Enjoy Ejaz Khan’s special article featured in Mann About Town Magazine.
Fine Art Photography Gone “Wild”
When moving to New York City in his early twenties to pursue fashion photography and filmmaking, fine art photographer Ejaz Khan never expected that his career would lead to a passion for getting up close and personal with wildlife in their natural habitat.
“In 2012, I kind of stumbled upon this project and made a film which ended up at the Cannes Film Festival and I was nominated for best director. So, at that point I said to myself ‘yes, I think I can make it as a director, you know, I am better than Steven Spielberg and so on,’” Khan said with a laugh. “So, I went on to make another film after that, and that film, the producers pulled out halfway through, so that led me to depression; I was frustrated with myself.”
Seeking to clear his head and escape the pressure of figuring out what to do next, Khan decided to take a trip to Alaska.
“I ran away to Alaska from New York,” Khan said. “I was supposed to be there for a week, but I stayed for three weeks, and I was just enjoying nature. I came back to New York, and I said, ‘you know, this is crazy that as New Yorkers we don’t even realize (or at least I didn’t realize) that there is a huge world out there that I don’t know anything about, you know?’ The wildlife, the birds, the animals, the environment, the trees, and so on. So that trip put me on the journey of fine art wildlife photography.”
That trip completely changed Khan’s understanding of the world around him, and he immediately set out to find ways to better connect with nature despite living in a bustling city.
“When I went to Alaska, I came back knowing that I don’t know anything about the natural world and I was kind of embarrassed, and I just jumped into it,” Khan said. “I studied more, I met more people, and the more I learned, the more I realized that being a New Yorker I had no clue what’s going on in the world, and actually at that point I realized [the impact of] climate change and how everyone (including humans) play a part in our environment: the insects, the bees, the wolves, the horses and so on.”
As Khan began to learn more about the wildlife he was photographing, he wondered what he could do for them in exchange for being his photography subjects.
“So, I started to go photograph animals, and I didn’t know what to do with the animals that I was photographing,” Khan said. “When I photograph fashion, I pay my models and we hire them, and they come in and they pose for us, and they act for us and so on. But as far as wildlife was concerned, I was taking from them, because I was photographing them for free, I wasn’t paying them to interact with me, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I felt like I’m taking from them and not giving back to them, and that’s why I started to get in touch with groups that take care of horses, groups that take care of wolves, and so on.”
Khan was in the unique position to give a new perspective on the world of wildlife using techniques he would use in the worlds of fashion and filmmaking that he was already deeply familiar with.
“I have had a lot of other wildlife photographers say ‘Ejaz, you cannot take a picture like that! It’s not going to work in wildlife!’ and I say, ‘I’m not really doing wildlife, I’m doing fine art, so I can take a picture whichever way I want,’” Khan said. “So, the similarity [to fashion photography] to me is the light, it’s how you direct your viewer’s eye throughout your photograph and where you want the view. So that’s something similar, I think, that goes for any type of photography.”
While he finds a number of similarities between the two, Khan also had to learn how to work with a photography subject who has little to no understanding of their role in the photo shoot.
“For me—and everybody shoots differently— fashion is something where I am in control of the entire environment: my light, my model, what she’s wearing, my props, my everything,” Khan said. “Literally you walk in and say ‘I don’t want that and I do want that,’ and you have a schedule and you say ‘okay it’s done’ and we have eight hours and then we should be done with that.
And then as far as wildlife is concerned, there is nothing there that you can control. You are just totally at the beck and call of whatever the environment presents to you or whatever the subject presents to you. You could be there to photograph wolves and instead of photographing them, you’re running away from them, because they’re chasing you. Anything could happen in the environment.”
Khan has also returned to filmmaking, this time with the goal of raising awareness of important causes.
“We’ve created a film called ‘Vanishing Knowledge’ about a gentleman who served in the Vietnam War and came back with cancer because of Agent Orange, and he felt at peace and happy around horses,” Khan said. “So, he purchased one horse, and today he has the largest Nokota horse herd in the world; he’s got 300 of them. But the cancer didn’t go away, he’s dying, and the doctors are not giving him much time. The issue is, when he dies, the horses won’t have any place to live, and they will be put through pens and then slaughtered. So that was one project in the film industry that I’ve been working on, and I consciously made the decision to make films that raise awareness to things that I personally feel should be.”
Khan’s new film topics even go beyond the realm of wildlife, including his most recent film “Trapped” which focuses on sex trafficking in the United States.
“While I was filming ‘Vanishing Knowledge’ in North Dakota I came across girls that were, sadly, put into sex trafficking and I thought ‘that is happening here, in America,’” Khan said. “That is something I wanted to speak on. I know it has nothing to do with my ‘brand,’ so to speak, it’s got nothing to do with animals and fashion, but I think it’s something that we need to raise awareness about, that it’s here. It’s happening here and nobody speaks about it.”