Hushe is a mountain village located in Baltistan, one of Kashmir’s territories controlled by Pakistan. One thousand people, who blend in with the ochre-colored landscape, live there. It is a stark and impressive location, which both money and electricity seemed unable to access when I shot this series.
I went to the area to shoot Gemstone Hunters From The Karakoram in which I photographed miners, gemstone markets, and dealers. The series involved long hours of walking and driving to reach the remote towns where they lived. Balti Portraits was never consciously shot as a series. However, on those long walks on my way to the miners’ homes, I found myself falling in love with the looks, the expressions, and the poses of the small number of people I crossed paths with.
I was surprised by the style some high-altitude porters had; they were at work and had been walking for days to reach Laila Peak or Baltoro Pass, yet they looked fresh with flowers in their hair, elegant shalwar kameezes, and manicured mustaches. I fell in love with their looks and their interesting and unpredictable poses -and I saw myself assuming they were the result of the lack of exposure to TV, magazines and social media.
When I got back to London, I decided I would create a series that honored their rawness and beauty. Their lack of effort to be perceived one way or the other. “Style is of the essence, it reflects your personality, the presence with which you gain or you lose respect”, one of the men, who is included in this series, answered when I asked him about the way he looked.
The message of these men and women, who live in one of the most remote regions of the world, is that style has nothing to do with money. It is a facial expression, the way one sits or speaks. Elegance is the free and distinguished expression of being, and it stands out just as much in Baltistan as it does in London, Berlin, or New York. Nonetheless, the grace of Balti shepherds with flowers in their caps is far removed from the boulevards of capitalism.
This series was published by the Australian art and design magazine Frankie.