A Fashionable History: Tapu Javeri, Photographer - II

A Fashionable History: Tapu Javeri, Photographer - II
Tapu’s first shoot with Herald featured silver jewellery from his father Hassan Ali Javeri’s shop modelled by Sadie, Frieha, and Aisha Mukhtar. ‘Herald printed it and really liked it. And they said, ‘We want more and we want Tapu to do the photographs’. A little while later, Rizwan’s fashion show happened and it was so mind blowing that Herald said they wanted the Rizwan shoot. So the Rizwan Beyg shoot happened. Newsline came up so all of a sudden, so there were two places now to show your work. And Arif did more Newsline, I did more Herald.’

Herald editor Sherry Rehman had been observing that something wonderful was forming for some time now; some kind of a fashion group was coming into being, consisting of individuals from all walks of life: Tariq Amin, Shamaeel Ansari, Maheen Khan, Rizwan Beyg, Arif Mahmood, Frieha Altaf, Tapu Javeri, Atiya Khan, Nabila and Fifi Haroon.

In Herald’s annual issue in 1994, she immortalised this group of people as the ‘Style Mafia’, a term which has stuck to date. ‘We were blamed for being this ‘style mafia’ but it was all creative work. I don’t know how to describe it, but when you have a bunch of friends together and you meet the right crowd, you can express yourself in the best way. Good energy leads to good images.’

And while the impression was that no other person could break into this founding group, Tapu disagrees with the concept that this was a group that retained its exclusivity barring anyone to join them. ‘It was a tight-knit circle and it was considered a bad thing because apparently you didn’t open the door to outsiders. This is not true because the outside did come in eventually and this little clique basically moved fashion forward.’

The Tapu-Tariq collaboration in particular set a gold standard for what constituted a fashion shoot. Responsible for paving the way for new stylists, encouraging them to bring their work to the fore in the name of fashion and not just as a means of earning a living, they also created one of Pakistan’s biggest fashion brands. ‘The brand’s first shoot with Frieha and myself took place at Ayaz Fakir’s home, which is now Amal House. They had very simple, beautiful black and white clothes, very pretty, and we shot that. All of a sudden people wanted to know who they were. So we did another shoot with coloured kapra and we sent it off to the printers.’

Tariq Amin, who had been sitting at the printers, suddenly realised that the two girls still hadn’t provided a name for their clothesline. He rang them up demanding a name, which the duo was unable to provide. ‘They said we can’t think of something, we can’t think of a name, to which he said, ‘I don’t care I’m calling it Sana Safinaz’, and put the phone down’.’

Tapu’s work with other stylists illustrated his versatility and the swiftness with which he adjusted with an industry that rapidly gained fire through the 1990s and the 2000s. ‘When Nabila turned up, she had her own perspective and had a more western look. At that time she was insanely funky with her white lipstick and green eye shadow, and that became her signature style. Xeneb’s style was very dark, broody and goth.’ Mubasher focused on creating beauty just as Tariq had done before.

Despite the changing nature of make up artists and stylists, Tapu’s work continued to celebrate art, beauty, music, and fashion. It remained consistently devoid of any judgment, instead focussed on what they brought to the fore and how they challenged societal norms, ensuring that whatever work was done was done in the spirit of eternal joy and ultimate beauty.
No actress was too outlandish and no idea too risky. ‘What’s the point if you don’t take that risk?’

In a photo shoot for Fashion Collection with Nabila, Tapu recalled how they put the shock factor in simply for the fun of it. ‘We decided to do looks and put in a hijra without telling anybody. Someone found out that one of these people was a man and nobody could figure out which one it was! It was all fun, just grouping with Tariq or Nabila and doing whatever the hell we wanted. It was all done for ourselves.’

Working for fun also meant no money, not that financial gain was ever the ultimate objective. ‘When you’re shooting with friends, everything is done for free. Herald used to pay me Rs. 1,500-1,600. The film used to cost more, so I was actually paying out of my pocket. I got free outfits but never any money, and it was never done for money.’

In 1994, Tapu furthered the possibility of fashion photography as a career when he became the photo editor, alongside Arif, at Xtra. The Fifi-Tapu-Arif trio emerged as a formidable team that consistently produced stellar work that was thought-provoking, daring, and progressive in content. There has never been another publication like that again nor has there ever been a team as dynamic as that.

It was during his work with Xtra in 1994 that Tapu discovered one of Pakistan’s best models, Bibi Aliya Mian. She was so impressive that Fifi paired her with Resham, the two women tenderly embracing each other, for Xtra’s first cover. So effective was the image that both Bibi and Resham would reappear on another cover, this time in a pose that clearly challenged societal views on women, relationships and gender.

The inspiration for the shoot came from the film Operation Karachi - Jane Bond where the actress Rakshanda Khattak - who is also Tapu’s aunt - danced the tango in a scene which inspired him greatly. The result of the two models doing the tango was so stirring and effective that although Tapu and Arif would share Xtra’s covers (as Fifi always published the magazine with two covers) that particular image by Tapu appeared on both covers.

Every image was an open invitation, sparking a conversation about the necessity to accept and tolerate diversity in every form. For Tapu, this made him delve deeper into his role as a photographer, causing him to define who and what a model could be. His insistence on concept shoots meant that models were expected to not just act as clothes hangers, but actually have a say in how a shoot was conducted, and what their role would involve in terms of the concept and their poses.

