AT THE age of just 11, Akbal Singh Kang embarked on the journey of a lifetime.

Born in Punjab, India, he moved to Bradford with his family in 1961 to start a new life.

Akbal documented his family’s day-to-day experiences through photography, creating a glimpse into what life was like for newly arrived migrants in Bradford during a time of unprecedented social change.

Akbal’s poignant pictures have now been unveiled in an exhibition at the city’s National Science and Media Museum.

4,000 Miles from Home – which is at the museum until May – celebrates the “growth and journey” of migrant communities who left everything behind to find new opportunities on the other side of the world.

BELOW: Members of Akbal's family pose as he photographs them before a trip back home to India

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Over sixty years later, Akbal’s son, Gurj Kang, said he feels “overwhelmed” to see his father’s work being recognised.

“I’m incredibly honoured and privileged to have this archive and for my father to have been forward-thinking enough to capture these moments”, said Gurj, 39.

“He had a good understanding of the significance of time and events, and photography was an assertion of his identity – when he moved here, he knew what they were doing was something that needed to be recorded.

“He took the camera everywhere, so we have this amazing first-hand socio-historical documentation of the community from within, rather than from someone else looking in externally.

“It has made me realise the sacrifices he made, which have enabled us to grow, settle and be secure in this country.”

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ABOVE: A rare portrait of Akbal taken by someone else

Gurj, who grew up in Bradford and now lives in Leeds, said his dad “fell in love with the camera” and continued to take photos for “the rest of his life” until his death in 2008.

“My dad was born in Hoshiarpur. He came from a rural background and when people came from there to the UK, a lot couldn’t read or write”, he added.

“But he was able to capture progression.

“My grandfather was one of the founding members of the Indian Workers’ Association in Bradford in the 1960s, pushing for the unionisation of South Asian mill workers.

“My dad took pictures of himself and his friends embracing youth culture in Britain, going to the cinema and enjoying music – it was a completely new landscape for them, but one they really took on.

“Today, people can capture their lives using Instagram, but my dad was doing it back then.”

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ABOVE: Members of the Indian Workers' Association in 1960s Bradford, photographed by Akbal

BELOW: Akbal's football team (Akbal is on the far left), his friends on a visit to Blackpool and a photograph of him learning to drive. "The independence a car gave you was as crucial as the status it brought", said Gurj

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Akbal made national headlines in 1967, when the Fairfax School student became the first non-white head boy in England.

“He was the only non-white child at his school, so it was a massive achievement. Especially when you consider the rise of the right-wing and Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech around that time”, said Gurj.

BELOW: An official Fairfax School photo which shows Akbal as England's first non-white head boy

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

“They recognised talent like my dad back then, which was going against the grain. It shows that Bradford was very progressive and understanding.

“It’s a success story of commonwealth migration, and it’s very poignant and beautiful that this exhibition is in Bradford, as these people who came to this city without any expectations or cultural awareness are now being celebrated here.

“It’s heart-warming and overwhelming for me to see their pictures in the city they made their home.

“It was really emotional for me to go and see it. When I walked in and saw pictures of my grandparents, it was amazing.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

ABOVE: Akbal captures an engagement ceremony in Bradford

BELOW: Bibi Parkash Kaur acted as an informal leader in the community, helping to source work for newly arrived female migrants from South Asia

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

In his adult life, Akbal Singh Kang went to university and worked in the textile industry.

“He studied textile technology at the University of Bradford, later developing and researching fibres as a career”, Gurj said.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

ABOVE: Mill life in Bradford, as captured by Akbal

“The industrial heritage of Bradford wasn’t just something he embraced – it became his whole life.”

Gurj added that his father’s journey is a reminder that “everybody in their search for something better is joined by a common purpose”.

“It indicates a fearlessness in the human spirit, for them to overcome the challenges they faced”, he said.

BELOW: A university photo of Akbal being admitted to the Textile Institute in 1988

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“To be able to witness their journey is incredibly empowering for me.

“I’m into photography myself and I run community cinema in Headingley, so the power of the visual image is still with me.

“Our generation is evidence of our parents’ and grandparents’ vision for a better future and what they worked so hard for.”

For more information on the exhibition, visit

Gurj Kang can be found on Facebook and Instagram, and as @gurjkang1 and @canvas_beats on Twitter.