Surrounded by stories
A Street Photographer’s journey to putting Bradford’s heritage on the international map
Pioneers often don’t see themselves as that, they’re busy forging paths through uncharted territory seeking out work and discovering worlds that are hidden to many. Speaking with Ruxx you soon learn that what started as a journey of necessity in the early stages of the pandemic has led to self discovery, fulfillment and a passion to capture the past to inform the present.
Ruxx Naqvi is part of a new wave of street photographers that are shining an international light on the city of Bradford through their observational work, and she’s the only female asian in that space. Pioneering and exploration often come with their own privileges as well as struggles that smooth the path for others to follow, and this is certainly true of Ruxx’s journey to date.
Her late father was formative in shaping her perspectives on life and people, he arrived in the 60s to work in the mills at the young age of sixteen and shared a house with several other men all in search of a better life. After the mills closed he became a well known and respected bus driver and his friendship circle exploded to represent the diversity of Bradford.
“Growing up we had all sorts of people round to the house and at his funeral every race and religion was represented” says Ruxx “So growing up, I never experienced any racism. I really didn’t know the word because most of our friends and neighbours were white. We didn’t see colour.”
However when Ruxx became a teenager things changed “When I started at high school that’s when I realised that something was different, it wasn’t blatant and in my whole lifetime I’ve never had racism directed at me, it’s been subtle comments and looks.
She continues “I think there’s a lot of work to be done to break down these barriers, and I don’t think it’s going to happen quickly, I think there needs to be much more integration within schools. Some schools you barely see a white person and some schools you barely see an Asian person.”
However she does believe we’re living in a time when things can move forward. “I feel this generation that’s coming up now, is much more open minded than any generation before.” and using her own experience she explains “Home is a massive influence, I feel like I’m more open minded because of my dad and the environment we were raised in. People only know what they’ve grown up with, so if white and asian communities stay separated from each other, then people won’t understand each other.”
In some ways Ruxx’s photography is an extension of her open mindedness, she notices and draws attention to aspects of the city that most people would walk past and disregard or view in disgust. “I find appeal in old buildings and the question I always ask myself is ‘Does it have history? Does it have stories to tell?’”
An example of this is Dalton Mills in Keighley that recently suffered a large fire which she had visited before to photograph and fell in love with the stories it’s textures told “It wasn’t broken before but now it is. There were so many people working in these mills, the amount of stories is huge. It makes me feel sad when things disappear, I want to capture things before they go to help people remember.”
“When I released my photos on Twitter, someone commented on the Dalton Mills photos and told me their grandparents had worked there, and shared what life was like for them. This generation can be very superficial, people don’t care about the past, just about artificial stuff. Sometimes I show friends of mine, and they say ‘oh wow’. A photo can transport people back to the past.”
“When I was growing up, people talked about the Holocaust and Hitler. We thought it was a lifetime ago, but it wasn’t that long ago. Now that I’m an adult I realise the impact of history on our current life and that’s why I want to capture the images I do.”
However Ruxx didn’t always see Bradford this way. “Before the pandemic, whenever I had a day off, I always got out of Bradford. Whenever I spoke to people outside of the city their impression of Bradford was ‘dull, poor people, misery and cold’ and so I started to view it the same way. I thought there was nothing here for me to photograph.”
“In March 2020 when we went into lockdown, we were all so scared. For the first three months I couldn’t work and I started thinking ‘what am I going to do with my life?’. I began falling back into depression.”
Mental health is something that Ruxx has suffered with on and off over the years due to things she’s faced in her life, and her way of coping was always photography “It never goes away, never. Holding a camera and taking photographs has kept me away from those demonic thoughts, every time I hold a camera I am being distracted from my mental health.”
She credits the limitations caused by the pandemic as forcing herself to do something about her mental health. “I thought ‘this is what I’m limited to, this is what I’ve got, let’s just work with it’ and around April time we were given permission to go out for walks. That’s when I started going out with my camera.”
She then started posting her work online and the response shocked her “it was unbelievably popular. I couldn’t believe the amount of interaction it was having. I thought ‘this is Bradford, no-one likes Bradford. Why do so many people like my photographs of Bradford?’”
She continues “It literally takes me a few seconds to take a photograph, and those few seconds become so popular with people. It’s unbelievable.”
“I’ve always been a quiet person. To be honest with you, I’m still a very socially awkward person, but now through Twitter I’m interacting with so many people, and I’m also meeting up with people to capture street photography together.”
Ruxx’s street photography has gained international attention and has been featured by the BBC, BuzzFeed and the T&A. She’s very proud of the positivity it’s bringing to the city – “I feel like I have a voice through photography and Bradford is at the heart of my work now. I’ve taken so many pictures of the Wool Exchange and people have been commenting things like ‘I didn’t know Bradford was like this.’ ‘We need to go to Bradford.’”
When asked why she feels her photographs are gaining such popularity she responds “I think it’s because I’m showing the reality of Bradford – this is Bradford. When people say it’s horrible and dull, well yes but there’s a lot of positivity around too. If you look at #Bradford online there used to be a lot of negativity, now there’s so much more positivity. When I see something like Bradford 2025 it fills me with joy, I feel like something positive is happening in Bradford”
Sadly her passion does come with opposition “Over the years I’ve had men approach me for my number, offer themselves up for taking nudes, being aggressive and questioning my right to take photographs.”
When asked how she feels about these experiences Ruxx replies “I feel angry, It’s harassment. It’s like they have more of a right to be there than me. I think a lot of that negativity is because I’m a female and because of the colour of my skin.”
The majority of the time Ruxx likes to go out alone to take photographs, but only places where she feels safe. She’s connected with two other Bradford street photographers called Jason and Matthew who’ve now become good friends, she teams up with them to go to places where she wouldn’t feel safe on her own. As an introvert, this has been another great outcome by building an in-person community alongside the virtual one.
Ruxx explains a life lesson she uses to face challenges “Sometimes people get ahead of themselves and think about the next thing before they’ve completed the stage they’re at, I always tell people to live in the moment, to deal with every day as it comes rather than living for what may or may not happen.”
It’s often the things closest to us that we take for granted the most. Be it people, nature or the familiar buildings we pass on a daily basis. For Ruxx the lockdowns in the early stages of the pandemic forced her to walk familiar surroundings and see things with fresh eyes, igniting a passion for Bradford that is unrivaled by her previous photography haunts.
Like many of us the pandemic has changed how we view and approach life. Ruxx finishes by saying “There are so many people of different races working together in Bradford and I ask myself how come no-one sees that world, people need to open up their minds. So now if I have a day off, you won’t see me out of Bradford.