This was a major development as generally models were treated as pretty faces that posed silently, without having a say on what happened in the shoot or what the final image would consist of. Tapu’s work ethos established a deeper role for models, encouraging them to speak up and to ‘act’ instead of simply posing, which in turn resulted in a more professional attitude on their part. Giving the models the chance to contribute to the shoot, beyond the realm of modelling, caused them respect him as a photographer and as a professional. And seeing the growing influence a model could have, it was inevitable that more women would join the field.

‘There are eras of models like make up artists. First era is the Karachi models as that’s how it started. And then Lahore got models like Iffat Raheem, Zahra, Iman, ZQ, and Aaminah Haq, but that happened quite later.’ But while the work was somewhat the same, the working dynamic with the two cities’ models was different. Tapu found that working with the Karachi models, who often happened to be friends or acquaintances, meant it was all in-house. ‘Whoever it was, you phoned them up and said doing a shoot tomorrow, come on over. And the girl would be very involved with the shoot because you knew them.’ Familiarity made the job somewhat more relaxed and created the kind of energy needed to churn out a fabulous image.

With Lahore-based models, the dynamics were much different. He found himself in situation reminiscent of when he started out in 1989, when models didn’t offer much to the shoot apart from a pretty face. Due to geographical distance there was no form of friendship or that level of communication that gave the model space to offer any input to the shoot. A model flying over to Karachi from Lahore would come purely for work, which meant an extremely limited time, leaving no room for discussion. ‘It wasn’t enough time to become pally with them so you couldn’t incorporate their input, if at all there was any, to the output of the shoot.’

Eventually though Tapu would be able to forge friendships with models like Vaneeza Ahmed and Aamninah Haq, who would skilfully master the ability to model and give input in limited timeframes creating unforgettable photographs.

During this time, Tapu’s fashion sense began to sway from high fashion to navigating a murkier world of rough gems in the form of film actresses, women who entertained the nation at the risk of reputation and honour. No actress was too outlandish and no idea too risky. ‘What’s the point if you don’t take that risk?’

This attitude was personified when Tapu’s attention was turned to one particular young woman who had done a few ads and supposedly needed to be ‘polished’. ‘So Meera comes in and she’s never modelled before, never acted before, a complete blank slate. She didn’t know how to do anything, but when I first shot her, she was great. You just stood her there, gave her a prop and said, ‘Don’t do anything, you’re beautiful and just stay!’.’

Meera’s first shoot was with Xtra and it catapulted her like a rocket heading for the stars.

Given how most of these actresses were based in Lahore, Tapu’s relationship with the city deepened when he turned Lollywood actresses into models; with Fifi’s assistance, his imagery completely redefined some of the biggest actresses, cementing their status as celebrities. ‘All the stars of Lahore were actresses such as Resham, Meera, Neeli and Rani. Working with actresses was a little different.’

What he discovered was that unlike the models of Karachi and Lahore who would almost always bring something to the table when it came to a shoot, with actresses there was more direction involved.

This was evident when he decided to do a shoot with Nabila for the magazine Fashion Collection and the model was an actress called Babra Sharif. It was a revelation. ‘At that point, She was doing shoots with other photographers, so when She first met me, Babra said, ‘Yaad rakho mein model nahin hoon, mein actress hoon. Mujhe aap storyboard deyn aur direct karein.’’

It was a challenge Tapu took on with great relish and found himself giving instructions during the shoot: ‘Yeh aa rahey hain aapke Prince Charming. She fell into suit and basically acted out what a model would do normally. She acted it out because she was given a theme. Every pose was a story.’

Looking at his work, one cannot help but feel that although Tapu remained behind the camera, shaping the industry and capturing fashion history as he created it, it’s almost as if his imagery was a means for people to recognise themselves and their desires in his photography, giving them a chance to momentarily forget their reality and just for a brief moment believe that, they too, could be what they saw in the photograph.

Magnanimous in his continuous need to develop new frontiers in photography, part of the responsibility for bridging the gap between Lahore and Karachi lies with Tapu. ‘These two boys from Lahore turned up for Rizwan Beyg’s shoot and he introduced them to me. I had a long chat with them, gave them my address, and then the next time they came to Karachi, they stayed with me. To this day I am friends with them.’

Those two boys turned out to be Ather and Shahzad and with Tapu’s help they created Lahore into a hub of fashion with their make up and styling.

Collaborations, teamwork, concept developments, fashion development aside, there was one aspect that remained constant throughout the decades of work—that the magic of Tapu Javeri’s photography lies in his own mind. That spark that resulted in some of Pakistan’s most iconic images, the pureness of Tapu’s photography skills, lay deep within the man himself.

Despite the overt and the larger-than-life attitude, being an insular person meant that he firmly retained his own style of working, while displaying stunning versatility with his montages where he combined imagery with painting.

Reminiscing today, he may well mention the role of friends and laugh off his achievements as fun, but there is no denying that underneath the fun persona lies a passionate soul, who, while stirred by the melodies of Pink Floyd, remains secure in his role as a stalwart of the fashion industry.

Branching out, he set up a brand of his own by the name of ‘Tapulicious’, consisting of his imagery splashed across T-shirts and handbags, taking fashion and art, combining it and making it accessible, once again shrugging off the ‘elitist’ image.

Moving into academia, where he taught at Karachi’s Indus Valley, and sharing his immense body of work in eleven books, Tapu has consistently retained the crown of being the fashion industry’s strongest and most significant pillars.

While it is hard to imagine a fashion industry without Tapu, it is more difficult to separate the two.