Cambridge student’s photo series focuses on achievements of Brit-Pakistani men


Portraits of Abdullah Shakeel (left); Hasaan Agha (centre); and Nasar Siddiqui were taken for a photo series on male British-Pakistani students at Cambridge
Portraits of Abdullah Shakeel (left); Hasaan Agha (centre); and Nasar Siddiqui were taken for a photo series on male British-Pakistani students at Cambridge

by LAUREN CODLING

A CAMBRIDGE student has revealed that his photographs of British-Pakistani men was created to smash negative stereotypes of the community.

Hassan Raja, 19, published his photo series The Pakistani Men of Cambridge last month. The portraits, which focus on British-Pakistani students attending the prestigious school, show a
number of Asian undergraduates in front of the iconic Cambridge colleges.

The men study an array of different subjects including science, medicine, economics and law.

Raja’s inspiration for the series came when he noticed the negative comments after a British-Pakistani man was featured in the media.

Hassan Raja (above) created the photo series as he was frustrated at seeing negative portrayals of British-Pakistani men in the media

The history student at Cambridge admitted he became frustrated at the nature of reporting related to the Pakistani community.

“I found it worrying that the only time I would see Pakistani men in the news would be when the subject of reporting was criminal activity,” he told Eastern Eye. “I feel this creates an
inherently negative, one-dimensional profile of Pakistani men which is extremely harmful, something I aimed to change with this project.”

Raja says he wanted to create a “fuller picture” of the community, which detailed the contributions that the men were making in society.

Soon after he posted the images online, the series went viral. Raja began to receive messages of support from other communities, as well as from British Pakistanis.

Omar Kidwai is a Natural Sciences student at Christ’s College, Cambridge

Calling the reaction “phenomenal,” the photographer says he hopes to see more pieces similar to his.

The stereotypes of the community originates, Raja believes, from the lack of representation in journalism, resulting in those impressions continuing to be echoed in the media.

Negative stereotypes seen in the press are harmful to young people, Raja explains, as it can stop them from realising their full potential. It could also make them feel their prospects are limited.

That was a motivating factor for Raja to produce the images.

“I decided to tackle this head on by highlighting not only the achievements of these students, but also their ambitions as I hope this will encourage and inspire other young people to believe in themselves and their dreams,” he said.

Ibrahim Mohamed is in his final year of study at Wolfson College, Cambridge, studying for a degree in Physiological and Behavioural Science

Raja, from east London, says that he also wanted his work to depict the presence of ethnic minorities at elite institutions such as Cambridge.

Last year, the university revealed that six of Cambridge’s 31 colleges had admitted fewer than 10 black or mixed-race students during the period between 2012 and 2016.

“(Showing BAME Cambridge students) can be powerful tools for access as, especially in my own experience, one of the biggest barriers to applying to Oxbridge was the fear of feeling alienated and not finding like-minded people,” he admitted.

“By photographing young Pakistani men against the backdrop of the Cambridge colleges in which they reside, all of which have deep connotations of elitism, I hope to normalise the idea
that we belong at these institutions.”

Abu-Bakr Samad is a first-year Law student at Queens’ College, Cambridge

Later this year, Raja hopes to travel to Pakistan to reconnect with the culture.

Using photography, he hopes to challenge perceptions of the country and create a depiction of Pakistan which “accurately reflects its beauty”.

Would he ever pursue a professional career in photography?

“I would definitely love to pursue a career in photography and photojournalism,” Raja said.

“(I would want to continue) using this medium to tell stories and empower voices from my community.”

All photos by Hassan Raja