Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

By Ibraar Hussain

I’ve never played Polo, in fact I don’t know much about it and have no idea about most of the rules, to me it’s a bit like Soccer on horseback – or is it more like Hockey?

Reading up on the game I see that it’s ancient – probably the first ever team sport and brought to Britain during the days of The Raj from India – or rather the North West Frontier and Kashmir.

45mm Planar

The game is played in a more rustic and ancient form in those parts – in Central Asia and around Northen Pakistan and Afghanistan called Buzkashi

This is played with a goat’s carcass and is a rough dangerous contact sport like Rugby on Horseback! If you watch Rambo III you’ll see Sly Stallone enjoying himself with the Taliban, I mean, Mujahideen, playing the game in all it’s glory.

If you watch Journey’s to The Ends of The Earth – the excellent 90ies documentary series, David Adams (photographer) travels to find Shangri La and watches a game of Buzkashi.

45mm and below 21mm

90mm Sonnar @f2.8

Polo is more civilized and cultured – known as The Sport of Kings; nobility, aristocracy (and Prince Charles) and other such folk are often seen posing around the Polo Field and people like to wear Polo Ralph Lauren T Shirts and look cool.

However in the north of Pakistan Polo is played under different rules, with not much glamour or showiness involved. It’s rougher and more dangerous.

In 2009 I was on a trip to the Hindu Kush and Karakoram – having returned from a trek to Rakaposhi Base camp I was relaxing in Gilgit when a friend asked me if I wanted to go and watch Polo. Of course I did! I jumped to it and we then made our way to the local Polo Ground – with Polo being one of the popular local sports.

21mm Biogon
90mm Sonnar

The Stadium was a bare patch of ground surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Karakoram – which has remnants of grass still on it. The vocal crowd were just locals and to this day I don’t know who was playing, I remember something about it being a match between the irregular infantry of Gilgit vs Chitral or was it Army vs Navy? I forget.

90mm Sonnar @f2.8

45mm

I had my trusty Contax G2 with the trusty 21mm Biogon, 45mm Planar and the not very trusty 90mm Sonnar. The camera was already loaded with Fujichrome Velvia RVP 50 and was 3/4 way through the roll. It was my only camera and I was therefore lumbered in trying to shoot a fast Polo match with less than half a roll and a 50 ISO dead slow Film. I didn’t have much hope.

90mm Sonnar @f2.8

45mm

I spent most of my time trying to get some shots in and missed most of the match, having no idea about what the rules were I doubt I missed much but I did notice that it was fast and chaotic.

I decided on using the 21mm Biogon as my main lens – I determined that the wide angle would mean I could shoot with a slower shutter speed (my rule of thumb is anything 1/focal length of lens would mean I’d get little camera shake) and perhaps nail a few shots.

21mm Biogon – below 45mm

 

I did put on the 90 but opened up – as expected, every single shot with it was Out of Focus or blurred because of slow shutter. I did however manage to get some acceptable photographs with the 21. I don’t think the 45 was used much for this. I tried to remember which photo was for which lens. 21 is obvious the 90 as well so I assume the others are the 45.

Anyway I finished the roll and when back in Blighty I had the film developed. And it stayed that way until recently when I unloaded some boxes of my slides and negatives I had taken out of my mum’s cellar to take home and pulled out some sleeves with these slides in them. After scanning I was quite surprised with the results – most were blown highlights. blocked shadows or out of focus but what they did have was the sense of fast movement, speed, madness and flavour of the day and the Polo match I had witnessed.

 

21mm Biogon
90mm Sonnar

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About The Author

By Ibraar Hussain
Casual snapper formerly from London My Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/ibraar
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Comments

Geoff Chaplin on Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Seeing the first image the authors name was unnecessary - ah! Ibraar, Spectacular scenery! Military spectators suggested it might be a troubled area but as you said, a military team involved. You captured the dynamism well, great shots - I particularly like the last and the Sonnar shot with the tractor.
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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Thank you Geoff. I think ultimately a slower film actually works better - as a fast film wouldn’t have captured the movement

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Anthony Conroy on Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Spectacular setting you've nailed it with those images
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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Thanks Anthony !

