What surprised you about Pakistan?

A girl and a boy, both on the cusp of teenage to adulthood, sit casually on stones and look into the camera. The expression on their faces is serious, but relaxed, even with a slight smile. Maybe they're siblings, maybe a couple. You seem carefree and just as curious about Manolo Ty as he is about her. The German photographer begins his photo book "Pakistan Now" with the photo of the two. As a motto he precedes it with a clever sentence by Alexander von Humboldt: "The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have never looked at the world."

Now you are not a stubborn ignoramus just because you have never traveled to Pakistan. Very few Europeans know the country firsthand, and a trip there is by no means safe. It is therefore all the more important that Manolo Ty dared to go to Pakistan - and dealt with the country and its people in a completely impartial manner. His impressions give the viewer and reader a differentiated, and in some places possibly surprising image.

With a few judgments about Pakistan you are quickly at hand: Terror, corruption, police violence and poverty presumably come to mind first - and then not much. There is all this in Pakistan, Manolo Ty makes no secret of it. His book does not belong in the category of clean-washed travel literature, which suggests to the reader that somewhere in the world it is completely different and in truth not as bad at all as everyone else always claims. Ty does not play down, but he makes it clear in a very impressive way that Pakistan is much more than the sum of its problems.

Ty traveled to the country for the first time five years ago and self-published an illustrated book from the photographs he brought back. Last year he flew to Pakistan again for several weeks for the comprehensively revised edition. To see parts of the country unknown to him and to focus more on women and the small but very influential cultural elite of Pakistan than on his first trip.

Manolo Ty succeeds in getting close to people. He is interested in their stories, in their living conditions and documents this in his photographs and in short texts. Sometimes more detailed explanations would be helpful, because Ty arouses a curiosity in some places, which the book then only partially satisfies. But there is also, as one quickly understands, not one final answer to everything. There are many contradictions in Pakistan. As in any Muslim society, women are not equal, but there is a female educated elite and passionate cosplayers, i.e. women who dress up as cartoon characters - and in Benazir Bhutto Pakistan had a president 30 years ago. The imam of the Faisal National Mosque in the capital Islamabad is tolerant of interreligious issues, but at the same time there is always religiously motivated violence. Society is quite traditional in many ways. On the other hand, Pakistan introduced a third gender in the passports very early on, in Islamabad there are parties - even if only private - where DJs play and people dance freely.

Where Manolo Ty calls Islamabad a "bubble", it shows the serious inequality in the country, which has one of the highest illiteracy rates and is extremely poor. But that doesn't rob people of their pride and dignity. They live very differently than people in the west. How exactly is now much easier to understand.

Manolo Ty: Pakistan Now. Dumont Reiseverlag, Ostfildern 2018. 320 pages, 49.90 euros.