Vivek Vadoliya lenses the confidence and character of Bradford-based Speakers Corner Collective
Made with creative director Neesha Tulsi Champaneria, the series not only documents the collective but offers a positive alternative to the often grey portraits of Northern England.
- Lucy Bourton
- 18 March 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Across the work of British Indian photographer and director Vivek Vadoliya is a palpable sense of exploring identity through imagery. Throughout his portfolio, you’ll see an inquest into masculinity within his project Brotherhood, the documentation of the Brixton-based Ebony Horse Club, and even a look into the characters that flock to Notting Hill Carnival each year. His most recent series, a project made in collaboration with creative director Neesha Tulsi Champaneira, sees Vivek deepen this point of view; this time documenting the women and young girls of creative social collective Speakers Corner, based in Bradford.
Titled Sisterhood, Vivek and Neesha’s approach to photographing this powerful cohort of women is sensitive yet characterful. Through a mix of portraiture and joyous group shots of the collective huddled together or throwing a football between them, the pair present Speakers Corner as positive activists who bring people together to create positive action. Through Vivek’s luminous use of light, the series is a hopeful documentation of the inherent power young women naturally hold. This is only deepened by Neesha’s choice of styling, that adds a sense of confidence in how the women hold themselves.
For Vivek, Sisterhood was borne out of a desire to create a photographic portrait of Bradford’s community, particularly due to the “lack of positive imagery being created of south Asian women” living there. “The city is often painted in a negative light in the media,” explains the photographer. “Our goal was to create interesting imagery that challenged the zeitgeist.”
First hearing about the group through Neesha, who is originally from Bradford, the creative director was approached by the collective following the pair’s previous project celebrating locals from the area. “I was really inspired by the work the girls are doing in their local community,” continues Vivek. “I really wanted to create imagery that celebrated the city, it’s history, and of course the girls of Speakers Corner.”
Bradford, Vivek explains, was once one of England’s richest cities outside of London due to its wool industry. Surrounding the centre of the city is of course the rolling hills of West Yorkshire, where a sense of this past can still be felt in its architecture. This element, combined with the new hope for the city Speakers Corner represent, led a desire in the photographer to “celebrate the Yorkshire landscapes and give a nod to the old mills that were once the beating heart of the city,” he says. Drenched in falling sunlight in each of his photographs, Vivek’s photographic tone in Sisterhood dually challenges “this view of the stereotype of ‘the grey north’,” he continues, “and creating beautiful landscapes that show how beautiful Britain is.” Lensing the city as an outsider also had its benefits, “as I was able to see the beauty in parts of the city that maybe seem so normal and everyday to the girls.”
In terms of the actual shoot, the sense of elation felt when viewing the photographs was unsurprisingly present on the day too. “It was one of those beautiful shoots where everything was really organic,” relays Vivek. “We had the chance to spend the time with the girls to really get to know them. The light was really beautiful and everyone was naturally having fun. Nothing was overly constructed, the moments were really a collaboration.” This organic sense, as mentioned, is so noticeable as a viewer. You're able to imagine the conversations happening in wider photographs, the individual character of each woman in a portrait, and the sensitive direction applied by both Vivek and Neesha.
Working together on a number of projects now, with this latest one wrapped up, Vivek adds the luck he feels in Neesha sharing her hometown with him. “It’s also just really special to be able to make work with another South Asian artist,” he continues. “We both come from a Kenyan Indian background so we relate on many levels outside of our work. We can be quite open and honest with each other and always push back each other, which I think is really important for any creative relationship.”
With Sisterhood just published, and already receiving so much praise from the likes of Riposte and The Face, Vivek only hopes these images “challenge what people perceive about Bradford,” he concludes. “I also hope they inspire other young artists to celebrate who they are and where they come from.”
Speakers Corner is made up of Mariyah Kayat, Sajidah Shabir, Maleehah Hussian, Taiba Qayyum, Scout Grace Worsley and Zakia Jabeen. You can find out more about the collective here. In March 2021, as part of Bradford Council’s celebration for International Women’s Day month programme, Speakers Corner will share a unique photography collection Sisterhood, on billboards and public spaces throughout Bradford as part of the Art in the Park series.
GalleryVivek Vadoliya and Neesha Tulsi Champaneria: Sisterhood (Copyright © Vivek Vadoliya and Neesha Champaneria, 2021)
Vivek Vadoliya and Neesha Tulsi Champaneria: Sisterhood (Copyright © Vivek Vadoliya and Neesha Champaneria, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.