Life really does begin at 40 for a Yorkshire-based photographer who says she is in the right frame of mind since her landmark birthday. Shy Burhan tells us how her latest project gave her a new perspective on life and why she wants Asian Life readers to get involved too.

Photography never featured too prominently on Shy’s radar as a child.

She attended local schools then St Joseph’s College before studying Interdisciplinary Human Studies at the University of Bradford.

“All through my childhood I was a voracious reader and envisaged having a career with books either as a lawyer or librarian. I read everything from Enid Blyton to Greek mythology.”

After university she travelled around Italy and naturally had to capture the scenic sights around her.

Back home her career took an unexpected turn and she became a mortgage adviser in Bradford.

“But photography sparked a creative streak in me so I decided to study the subject properly,” Shy said.

She fit her Bradford College photography degree in around her work.

“I didn’t want to do all the theory in the final year so I left with an HND.”

Again she found her finance work stifling and enrolled on a Performing Arts course at the college going on to study Drama at Huddersfield University.

But the lure of photography was strong so she quit her course and worked at a studio before setting up her own business.

After three years she became an enterprise officer for a charity helping women entrepreneurs and carried on working as a photographer.

“This is when I became interested in ‘social documentary’ after getting involved in The Real Junk Food Project which aims to reduce food waste.”

She volunteered at the RJFP Saltaire Canteen, which uses food which would have been thrown away and customers pay what they can afford, and saw an idea for a ‘social documentary’ project.

In 2015 Shy embarked on a three month circuit of over RJFP 20 cafes going the length and breadth of the country which culminated in an exhibition of 300 photographs at the Saltaire Canteen.

“I absolutely loved travelling and favourite places were Scotland and Cornwall. The scenery was stunning.”

She would pack a lot into 14 hour days.

“I work smart not hard so I prefer to do long hours and then enjoy my time off too.”

Shy also worked with Jill Boyd who established The Butterfly Project to support survivors of domestic abuse through the therapeutic use of art. Shy photographed members of the group in the workshops and her collection of photographs was exhibited at the Kala Sangam Arts Centre in Bradford in 2016.

“I moved onto briefly documenting the regeneration of Bradford city centre, on the back of which another exhibition launched in March 2017, on the Big Screen Bradford. I have also gone back to my 'spiritual home' at Bradford College and guest lectured on a number of occasions to the BA Photography students.”

But now she’s working on her biggest project yet and asking for Asian Life readers to get in touch.

“I was inspired by the work of another photographer who did the same thing for people turning 90.

“I was 39 and 40 is a landmark which traditionally has been seen as the start of middle age. There is also that saying: ‘Life begins at 40’ so that gave me the idea to document the faces of people exploring what ‘40’ means to them.”

She said: “I liked the idea of linking all these people by their age.

“In 2018 being 40 is very different than being 40 80 years ago. People are living longer, are different shapes, have different outlooks on life, and have different neuroses.

“Nowadays 40 isn’t considered to be that old. It’s all about celebrating the ‘zeitgeist’. Forty these days is very to what it used to be.”

For Shy it has been good too.

“I had some challenges when I was 39 but being 40 has been great.”

She is currently looking for more people to photograph in the project and would like a bigger range of ethnicities.

To be eligible people have to be born between September 1, 1977, and December 31, 1978. Those involved will get a 10x8 mounted and signed copy of their portrait.

To take part in the project, email or visit