When weddings were canceled during the pandemic, videographer Tufail Uddin and photographer Mohtashim Mahin of Thru the Lens Production lost their main source of income. They had to find other ways of making money by taking a financial leap to follow their dreams.
Tufail Uddin grew up in Detroit. Like many kids raised by immigrant parents, he was encouraged to grow up and have a solid 9 to 5 office job. But he had other plans.
“I am a videographer, content creator and a wedding filmmaker,” Uddin says.
When Uddin lost his first office job, his wife Anjum bought him a camera.
“In the beginning of the year, I was at this 9 to 5 job where I saw no happiness or purpose in,” he recalls.
Uddin began watching YouTube tutorials to learn more about photography. He freelanced for a while and practiced taking pictures for small events to build a portfolio. In 2018, he met Mohtashim Mahin while freelancing as a videographer.
Mahin was born in Bangladesh and moved to the U.S. when he was 18. He began doing photography as a hobby while figuring out what to do between attending college and doing odd jobs.
“I started just going around to different people’s weddings and started taking pictures of my relatives,” says Mahin. “That’s how I started.”
Mahin says talent was not enough to get far in the industry. He realized people hired photographers and videographers as a package deal, which sparked an idea: Join forces with Uddin.
“I reached out to him in 2018 and we met at Tim Hortons…” remembers Mahin. “I took everything with me, all my camera and everything and he was like, ‘Okay bro, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.’”
Uddin says he wasn’t sure about taking the jump. A few months went by and they crossed paths again while working for the Bangladeshi Mural Project, a crowdfunded mural honoring Bangladeshi heritage in America displayed on the Hamtramck-Detroit border.
This time Uddin said yes.
Creating a Business
They became a team in December 2019. Then in 2020, their whole operation came to a standstill due to the pandemic.
Uddin says that sudden pandemic-related shift made him rethink his priorities both as a business owner and as a new dad. His son was just a few weeks old when Michigan went into lockdown.
“My income and my family’s financial wellbeing depends on the world, right?” says Uddin. “Like if the pandemic didn’t happen, and I could have kept working.”
Uddin wanted to take another step towards pursuing his dreams by opening a studio to work outside of the house and being more present while at home. He says his wife Anjum gave him the reassurance he needed.
Creative jobs are often not supported in the South Asian community, but rather seen as hobbies. Uddin says his wife helped him overcome those barriers and believe in himself.
“Just her listening is good enough for me to go out and go do what I need to do,” he says.
Things started looking up in 2021. In August, Uddin and Mahin found a fixer-upper space to rent in Warren near the Bangladeshi community, one of their largest client bases.
“We really wanted this space primarily for us to be creatives in, to make this dream more serious to become more of a photographer and a videographer and explore different avenues and bring other creators in,” Uddin says.
One of the things they explored was making commercials. Yasmeen Ahmed is the owner of Adhor, a gift wrapping business. Uddin helped create a video for her online business. It was shared far and wide.
“I’ve met people through the video, so I thought that was very cool — the exposure that it got,” Ahmed says.
Ahmed met Uddin and Mahin in 2018 during the Bangladeshi Mural Project. She says she’s proud of them for following their dreams.
“I just feel like they were very brave, very courageous to go ahead and open up that studio during a pandemic. It shows that how passionate they are about their work,” she says.
Listen: Thru the Lens Production makes space for local creatives in their brick-and-mortar studio.
From Freelancers to Small Business Hub
Mahin says he was nervous about taking a big financial jump, especially being a provider for his family, like Uddin, but money from the events they host helps cover their bills.
Uddin says he hopes the studio becomes a safe space for businesses to come together to create content or connect people to resources.
“We want to be a one-stop-shop or at least help you find the right person to help you,” Uddin says.
In October TTL Production held a fall fest to bring online small businesses into a physical space.
“It gives like small businesses, especially the business starting during the COVID … a little platform other than just Instagram,” Uddin says.
He says it’s important to create networks for people who need connection, a supporter, or a mentor.
This year TTL Production was a vendor for about 40 events including small intimate weddings. Kamran Hussain and Fahmida Parvin hired TTL Production for their wedding in June. Hussain says he grew up with Uddin. He trusted the duo to capture their special moments.
“Alhamdulillah we were able to get everything we need with the photography. Tufail and Mahin were actually very cool with our budget,” says Hussain. ‘They worked around it and even helped us out whenever we had questions.”
Hussain says TTL Production shows the community’s growth – from freelancers to a brick and mortar.
“We’re still a small community,” says Hussain. “So if one of us had something like a studio for example and they’re willing to lend it out to other small businesses, that shows you how strong the community is, and how we’re uplifting each other.”
Uddin says this year was challenging but provided new opportunities like traveling to nine states for work.
Mahin says opening a business was worth it. He says people who once doubted him have now changed their minds.
“I hear those same people are complimenting ‘okay, you’re doing great.’ And there’s what keeps me going,” Mahin says.
TTL Production was not able to provide services at the peak of the pandemic due to delayed and canceled weddings. But losing business gave co-owners Tufail Uddin and Mohtashim Mahin a chance to create their own safe space to work, thrive, and use their creative talents to make money.
What seemed like an ending became a new beginning.