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Simon Foale on Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Fabulous images Ibraar! This is the kind of stuff that really makes this site worth monitoring. Great framing BTW - you've done a nice job of contextualising the game with the local architecture, material culture and magnificent scenery.
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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Thanks Simon .

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Bill Brown on Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Ibraar, I'm in total agreement with Geoff's opening sentence. I think you experienced something I've encountered over the years when I go back and look at older and sometimes forgotten moments. The fact you have become separated from the initial hopes and dreams for your photos no longer clouds your perception of how they turned out. Time has a way of cleaning our visual and mental palette and oft times we can better appreciate what we accomplished at the time. Subdued light, moving riders on horseback and Velvia 50. This is a dodgy combination for any camera and photographer but I think you and the Contax more than held your own. Sharpness is relative and not always the best representation of the moment. A nice story and photoset. I can almost hear the horses snorting and the crowd cheering as I am there in the last image. Nice!
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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Thanks man. I’ve been going through thousands of slides and negatives and have discovered stuff I’d hitherto ignored. Stuff which I really like and can’t imagine why I didn’t before. Thanks again

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Ed Currie on Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Superb photos. Sometimes the best images come when least expected and you wish you had more appropriate gear but you need to think harder about what to use with the limited equipment. Been it that situation many times myself. Out of interest what is the domed building in the last photograph?
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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Thanks Ed. I’ve been using some dated digital cameras lately and have been trying to get the best I can within its limitations This was unintentional and only 15 years later was I quite pleased with what I had managed. It turned out that the slow film helped with showing movement I think the domed building I recall is a hotel but I’ll need to confirm that

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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Or should I say one of the palaces turned into a hotel

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Ed Currie replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

I thought it was a former palace but was unsure. So well kept.

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Gary Smith on Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

I'd say that your film did just fine or maybe it was your trusty Contax? Probably it was just you... All I know about polo is that Jaeger-LeCoultre supposedly designed their "Reverso" so that polo players would have protection against getting slammed. And I once went to the Polo Grounds Stadium in New York to see the Mets play prior to the building of Shae Stadium in 1963. No idea why it was called that (although apparently there was an actual polo field in Central Park at one time).
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Gary Smith replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Great images (as always)...

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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Thanks Gary! Good point and shoot the contax G2 - that’s all I recall doing. Hehe!! I’ve always lusted after a JLC Reverso - had to settle for a cheaper Cartier Tank (Quartz) According to wiki The venue's original purpose was for the sport of polo. Its name was initially merely descriptive, not a formal name, often rendered as "the polo grounds" in newspapers. Thanks again!

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Gary Smith replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

I was looking for a JLC reverso and ended up with a JLC Sun-Moon that flipped to a display back (sort of defeating the intent) but it was gorgeous.

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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Yes but that’s one gorgeous piece! Even nicer than the bog standard reverso. I ended up selling my Cartier as it was too small. One day one day! A Reverso will be on my wrist !!

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Tony Warren on Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

What a great piece Ibraar - the setting, the people and the action - and what memories it must have for you. Just what photography does best of all. Smashing!
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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 07/07/2024

Thank you Tony I’ve since found some negatives and slides I shot in Istanbul over a couple visits which I’m going to scan. Also some of Avebury Silbury Hill Weat Kennet and other long barrows I had been researching years back - so might write an article or two !

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Philip on Polo in The Karakoram – Hockey on Horseback with a Contax G2 and Velvia 50

Comment posted: 08/07/2024

If someone would have told me that these were photos from a classic National Geographic issue I would've immediately believed them. I really love the look and feel of these images.
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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 08/07/2024

Thank you so much my friend The film coupled with the rustic surrounding does give it a look from times past Thanks again

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