Culture

Life Through The Lens: Nudrat Afza

Nudrat Afza, a Pakistani-British photographer and carer for 34 years, has been taking photos for over a decade, with her projects supported and funded by the Arts Council and her work recently displayed in the Science Museum. She takes us through 10 of her favourite pieces of work.
Nudrat Afza's sister Sairah has her head shaved. From the 'Cancer. Shadow and light' collection. All photos: Nudrat Afza.
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Life Through The Lens: Nudrat Afza
From the City Girls collection.

This is a photograph from the City Girls series. The collection has about one hundred pictures of Bradford City Football Club female supporters.

This picture is taken by an XPan camera designed for architectural photography, but I had been using it to photograph people. The XPan was gifted to me by Simon Beaufoy, the Oscar winning screenwriter, who penned The Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire amongst many others.

Some years ago two friends asked my daughter Khadijah, who has a life threatening liver condition and learning disabilities, to go to a Bradford City football match.

As her full time carer I had to accompany her and so it was that I finally went to my first football match.

As we walked towards the ground I felt as if a magnet was pulling me, and I had no control over this feeling. The amber and claret uniformity of people walking, like pilgrims, towards the football ground felt very moving and poignant.

I grew up near Valley Parade in Manningham, Bradford and had never been to a football game. Now it was my daughter who led me by my hand up the steps to our steeply banked seats. She was confident and had a sense of purpose as she guided me, our usual roles reversed.

City was about to take a penalty and I was sitting on the ground ready, hoping a goal would be scored, ready to capture the fans’ jubilant emotions.

It was intense few moments that felt like forever; I saw the little boy, blowing the bubble, through the view finder and I clicked. City did score!

I really like this photograph. It's a family event, the boy chewing gum, blowing a bubbles, the little girl playing with her younger sister, women supporters with intensity and anticipation and of course, the young man with ‘mum’ tattooed on his neck.

I expected it to be all men but there were all these fantastic, committed women and girls cheering for the team. It was during this time that the idea of taking photographs of City fans developed.

I couldn’t believe how many beautiful women and girls there were in the crowd. And they were every bit as involved in the action as the men. I had to photograph them. I wanted to capture the beauty of female football fans at Bradford and their enthusiasm and passion.

From the Salon collection.

This is one of a few pictures that shows a master of ‘old-fashioned’ hairdressing. Mr Kenneth Moore, in a natural pose waving to a familiar, friendly face passing by the salon window.

I was very close up, focusing on the lady’s face, with a handheld camera, photographing the details of hair being cut. Suddenly, Ken moved to wave. I pulled back and took a picture not knowing what was in the frame. It’s not a pin sharp image of Ken but it shows his personality beautifully and one of the commercial products has the name KEN, in the top left hand corner.

The Kenmore Salon was on Toller Lane. I had known it since I was a teenager growing up in Bradford, passing it every day on the bus to school. I can remember once seeing the owner, Ken, standing outside his newly modernised premises.

About a decade ago, guessing the owner would be approaching retirement, I decided to go into the salon as a photographer because I was curious to know what was happening. So I made an appointment for my daughter to have her hair cut there.

My first impression of the salon, once inside, was that it was a particularly fine example of late modern décor from the late seventies and early eighties. I asked the hairdresser if anyone had ever photographed the salon and when he said no, I asked if I could. He seemed surprised but agreed. I learned that Ken was planning to sell the business when he retired, and with his consent, I decided to photograph the last year of the salon.

As the work progressed, not only did I have the chance to acknowledge the hairdresser’s skills and expertise, I also got to know most of his clients: at that time he had over a hundred. In its heyday there were five staff employed. It opened in the evenings and was the place to be seen in. To photograph a few of Ken’s last clients, I had left my daughter, who is frequently hospitalised many a time, at Bradford Royal Infirmary; the Salon was at the end of the hospital road.

The Salon body of work has become a record of a particular place and passing era.

From the Kehillah collection.

The word kehillah can mean 'congregation' or 'community' in Hebrew. This is a collection that documented the only remaining Bradford Tree of Life Synagogue, it’s members, friends and the physical structure. Juxtaposed with these images are photographs of an empty Orthodox Synagogue in Bradford which has since been demolished; they have a haunting and moving quality about them.

