Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Snapistan co-creator Natasha Noorani is an aspiring musician with interests ranging from truck art to t-shirt design. Fascinated by the idea of photography, she decided to use it as a tool to help inspire and show a different side of Pakistan that many living outside of it may never know exists. Hearing people say that there's nothing left in Pakistan left Noorani feeling disheartened and disillusioned. She explains that if the pictures of Pakistan on Snapistan give people hope and inspiration to act on the opportunity to help her country in anyway possible, it's a way to pay tribute to both the field of photography and the country as a whole.
Last July, Pakistan was hit with its worst floods in 80 years leaving 20% of the country underwater. The photography of the floods posted on Snapistan not only captured the devastation but also the strength and perseverance of the everyday people of Pakistan as they try to rebuild their lives.
How did Snapistan come about?
It started off with an idea that my friend Aizaz and I had. We started planning the layout and the development right after our A level exams and decided to release it on the 14th of August 2010. Besides Aizaz and myself, we have a sturdy team of photographers from Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi so far. Other than the core team, anyone can email us and have their pictures displayed (provided they meet the criteria). But we'd like to think that all of our viewers are Snapistanis.
How bad do you feel the misconceptions of Pakistan are?
I think that there are a lot of misconceptions especially within people from a similar age bracket as mine. I don't really blame them for not doing their research but the way the news channels portray Pakistan drains it of any of the appealing characteristic it has. When the only things worthy of reporting in the international front are terrorism, bombings and natural disasters, it's imperative to bring about a glimmer of hope even if it's through something like Snapistan. When someone goes online and googles Pakistan, it would be great that they see something like what we have on our website. Honestly speaking gore, corruption and scandals isn't a realistic portrayal of everything Pakistan represents. Our country is far from perfect, but we need to be given credit for what we do right. I hope the pictures show the rest of the world, that we're a country worth giving a chance to.
There is a disconnect in Pakistan between the rich and poor, do you think the floods brought people together?
For sure. With Facebook as a medium through which NGOs and zealous volunteers could get their messages and plans across, it was great to see so many people proactive during the first few weeks of the flooding. It definitely connected the youth to a point where everyone was aware of what was going on and trying to pitch in. For most, it was a reality check that brought them out of the sphere of their own problems and issues. However, the vigor with which the relief efforts are being carried out is slowly dying down.
Have the floods helped create a culture of social awareness and activism among the youth that perhaps wasn't there before?
There's definitely a move towards getting involved instead of waiting for someone else to step up. The creation of a culture of social awareness has been heavily aided by the developments in the field of communication. Because of this ease in 'getting the word out', we see new organizations being created within Pakistan that are actually making a difference in the society.
How important do you think photography and art are in conveying these environmental issues?
Photography plays a huge role in convincing people to change their negligent behavior towards nature. Pictures create awareness far more rapidly for the issues at hand since seeing the problem creates much more of an impact than just reading about it. We at Snapistan believe photographs give you a perspective that headlines and statistics just can't possibly manage. So when it comes to things like photojournalism and trying to convey ideas, photography has been known to be really moving and we hope that strength of photography is what will make Snapistan flourish.
This story was previously published in Penn Elements, the University of Pennsylvania's first online environmental journal