Riaz Ahmed’s photography career started in 2011 by chance when his friend invited him to go down to London from Bradford to capture the atmosphere outside Westminster Abbey at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Capturing the buzz on the streets of the capital first-hand, Mr Ahmed fell in love with photography and has not looked back.
Pre-Covid, Mr Ahmed fit his street photography career, capturing unfiltered and raw emotion through candid shots of people going about their daily business, around his 9-5 job. He has also gone on to photograph sports stars, Hollywood, and Bollywood celebrities through freelancing for the Asian Sunday, our sister publication that covers news, lifestyle, arts, culture and entertainment for South Asian people and the wider community across Britain, as well as build up a portfolio of travel photography, taking snaps of cities around the world including Budapest, Tunisia, LA, and Cairo.
Since the Coronavirus hit in the UK last year, there have been various states of lockdown and Government restrictions on being outside and meeting with people. With limits on mixing easing and mass gatherings being allowed to go ahead only recently, street photography work, unfortunately, dried up, as did many other arts and creative sectors, and so Mr Ahmed had to find another way to channel his creativity, and so he did.
Mr Ahmed has launched Bradford Through the Lens, a YouTube channel highlighting Bradford’s forgotten and almost forgotten history, alongside his friend Imtiaz Sabir. Mr Ahmed said: “The two main types of photography I do is street photography, a lot of the time in black and white, and celebrity pictures.
“Due to Covid, there have been no events, and nothing going on, so I’ve had nothing to photograph. Still wanting to be creative and getting some exercise in, I decided to go out and film unusual spaces and places in Bradford.
“I have always had an enquiring mind, I like to think of myself of a bit of a Sherlock Holmes, putting two and two together, which is why I have really taken to going out and showing people the more unknown bits of Bradford’s history.”
So far, Mr Ahmed has visited the grave of some of the victims of Peter Sutcliffe, more commonly known as the Yorkshire Ripper. He has also filmed an Egyptian tomb, street art across the city, Bradford’s remaining subway stations – places that have been earmarked by the council to be filled in with concrete, as well as hidden cemeteries, and a video on the link of Pocahontas to the district.
Speaking about Pocahontas and the extraordinary ties to Bradford, Mr Ahmed said: “Jane Rolfe was the granddaughter of the Native American princess Pocahontas and colonist John Rolfe.
“She got married to Robert Bolling, the son of John Bolling, who owned the Bolling Hall, which is now a museum and one of the oldest buildings in Bradford.” Robert Bolling settled in Virginia in 1660 at the age of fourteen and went on to become extremely wealthy as a successful merchant and planter.
He married Jane in 1674 and had one son. Jane is believed to have died shortly after giving birth in 1676 and Robert went on to remarry.
The videos on the channel are casual, recorded by Mr Ahmed on a GoPro camera. He said: “My videos don’t have fancy editing. Instead, it should feel like you are walking with a friend and discovering these places together. I’ve done this specifically so that it draws people in and it is as if you are having a conversation.”
Mr Ahmed mentions that it is not just his passion project, but he also shares the workload with Mr Sabir, who tackles the history and research side of the videos while he focuses on the filming and editing side of the channel.
Mr Sabir is keen for people across West Yorkshire and beyond to know that there is “more to Bradford than Manningham and Leeds Road, which is often the face of the city.” He continues: Riaz and I want to show the various places that the district of Bradford has to offer. For all to ponder and to create a positive image, showing how different communities in the district get along.”
For Mr Sabir, showing Bradford in a positive light is not “about multi-culturalism”. He says he is “not interested in that bygone idea, it is about fellow citizens from different backgrounds getting on with each other as colleagues, neighbours, acquaintances and friends without fear of each other.
“We know it works as regularly experience it and hopes these videos add to the protection of what is left of Bradford’s heritage and help pull in investment to Bradford to provide jobs and careers for its citizens.”
It is important to Mr Ahmed to get more young people in Bradford to know their history and where they come from, and “not just Manningham and the Bradford riots” which is also why the videos are kept family-friendly and easy to watch. He says: “The videos are there to be informal so that young people can enjoy. If they want to read about the nitty-gritty of these places, then there are thousands of pages on Google they can read, but that is boring and some young people don’t want to do that, so instead, they can get watch our videos and get a more relaxed telling of the stories.”
Additionally, Mr Ahmed notes that: “The view count of the video is going up, which is good as that is what we want to see, but it seems as if most of the people watching are people from the white community in Bradford, who are interested in the district’s heritage.
“I am not sure why the South Asian community are not interested in history, which is a shame. I can’t say too much, as it will spoil the video when it is released, but I’m going to a site that has graves from the migrants of South Asia who arrived in Bradford in the early 40s. I am looking forward to delving into this a bit more and hopefully, more people from across different communities will engage in the video.
Mr Ahmed and Sabir plan on uploading at least one video to the channel a week, with a lot of exciting videos in the pipeline, including a video on an explosion that happened in the city in 1916.
You can subscribe to Bradford Through the Lens, here.