Walking Saddar, Karachi: A Photographer’s Lens

Amna Pathan

    • 27 ene 2022
    • 5 Min. de lectura

Walking Saddar, Karachi: A Photographer’s Lens

Actualizado: 23 abr 2022

Saad Chaudhry on Abdullah Haroon Road, Karachi, Pakistan (Photo by author)


What photography offered was also the lifestyle of just wandering around, trying to understand the world, whatever that means. And of course it’s beautiful as well, and there’s something about beauty, right? It impacts the soul. So I really saw in it a way of living, I think. 

– Saad Chaudhry

Saad Chaudhry, a photographer based in Karachi, Pakistan, described his journey into photography to me, as we sat in the gardens at Frere Hall in April 2022. His artistic practice began when he bought a second-hand film camera from a fellow college student in New York City. He described a feeling of homesickness, of trying to find his place in the city. “The camera just ended up being there for me,” he told me, describing a kind of sociality he created with the place around him, as he wandered through the city taking photographs, “very romantic, and you know, slow, really trying to compose.” 

Saad’s photography changed in Karachi, picking up pace and adapting to the affordances of the city. He began with a camera in New York, but now takes pictures with a smartphone, feeling a sense of closeness and increased access to the spaces and people he photographs. He quoted Ropert Kapa, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” sharing that in Karachi he feels more comfortable going in close to whatever he is photographing. “Robert Kapa meant physical distance, but I think it can also be metaphorical or emotional, I don’t know.” He goes out on the streets for two or three hours, takes hundreds of photographs, in a style he compares to free writing, and ultimately picks just ten or twenty pictures that he likes. 

I walked with Saad as he took photographs in Saddar (meaning head or centre in Urdu), a busy shopping and commuting town in the centre of Karachi, following Margarethe Kusenbach’s “go-along,” an embodied and participatory ethnographic method that offers insight into participants’ spatial perceptions and practices, and their entanglement within the social landscapes of the places they inhabit and visit. I used the go-along to study how Saad’s photography colours his relation to and perception of the city, how his camera mediates his spatial and temporal movement through urban space. My work draws from multiple trips to Saddar to photograph the city, followed by a more formal, sit-down interview. The interview developed from my observations of Saad and themes that came up during our walks. 

Saddar was founded in the early 19th century by British colonists as a cantonment area, and later was changed into a bazaar, boasting Karachi’s most expensive and elite shops. Today, Saddar still holds some of the city’s most prominent colonial architecture, including Empress Market, and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and maintains relics of the colonial past in its street names, Wellingdon Street, Cunningham Road, amongst others. Though still a bustling shopping area, Saddar’s ethos has morphed over the years. Today, it is crowded with street vendors, bustling with commuters riding the 350,000 buses, cars, and motorbikes that pass through Saddar daily. Arif Hasan, a prominent architect in Karachi, Christophe Polack, and Asiya Sadiq (2008) write, “Karachi’s Saddar, once the pride of the city, is now a mess and becoming worse day by day,” noting the complicity of corrupt officials and mafias in both promoting and exploiting hawkers and vendors, and the rising population of daily wage labourers in the locality, which lends a kind of transience to the downtown. Simultaneously, Hasan et al. (2008) recognise Saddar’s continued economic and cultural centrality to city life. “Saddar still offers more than shopping possibilities for its regular visitors. The cultural aspect of wandering and browsing through merchandise, leafing through a newspaper, sitting with a palmist, having the shoes polished, add flavour to the trip made by a regular visitor.”

Saad captures the everyday of Saddar’s bustling cultural and economic life. Our walks together through Saddar revealed two prominent, and interlinked themes. Firstly, Saad’s camera offered a deeper access and participation with the city, reminiscent of what Arif Mahmood, whose photography on Saddar’s “Napier Street” inspired Saad, describes as photography’s ability to “open doors we don’t normally enter” and allow us to “wander into places of beauty” (Shujrah 2018). Yet, Saad’s participation is negotiated by the camera, by his photographic eye, which at times flattens the city to an image, at times borders on voyeuristic. But which simultaneously offers an ease with Karachi that disrupts common barriers to accessing the city. Saad told me, 

I came to Karachi from New York and I felt uncomfortable being on the streets. [The streets] require you to be a certain way… there is maybe not so much an ethic but an etiquette… but you kind of figure out how to be your own way in that space that you really want to be in. 

Secondly, our walks uncovered how the multiple temporalities of the spaces we moved through affected our engagement and entanglement with the city. At the smallest scale, the time of day and passage of time, indicated by the changing directions of light, influenced Saad’s navigation through the streets, as he sought the sharp, late afternoon light. But our spatial practice was affected by social temporalities as well, by the month of Ramzan (Urdu for Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting), by the shifting political landscape of the nation and the uncertainty and disruption it threatened. More fundamentally, Saddar itself is shaped by the multiple temporalities it holds and displays, as one of Karachi’s oldest localities. 

Saddar’s particular spatial challenges, affordances, histories, and temporalities mediated both Saad’s access to the city, and his temporal relation to it. The limited walkability of the locality hinders access, even as it creates opportunities – the overflow of vendors, vehicles, and people form images for Saad’s photography, the intermingling of pedestrian and vehicular traffic offers new angles for framing. Saddar’s multiple histories, and remnants of different eras lingering in its spaces, allows for diverse ways of inhabiting and dwelling in the city. Further, Saddar’s affordances affect Saad’s temporal relation to the city, and vice versa, as his pace and rhythms of walking shape both time and place around him. Tim Edensor (2010: 69) describes this relationship between spaces, rhythms, and times: “spaces and places possess distinctive characteristics according to the ensemble of rhythms that interweave in and across place to produce a particular temporal mixity of events of varying regularity.” Saad’s walking rhythms negotiated movement and conversation around the constant roaring of traffic, around people, vehicles, vendors, and over uneven roads and sidewalks. In contrast to what Edensor (2010: 73) describes as the “arrhythmic walking” produced by the “contingencies, flows, materialities and interruptions experienced while walking down a street in a bazaar area,” Saad’s rhythm through place was smooth and quick, guided by practice and his photographer’s gaze. 

The following short film depicts vignettes from our walk, highlighting Saad’s photographic eye, his rhythm and access to the city, and the temporalities of the spaces we traversed.


Many thanks to Saad for his patient collaboration on this project, and for sharing his artistic vision.


Edensor, Tim. “Walking in rhythms: place, regulation, style and the flow of experience.” Visual studies 25, no. 1 (2010): 69–79

Hasan, Arif, Christophe Polack, and Asiya Sadiq. The Hawkers of Saddar Bazaar. Karachi: Ushba Publishing, 2008. [Link]

Kusebach, Margarethe. “Street Phenomenology: The Go-Along as Ethnographic Research Tool.” Ethnography 4, no. 3 (September 1, 2003): 455–485.

Shujrah, Mahnaz. “Napier Street: An Exhibition and Discussion with Arif Mahmood.” Youglin Magazine, September 19, 2018. Accessed April 20, 2022. [Link]

Participants Bio