PROFILE

Gulshan Khan

A young Muslim girl shouts with delight as she rides a horse on a carousel at a fete in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Canon Ambassador Gulshan Khan's ongoing personal project, The Things We Carry With Us, documents South African Muslims, a community to which she belongs. In this image, a girl rides the carousel at the Sultan Bahu Centre fete in Johannesburg, South Africa. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM) at 1/80 sec, f/2 and ISO640. © Gulshan Khan

"Photography is a language we can use to communicate what we are seeing," says South African photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Gulshan Khan. "My projects have always arisen from some sort of gap I see, something I feel strongly about that needs highlighting or commenting on. No matter what I'm photographing, it's always linked to the context of historical social justice and human rights."

Gulshan only became a professional photographer in 2017, but her output since then has been prolific. Her work has focused on subjects including Muslims in contemporary South Africa, as well as a range of issues related to plastic pollution, access to water and sanitation, safe housing, gender and healthcare.

She was the first African woman to be hired by international news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), and her images have been featured in major publications including National Geographic, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Gulshan has also worked with non-governmental organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund. She is a National Geographic Explorer and received the HIPA Emerging Person in Photography Award in 2020.
Currently based in Johannesburg, Gulshan was born and raised in the town of Emnambithi-Ladysmith in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. While on her journey, she pursued various careers including working for a diplomatic embassy in Pretoria and as the General Manager of a South African Sports Federation.

In 2015, however, during student protests in Johannesburg for free and decolonised education across South Africa, Gulshan became involved in helping to assist the movement. "In that time, I started taking pictures with my phone, because so often I was witness to things I felt people should see, including police heavy-handedness," she says. "I put these pictures on Instagram and people began asking if they could feature or publish them."
Canon Ambassador Gulshan Khan.

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Specialist areas: Documentary photography, photojournalism
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM)
A woman in a dark blue dress and a teenage girl in a bright pink top sitting on the front porch of a house.

Tariro Chinamo, 43, and her 14-year-old daughter Lana Fariva pictured at their home in Zimbabwe in October 2019. The house has no electricity and every day the family has to walk to a spring more than 1km away to fetch water that must then be boiled for drinking and cooking. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/1.4 and ISO250. © Gulshan Khan

Gulshan subsequently undertook a year-long photojournalism and documentary photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg before working as a stringer for AFP. Her first professional camera was a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV), loaned to her by the agency. "As a machine, it's really incredible and for two years I did all of my work with it," she says. "It got me through a lot of challenging assignments."

Since then, Gulshan has combined covering hard news stories for AFP and editorial work for various publications with her own long-term projects. In the future she plans to concentrate more on her personal photography, telling stories in a more nuanced and in-depth way.
A woman in a patterned headscarf and red lipstick standing in front of a leafy tree.

Amyna Fakhude pictured at her home in Spruitview, Johannesburg, South Africa in April 2021. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/4000 sec, f/3.5 and ISO250. © Gulshan Khan

Although Gulshan often documents issues related to poverty, racism and pollution, her natural optimism, belief in the pursuit of justice and passion for communicating through the language of photography keeps her enthusiastic.

"I love watching people and seeing the world evolve around me," she says. "Often, it's about the difficult situations and witnessing how people's strength can still thrive, despite everything.

"For me, part of the flow of energy, thought and discourse on an issue is to photograph it and show it to someone. That's what keeps me going. I've gotten over the part of wanting to measure impact. I don't think that's for me to judge. You just do the work and hope for the best and, whatever comes from that, knowing that you have whole-heartedly contributed."
Do you usually know what a project will be about before you start or does it gradually evolve?
"It's a bit of both. There's the initial idea or feeling of what you want to say about something but, like everything, this is a learning curve. If you go in with exactly what you want to say and this doesn't change, then that could be a bit dangerous. You have to be open to seeing what your environment presents to you, what people present to you, and what people are saying about their own experiences. This will lead you to what you want to say."

Which project means the most to you?
"Every single project means so much to me and I pour myself into them all. My mind and heart are completely immersed when I'm photographing because I take on projects I feel are important. So I don't think I can choose one – they're all equally important."

What's been the highlight of your career so far?
"At the end of last year, some of my images were acquired by the Iziko South African Museum to be a part of our national archive. When we were growing up as Muslims in South Africa, we didn't see people like ourselves in our history books; we were learning Dutch, British and colonial history. This was the first contemporary documentary work on Islam to be taken into our national archive, which really meant a lot to me and my community. It is now a part of our collective history."

One thing I know

Gulshan Khan

"As a photojournalist, it's important to know yourself and be true to yourself. But you also need to understand your own identity in relation to the people and context in which you are photographing, so you can remain respectful. You should work so that you don't ever hurt people, because the camera can be a weapon. Sometimes people are in situations that aim to strip them of their dignity, but you, with your camera, can still present people with dignity."

Instagram: @gulshanii

Twitter: @let_zephyrspin

Website: www.gulshankhan.com

Gulshan Khan's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Gulshan Khan's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.

Camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "When I'm covering protests, for example, I need hardwearing equipment that I can shove in my bag and not worry it's going to get broken," says Gulshan. "I also know the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV's weather sealing will keep it working in the heat and rain."

Lenses

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L II USM

The successor to the lens Gulshan favours is a standard wide-angle lens beloved by reportage photographers for its natural perspective and extraordinary optical performance. Gulshan says: "It's my go-to lens for most of my work. It's really great when I'm photographing in low-light situations and it's very discreet."

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

The latest version of Gulshan's lens is a fast-aperture telephoto zoom that's engineered to perform in the most challenging conditions. "This lens is really beautiful for work where I need to be discreet and shoot from far away, for example when I'm doing my project on Muslims in contemporary South Africa and working in spiritual spaces. I also use it at press events," says Gulshan.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM

This ultra wide-angle zoom lens is ideal for taking photographs outdoors. "I have this in my bag if I know there are going to be group shots or if I'm going to be shooting wider landscapes," says Gulshan.

Accessories

Tripod

Gulshan says: "I photograph using only natural light, so sometimes I need a tripod when shooting in low light with a telephoto lens."

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