Today’s guest blog is by Melissa Lyttle. She has been a photojournalist for the St. Petersburg Times since 2005, where she is committed to documenting the lives of people in her community (and occasionally fulfilling her desire to travel and step foot on all seven continents by sneaking off to work on international stories). A native Floridian, Melissa was born in Tampa and raised in Jacksonville went to college at the University of Florida in Gainesville and got her first job at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. Her work has been recognized by POYi, the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism, the Southern Short Course, the Alexia Foundation, the Casey Medal and UNICEF. She is also the founder of APhotoADay, an online photo community comprised of over 1,600 members. Do follow her on Twitter and check out her blog.
Being a photographer in Pakistan is tough, but not for the reasons I was warned about. I kept up on the news, obsessed over old stories about Daniel Pearl and new stories about kidnappings and violence, talked to other photographers who have worked there, and tried to gather all the information I could before my trip. Once there, I never felt threatened or bristled with any of the anti-American sentiment that we, “the media,” seemed to be talking a lot about these days in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and the Raymond Davis incident. Instead, what I felt was such an intense curiosity from the Pakistani people that it sometimes made working more difficult.
I can probably count the number of westerners the reporter and I saw during our entire trip on one hand, so when you went out on the street, we really stuck out — even when dressed in a traditional shalwar kameez and with a scarf. We had a lot of interviews set up, and specific story ideas we were pressing during our three week trip, but when we stopped at random (consider it feature hunting in another country, if you will), I generally had about 90 seconds from the time I got out of the car before I felt like I was in the middle of a mosh pit, with people coming out of the woodwork, crowding around, pushing trying to get a better view or hear what we were talking about.
Sometimes it was overwhelming, and it made it impossible to be that proverbial “fly on the wall.” Sometimes the fleeting moment would be gone in a flash, with people overly aware of us and shouting that universal phrase: take my picture. Once I even had to go sit back in the car for a few minutes to let the crowd dissipate because I felt a little claustrophobic and a lot frustrated. But other times it was entertaining, people wanted to shake our hands, asked us to pose for pictures with families, asked us questions about where we are from, what we’re doing in Pakistan, and perhaps the most common, how we like their country.
And truth be told, I really did like Pakistan. I can’t imagine a country where people are more hospitable, and I can’t count the glasses of hot tea with milk I was invited to have in the home’s of total strangers who wanted nothing more than to know more about us, practice their English, and remind us that their country is more than what the headlines eluded to. It was also a great reminder for me to try and show that side of Pakistan in our own coverage.