and resources related to the individual projects. This extensive project proposal had to be drafted by each fellow and approved by the mentors before the photography stages begun.

When the photography stages begun, both the mentors were again at the helm of affairs for months providing constructive criticism on each image being produced by the young photographers, and guided them at every step. Defying geographical boundaries and fighting time differences, they were always one email or message away.

Matthieu Paley, in the multiple sessions he conducted over Skype, also shared his work, the histories of different documentaries and criticized projects to help the participants analyze and understand things from a creator’s point of view.

Matthier, as well as Mahesh and Didier, were more focused on providing individual guidance to the fellows they were assigned mentorship to, during the later stages of the fellowship.