Michael Alexander speaks to award-winning Dundee photographer Shahbaz Majeed about two of his images making it on to Scottish banknotes – and his lifelong gratitude to his dad for sacrificing so much for his family.
When well-known retired Broughty Ferry shopkeeper Abdul Majeed left Pakistan for Dundee in the 1970s, it was part of a scheme to bring workers over to the jute mills and, for him, to give any children he might have a better life.
But the now 64-year-old could hardly have imagined that one day, one of his sons would have two images featured on his adopted country Scotland’s banknotes.
Award-winning Dundee photographer Shahbaz Majeed, whose aerial image of the Forth bridges was featured on the Clydesdale Bank’s polymer £5 note, smiles when he recalls how customers used to come into his dad’s newsagents/Spar on King Street, Broughty Ferry, and ask him to get their banknotes signed.
So imagine his dad’s surprise when, several years ago, Shahbaz had another image licensed – the £20 polymer note from the Bank of Scotland – including a more recent aerial image of the Queensferry Crossing.
“People who have been following my work over the years will know that a few years ago one of my aerial images was licensed for the first polymer banknote in the UK,” says Shahbaz, 38, who divides his time between working in web development at Dundee University and running his Frame Focus Capture Photography business.
“The Clydesdale Bank launched the first polymer banknote celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Forth Bridge but few people knew that on the back, one of the images of the bridge, is mine.
“Two years ago I had another image licenced for the £20 polymer note from the Bank of Scotland.
“This image was taken a couple of years back during a flight over Edinburgh where I also flew over The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
“There are actually two versions of it: one features the Forth Bridge and a commemorative one featuring the Queensferry Crossing but both use my image in the hologram/security part of the note.
“To now have two bank notes to my name – what a feeling!
“But my dad – he was particularly proud. He came over to Dundee with my mum Naseem in the 1970s when they were bringing workers over from Pakistan to work in the jute mills.
“They came knowing that if they ever had any children they wanted a better life than the farming background they had in Pakistan.
“My dad was just like – ‘my son has a picture on my adopted homeland’s currency. How can you kind of cement more Scottish than that?’
“I could see how much more it means to him. But I’m still not sure if signing the notes means they are no longer legal tender!”
A family affair
It’s coming towards the end of Ramadan when The Courier catches up with Shahbaz for a chat, and he laughs when he reveals that the traditional Muslim fasting month means he “doesn’t have the energy capacity to go far due to severe hunger”!
Before Covid-19 restricted movement across the country, Shahbaz would regularly make photography trips to the Highlands to capture his favourite landscapes, or take to the air in a bid to get unusual aerial views.
In recent times, he’s been accompanied into the great outdoors by his eldest daughter Aena who is showing an interest in photography.
But he’s also made a point of taking his dad with him to the Highlands as a ‘thankyou’ for all the sacrifices he made when Shahbaz and his siblings were young.
It’s also to show his dad what he was missing when he was working 20-hour days in the shop, or before that, working in the jute mills and the berry fields with his wife.
“My dad often joked when we were wee – ‘you’d better get your education or you’ll end up in a shop like me’!” smiles Shahbaz.
“Well my sister became a qualified chartered accountant, my younger brother went on to become a teacher, and I am at the University of Dundee as a web development manager, also doing my photography thing. My dad couldn’t be prouder.
“What we’ve been doing these last few years – a lot of places I’ve been lucky to visit, like Glencoe, I take my dad, my whole family.
“They love seeing these places on their doorstep that they’ve never really been to. Dad sits back, sleeps most of the journey, opens his eyes and goes ‘oh wow’!
“In one sense it’s showing him what he’s missed out on, but it’s also a thanks to my dad at how hard he’s worked as well.
“We know the sacrifices he made for us. We value family and things over money and I suppose material things. I’m not saying we don’t enjoy going on holidays.
“But the three of us have really made something of ourselves and we appreciate the struggles our parents went through.
“Putting myself in my parents’ shoes – if I had to move to a foreign country with a few quid in my pocket, given to me by the government as a thank you for coming to work the way they used to work in the jute mills, how would I manage?
“I don’t think most people of my generation or younger would do that.
“But we often joke with my dad – could you not have found somewhere warmer!” he laughs.
How Shahbaz Majeed got into photography
Born and bred in Dundee, Shahbaz went to Wallacetown nursery, Glebelands Primary and on to Morgan Academy where he got into computing.
Known as a “computer geek” at school, he laughs when he recalls how teachers with an IT problem would say “go and find Shahbaz!”
