One woman, many men and a pot of petunias

When fresh-faced immigrants arrived in Bradford in the 1950s, they found happiness, prosperity and a promised land. At least that’s what they told their relatives back in Asia and the Caribbean – and they sent pictures to prove it.

If all those relatives had somehow got together at a great big ‘we’re missing you’ party and proudly shared their treasured photos, many would have been in for a massive surprise. For a number of the men were showing off their new English girlfriend. The same English girlfriend. And they all sat in front of the same pot of petunias.

The photos were taken in Bradford’s Belle Vue Studio, all posed in front of the pot of petunias. When the studio closed in 1975, 17,000 glass negatives were recovered and a number of them printed to form part of an exhibition, Poking About, running at Impressions Gallery as part of the Ways of Looking photography festival.

The poker abouter is artist Jeremy Deller who’s produced an exhibition of mainly portrait photography and magic lantern slides – and they are fascinating. I quickly spotted that the same woman appeared with different men. Easily explained, it seems, the woman, possibly the photographer’s assistant, posed with the lonely men who wanted to reassure their families back home that everything over here was hunky dory. And possibly also to show them what a pot of English petunias looked like.

Magic lantern slides at Bradford's Impressions Gallery

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