This photograph, taken at the end of a Chanukah Service, is of Mrs Suzie Cree, blowing out the candles on the large Menorah. Capturing this moment in time was a fortunate chance.

When all the members, friends and invited guest had left after the service, the candles were still burning on the Chanukah Menorah. Being an outsider and novice about Jewish religious rituals and etiquettes I wasn’t sure who, how or when the candles would be blown out.

I had placed my cameras away in my bag and had thought about leaving, thinking the caretaker was finishing tidying up in the shul. I also wondered if it would be right to photograph a non-Jewish person seeing to the Chanukah candles.

So I sat alone in the synagogue for while. The smoke and smell of burning candles with all the conventional electric lights switched off made the synagogue an extraordinary, spiritual space. A place for devotion.

I was still thinking of leaving when Suzie Cree walked in and began to blow the candles out. I hurriedly got my camera out, with no time to ask her to stop or pose for me. I was absolutely thrilled with the positive. An image of the end of a religious ceremony resonates with the rest of the series of photographs and the Jewish community in Bradford.

There were in total six Kehillah posters (made for non-profit) produced to accompany two exhibitions at two different venues .

From the Cancer. Shadow and light collection.

Here I am! An image of defiance and attitude.

My younger sister, Sairah, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sairah had stopped at my home unexpectedly on Eid, a Muslim religious day, and I took this picture on the spur of moment.

She has incredible energy and has remained positive. I wanted the photographs to reflect that. I took photographs through her journey of having cancer: for example, its prognosis and different stages of treatment.

Despite this being a serious and sombre subject matter, I wanted to show Sairah’s resilience, courage, dignity, openness and hope. She is a truly inspirational woman; she has dealt with her situation with tremendous strength, courage, optimism and abundance of love.

This collection is a deeply emotional and heart felt project for me.

Photo titled 'Malala, You Heard Us'.

I saw a young woman browsing in a Bradford city centre charity shop and had an idea. I had just gone to use up an old film in the camera to start a new project. When she came out I plucked up the courage to ask her if I could take her picture and she said ‘yes’. When I asked her what her name was she said ‘Malala’. I’d only heard of one Malala before and she said ‘she’s from my village, and we’re the same age’. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. She was an intelligent, witty and approachable young woman. It was not planned but this picture became part of the new commission I was about to start.

I took a negative 2300 ASA film photo of her with a Leica M2 camera which was kindly gifted to me by photographer John Blakemore, who is based in Derby.

She is from the same village in Pakistan as Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by a gunman and later became an activist for female education, and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Photo titled 'Girl with Doll'.

This is a colour negative film photograph taken with Canon AE1, 50mm lens with a loaned camera. It was taken in the mid 1980’s when I started taking pictures in my neighbourhood.

This was one of my first photographs, taken in a street off Manningham Lane, in one of deprived area of Bradford; it was and still is where a Bangladeshi community live. It’s a challenging picture and it means a lot to me.

A British South Asian girl called Halima, proudly holds a broken white doll with dress made of a piece of cloth tied with a small safety pin, dishevel led hair and the bluest eyes.

This image encapsulates so many under currents of race, class and gender.

I began taking pictures using colour negative film, developing and processing at high street printing shops. This process was easy, very accessible and practical for me. There were many low-cost colour printing places at that time. It was before the digital era.

I hadn’t studied photography and didn’t have the use of a dark room so using colour rather than black and white film was the viable option. Although, colour photography was not taken seriously.

I had a very small selection of colour, hand prints, size 10” by 8” from this era taken near where I lived. I took these to Barry Sheridan, exhibition officer at Piece Hall Art Gallery, Halifax and so had my first solo exhibition.

Photo titled 'Girl Skipping'.

I love this picture!

The composition. The shape of the skipping rope and the door arches are similar, with a British South Asian little girl skipping in front of brick houses and the street look typical of the north of England. I like the dress print of gorgeous flowers and the head scarf. The look of commitment on her face.

