Wire Photographer Spotlight: Daily Life by Muhammed Muheisen

Pakistan World Water Day
Muhammed Muheisen—AP
March 22, 2013. An Afghan refugee girl carries her laundry on her head after washing it in a polluted stream on World Water Day in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Out of more than 3000 images that appeared last year in LightBox’s weekly Pictures of the Week galleries, Muhammed Muheisen’s photographs have appeared more consistently and more often than those of any other photographer. Yet more often than not, his images are not directly related to the news of the week. Instead, they’re poignant images of daily life — visual reminders of how humanity awakens and lives out each day.

The 31-year-old Jordanian national is both prolific and tireless. Based in Pakistan, he began working for the Associated Press before his 21st birthday. Now, as a wire photographer in charge of the AP’s coverage of the region, Muheisen’s priorities are to provide photo reportage of designated news events and to ensure appropriate planning and coverage — often involving elaborate coordination of staffers and stringers across a country of more than 180 million people.

Whether at home or abroad, he is out with his camera each morning to catch the early light before his day officially starts. Between assignments and each evening after his job is done, he continues to photograph — where no news is breaking — in search of daily life images that reflect the subtle beauty and of everyday existence.

It can be frustrating process — any wire photographer can tell story after story about their days spent waiting for a scheduled event to begin. But Muheisen doesn’t complain, nor will he, for the satisfaction he gets from each photograph spurs him to continue.

“I spend hours and hours looking for a moment to capture,” he tells TIME. “The picture might not occur on that day, but you keep on the next day and the next. When the picture finally comes, it feels like your day is made — I am fully satisfied with my day. Nothing competes with the happiness of that moment. I can’t wait to show it to the world through the AP wire.”

Muheisen enjoys the full support of the AP to work on his daily life and street photography — not only where he is based but also while on assignment in other countries. Although these images offer another side of life beyond the news, they are informed by Muheisen’s empathy and his personal experience covering conflict.

“I move around from one place to another looking for scenes that we pass by everyday — a quiet scene or a dynamic scene showing the life of people living in conflict or lives not shattered by war,” he explains. “Some of those scenes bring joy, others sadness and issues to be aware of. Even in the middle of the conflict you can see that life goes on.” Muheisen points to his upbringing as a source for his talent. “I was born in a conflicted country [but]there was always a space for joy — I never stopped looking for that through the years spent covering stories in war zones. A smile always appears; a moment that brings joy to your heart and an unexpected image rises up and gives the story other colors. Having the patience and the love of daily life photography open your eyes and allows you to see things differently and deeply, and doing your best to share those moments by shooting the picture and show it to the world.”

Muheisen’s desire to document his surroundings are indicative of his tenacity and passion for storytelling and his passion for photography.

Santiago Lyon, the Director of Photography at the AP, explained Muheisen’s intrinsic knack for finding meaningful photographs. “If you subscribe to the notion that a photographer’s work is often a direct reflection of their own attitude towards their subject, and if a photographer is able to empathize with their subject successfully, that’s what’s going to be reflected back in their photographs. Muhammed does just that — he disarms people with his sincerity. That is something people pick up on — that he’s genuine, sincere, and transparent. He’s honest and he’s not threatening, so he’s able to document people’s daily lives. Because he’s able to put people at ease he’s able to achieve that elusive condition common to superheroes and photographers: the condition of invisibility. Nobody is paying attention to him because he has become part of the landscape.”

This attribute of invisibility is especially important in a region where photographers are often treated with disdain. In Pakistan, cameras draw unnecessary and unwanted attention to the photographers wielding them, making it difficult to avoid impacting the scene by their presence. Muheisen cannot avoid his influence in the scene. But when one examines his photographs — particularly those of children — it’s evident his subjects do not mind his warm presence.

Says Lyon, “A lot of the world as we see it [reflects our relationships to] designated news events. Daily life work documents the shared human condition around the world, as well as the differences in the way people live — an immensely valuable educational tool. It allows people to compare their own way of life with other people’s lives. That’s an tremendously important function of the photojournalist:  to be a window onto other peoples lives.”

Muheisen’s work not only provides a window, but does so in a consistently and distinctive manner.

“Capturing the daily life of people became a part of me. The deeper you go, the more you see, the more you understand the life of those people and how to approach them without invading their privacy. It’s all about trust between strangers — the subjects and the photographer. It’s a trust that is built on a gesture or a positive energy,” Muheisen says. “The news is right in front of you. If you just turn around, you will witness a totally different scene.”


Muhammed Muheisen is currently based in Islamabad as The Associated Press chief photographer for Pakistan. He joined the AP in 2001, covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and major events in the Middle East, Gaza and Israel. In 2003, he started traveling on international assignments and was part of the team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News in 2005 for their work in Iraq. He recently attended the prestigious World Press Photo 2012 Joop Swart Masterclass in Amsterdam.

Phil Bicker is a senior photo editor at TIME.


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