Drawn to the “amazing reputation” of Dundee University’s computer courses, he had a fantastic time as a student.
He enjoyed the course, enjoyed the community feel of the campus and despite still living at home managed to make lots of friends.
It was at university, however, that he also got into photography.
Initially this was through web design. He bought a cheap camera from Jessops in Reform Street.
As a “typical bloke who never reads the manuals”, he thought it would be useful to enrol in a photography course at Dundee College.
It was around this time that he also found out about Dundee Photographic Society and, after being amazed by the quality of photography amongst members, decided to cancel his college course and concentrate on the club.
“There was a lot of trial and error, but joining Dundee Photographic Society really helped me see what made a good eye for a photo,” he says.
“I started doing part-time long exposure photography where you use filters and take pictures over a longer period of time – 30 seconds to minutes.
“I became one of the early pioneers of that stuff where no one was doing it, so I was taking a lot of pictures around Dundee using that affect.
“I think that’s what got my images to stand out because they were different in that respect – the cloud was completely blurred, water completely flat, and no one was doing that kind of stuff.
“I really took to it. I started visiting a lot of Dundee locations and trying to capture something a little bit different.”
Shahbaz, whose work recently featured on BBC Landward, gets a lot of satisfaction from creating images.
However, a real turning point came in 2011 when he won the Network Rail category of the Landscape Photographer of the Year/Take a View competition.
His prize winning shot featured the Tay Rail Bridge with a moving train shooting over it at sunset.
“That shot had never been done before,” smiles Shahbaz.
“It was something different. That went on to win the national award. It was printed all over the media. I went down to the awards ceremony. That was really what catapulted my work to a more national and international level.”
From there, Shahbaz would “randomly enter” competitions – mainly with landscapes – and did quite well.
A picture he took of his new born daughter Aena in his wife Shazia’s hands in 2011 won a top award in National Geographic in 2012.
Looking back, Shahbaz says the best advice he ever got was from someone at Dundee Photographic Society who advised him to target the commercial market.
It’s paid off with his pictures featuring worldwide on calendars, billboards and annual reports.
Proud to showcase Dundee to the world
Living in Dundee with his wife Shazia and his daughters, Aena, 9, and Aiza, 6, the city is without a doubt home and he never sees them moving anywhere else.
However, he’s extremely proud that his images are helping to showcase Dundee and indeed wider Scotland to the world.
A good example came in 2015 when he was approached by a publishing company to do a series of photography books – the result being Scotland Revealed and Scotland in Photographs.
With Dundee-born actor Brian Cox agreeing to write the foreward for both, they have been in great demand around the world.
“They asked me who I wanted to use for the foreward,” he says, “and I wanted to use someone local or someone with that local connection, so I reached out to Brian Cox through his agent.
“I had taken a picture of Brian when he was rector of the university. I reached out to him, saying ‘here’s my work, would you be interested?’ Absolutely he said, despite being very busy.
“When I was doing the second one I asked if he would do it again, and again he said yes, absolutely.
“It’s done really well. Since it came out in April of the first lockdown, it sold out three times on Amazon.
“With Brian in the Succession series, it’s no bad thing to have his name associated for the American market.
“Either that, or people in lockdown must have been really bored and needed some pictures to look at!”
Shahbaz was already established as an aerial photographer travelling the length and breadth of Scotland when his images caught the eye of the banking authorities.
However, he’s also enjoyed “giving back to the community” through his work.
Having spent a lot of time in hospitals when one of his daughters was younger with health issues, he was delighted to donate pictures to the refurbished Ward 32 Oncology unit at Ninewells Hospital a few years ago “to improve the area”. The feedback from people has been very positive.
“Dundee’s given a lot to me and my family,” he reflects.
“That’s why I feel I should be giving something back, whether it’s doing something for charity or helping out in other ways.
“I’m a Dundonian through and through and my kids are too. That’s why things are very important to me – to give something back as well. What we’ve had from Dundee, the town and its people. It’s nice though to also think back to how it began with my mum and dad.”
Book and postcard giveaway
*Shahbaz Majeed is offering Courier readers 5 x free signed copies of both his books – Scotland in Photographs and Scotland Revealed (five people will receive two books each) and 5 x Pack of 10 Greeting Cards featuring Dundee/Scotland views.
To have a chance of winning, please send your name and full postal address to firstname.lastname@example.org by 9am on Wednesday May 26. Names will be drawn at random thereafter.