An air of science: she defies gravity, as her legs lift off the ground. Most importantly, it has a feel of spirituality.

It’s a black and white negative film photograph taken with Canon EOS 50, which is now broken.

I was offered a small commission to take social documentary photographs in Oldham. I was, for the first time using black and white negative film to be taken just a tad seriously.

I had understood that it isn’t always desirable to photograph children.

The young girl was following me in the streets of Glodwick, Oldham. I kept asking her to go back. She wanted her picture taken. I got worried. Eventually, I said "If I take your picture, will you please go back to be near your home?"

When I viewed the contact a week or so later, I had to find out where she lived to request permission to exhibit it.  

A selection of photos from the Black Men collection.

It was the turn of the century. I was given the Year of the Artist Award, June 2000 – May 2001. The brief was to document the diverse communities in Cheetham Hill and Broughton, Manchester for a touring photography exhibition, coordinated by Manchester Jewish Museum.

I had gone to a community centre in Cheetham Hill, where African-Caribbean men met once a week for a coffee, tea and dominoes game session.

It was a poorly lit part of the building. There were a few men present that day. I was not sure if I could photograph without using a flash, or how to compose a group picture. So I put a chair in the doorway as a common theme and took individual portraits. The chair was in same position, I used available day light and a borrowed Canon AE 1 camera with a standard 50mm lens.

I had come across this idea in a textbook some time ago.

Of course, when working with negative film and an old vintage camera, one can not see the results immediately.

Working in isolation, with no one to bounce ideas with, I was never sure if I had done justice to the subject matter.

In retrospect the portraits look wonderful !

From the Ruins of Bradford collection.

This photograph is from the series Ruins of Bradford, taken with a Hasselblad XPan camera. I like the shape of the image. Sometimes one’s instinct is to take a picture without people but the two figures work really well in this image. The chemist and cloth house signage with the mill damaged by the fire in the background has an eeriness.

Drummond Mill, had a clock on one side of the building, a feature which I remember from the mid 1960’s when I arrived in Britain. It also had unique exquisite engraved windows in one of the office rooms. Ever since I can remember I had wanted to photograph these two features. Then a few years ago the mill was destroyed by fire. I wanted, but didn’t photograph the iconic building on fire.

The picture of the Drummond Mill in ruin makes me feel melancholy.

Photo titled 'Netball'.

This was a spontaneous and lucky photograph.

I had been asked to take pictures for a publicity brochure for a community school. I arrived with a pushchair, a camera and carrying my baby daughter who was born very poorly, wondering what to do.

I walked into the playground, looking for possibilities and was not sure how I was going to take a picture holding a small chid.

I saw girls playing netball.

A young student smilingly and affectionately, said "What a lovely baby," took my daughter from me and held her. This really surprised me because people normally didn’t, sometimes not even health professionals. My daughter was born with physical and learning disabilities; she was extremely jaundice, under nourished, very ill with a life threatening liver condition and had gone under a major surgery at nine weeks old.

The kind gesture from the young girl has stayed with me, and of course, which also allowed me to focus on the game.

I wasn’t trained or indeed certainly not a sports photographer so wasn’t sure what to capture; when the action moved to the net, I sensed something and focused as the ball curved into the net with the girls reaching towards it. It happened so fast, I didn’t know if had got the picture. I thought throwing the ball in the net may happen a few times again during the game and that would provide opportunities to retake.

But the bell went and the girls were gone.

I like this image and have nice memories of taking it.

Nudrat Afza can be found at her website here. Her daughter Khadijah has biliary atresia, a life-threatening liver condition, and is regularly in hospital. She is still searching for a live liver donor in order to stay alive.
From the Kehillah collection, two posters, (two hats) and (tea and a blanket) are for sale Online and 1853 Gallery at Salts Mill Shop, Saltaire.  
Some photographs from the collection Cancer. Shadow and light are on display as part of a major cancer exhibition, Cancer Revolution: Science, Innovation and Hope, at the Science Museum, London until January 2023.
The photograph 'Malala, You Heard Us' is one of several images show on billboards around the University of Bradford campus in a public art installation, called You Heard Us, until April 2023.
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