Kavi Pujara chronicles life along Leicester’s Golden Mile, a stretch of road he once called home

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In a new photobook and exhibition, Pujara explores themes of home, identity and Britishness in the city’s Indian community

When Kavi Pujara moved back to Leicester in 2016, he had been away for 27 years. He grew up there in the 1970s, just minutes away from the city’s Golden Mile – a stretch of road home to Leicester’s Indian community, many of whom had migrated there. Pujara recalls being spat at, chased by the National Front, and told to “go back home”. By the time he turned 18 he was longing to leave, so he headed for London without a second thought. Almost 30 years later, he made the decision to return with his young family. A few weeks later, the UK voted to leave the EU, and hostility swelled towards immigrants and asylum seekers across the nation.

It is at the intersection of these two events – moving home and Brexit – that Pujara began to take the photographs for This Golden Mile, a tender photographic chronicle of the community he’d once called home. “Both the personal and political occurred within the space of a few weeks,” he recalls. “I had wanted to just reconnect with the community I had grown up in, using portraiture as a way to reestablish those relationships, but it was impossible to ignore the societal turn toward anti-immigrant populism.”  

An exhibition of the work will open at Martin Parr Foundation on 06 October, launching alongside a photobook published by Setanta Books. Martin Parr has mentored Pujara since 2020, and has helped bring the monograph into being. For the exhibition, Pujara plays with ideas of place and home, printing some of his images on estate agent signs, for example.

Curzonia Knitwear, Curzon Street, 2020. © Kavi Pujara.
Haresh and Hashik, Syston Street, 2021 © Kavi Pujara.

Pujara refers to the Golden Mile as “the last mile of a long journey to Britain”, giving a sense of it as a destination and a new chapter simultaneously – a place where the “tricky process of leaning into the dominant culture while holding on tightly to what you left behind” begins. Many of the images in This Golden Mile represent a meaningful encounter for the photographer. 

“I made this picture in the last of the summer light outside one of the specialist Asian supermarkets,” he says, pointing out a portrait of two young men [above]. “Haresh and Ashik are old friends from back home in Diu and had only arrived in the UK a few months earlier. They were still finding their feet, still casually holding hands platonically, still learning the cultural codes of their new home.” In another image [below], a man sits beneath a portrait of his late wife. “I don’t speak Hindi or Punjabi, and he doesn’t speak Gujarati or English, but I pointed to the Union Jack flags behind him and asked him about them anyway – he just clasped his chest and smiled,” he recalls warmly.

Bhukan Singh and Gurmeet Kaur, 2021 © Kavi Pujara.

Other photographs in the series are of objects and quiet corners in homes, temples and shops – shared symbols and spaces woven into the portrait of the place and its people. “There were instances throughout this project when I would see glimpses of my grandmother’s old house in the homes of others,” Pujara says. “Polystyrene ceiling tiles in a front room or a collection of well-used pots in a kitchen…these are references borne of memory, and I’ve tried to give them importance. Even when making a portrait, that shared set of cultural references would somehow surface unsaid in how a sitter responded to being photographed.”

“Some residents might be classified as economic migrants, others refugees, but really, neither of those categories is the whole truth. We all contain many truths, and there is enormous complexity in each of us”

The story of being a migrant can follow you for years, Pujara says, generations even – especially if you are a person of colour.  Some of the Golden Mile’s residents came from India, some via East Africa, some from former Portuguese colonies, and many are now second or third generation, born in the UK. This doesn’t stop them having to defend their Britishness, though. 

“Some residents might be classified as economic migrants, others refugees, but really, neither of those categories is the whole truth,” says Pujara. “We all contain many truths, and there is enormous complexity in each of us. I think it is important to resist these simplified binary stories about immigrants. Really they are just people. So rather than documenting various states of acculturating,” he says. “This book asks the viewer to simply acknowledge those differences and celebrate them.” Taken with fondness and curiosity, his pictures give us glimpses into a rich constellation of different life experiences – lives which have converged, over time, in the same pocket of the same British city.

This Golden Mile by Kavi Pujara will be on show at Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol from 06 October to 18 December 2022. The photobook is published by Setanta Books

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London