An interview with Jim Grover

In June 2017 award-winning, Clapham-based photographer Jim Grover set out to document the lives of south London’s Windrush generation, after being invited to take photographs at a Caribbean dominoes club in his neighbourhood. Here he discovered a whole community, which welcomed him to capture some of its most intimate moments. One year on, we were delighted to host the culmination of Grover’s project, Windrush: Portrait of a Generation, at gallery@oxo in the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the ‘Empire Windrush’ at Tilbury docks.

Filled with beautiful and poignant photographs and personal stories, fascinating books and background information and even a 1965 wedding album of a Jamaican couple, the exhibition drew widespread press coverage and nearly 13,000 visitors across two weeks. To celebrate the anniversary today, 22 June, we caught up with Jim Grover after his show.

Can you tell us a bit more about when the project came about and what started it all off?

My photography passion is telling stories about everyday lives and communities that are local to me in south London and stories which haven’t been told before, and hence ’to make the unseen seen’. One of my fellow churchgoers, who is Jamaican, told me he played dominoes. I had no idea that dominoes was being played in Clapham (even though I have lived there for 30 years) so went along to his club, just over a year ago, to be confronted by this wonderful scene of (mostly) Jamaican men in their 60’s-80’s playing dominoes, both for sport and for companionship. And as I spent time with this community I learned that this was just one part of the traditional lives being led by first generation Caribbean migrants (who typically arrived here between 1948-1962) here in South London. So I decided to document the totality of their traditional lives, and to complete/coincide the project in time with the Windrush 70th anniversary.

The exhibition had record numbers of visitors. Did that come as a shock for you?

The visitor response has been so rewarding. I’ve exhibited here before so I know that it is possible to attract large numbers of visitors.  And, of course, having almost 13,000 come to the exhibition over 17 days, as a result of ‘word of mouth’ and the extensive media coverage, was hugely rewarding.  What I hadn’t anticipated was how long visitors would spend immersing themselves in the exhibition and all of the materials in the gallery… and how we’d have different generations of the same family come along together. We often had three generations come along together and strangers would talk to each other as they reminisced about their lives, prompted by the images. It was an extraordinary and wonderful gallery experience.

What were your hopes for the project and have you exceeded those?

To give dignity and respect to this community and to share their wonderful values and culture. And to have them feel proud of what they have brought and achieved. Based on the 2,400 comments in two full visitor books, I think I have achieved this!

Were there any unexpected places or experiences the project took you to?

‘Family’ is hugely important to this generation. I had the privilege of spending a Friday evening with a family in Brixton (they get together every Friday). On the evening I joined them there were 21 family members spanning four generations (from 80 to 2 months). It was humbling, inspiring and beautiful.

The Windrush generation recently hit the headlines over immigration issues. If there was something you’d like the public to take away from your exhibition what would that be?

This generation have brought and given so much to our country…and they have wonderful values including kindness; generosity; supporting each other; a willingness to work hard; and respecting each other and their elders.

What was the most moving moment of the exhibition for you?

I was in the gallery every day. So often visitors from the Caribbean community would come up to me and just say “thank you…thank you…thank you”.  They were so grateful to be given ‘a voice’ and to have their lives celebrated in this way. It was very, very humbling for me. I felt so joyful to be giving them this recognition and for them to feel so proud. I kept saying to them “this is your story… you should feel so proud”.

Is there a future for the Portrait of a Generation photographs to tour to other galleries around the UK?

Yes! There is huge demand for a national tour and, of course, I would love this story to be accessible to many more across the UK. Watch this space!

Do you think the project benefited from being shown at gallery@oxo and do you have any tips or insights for other photographers thinking about holding an exhibition?

I love this gallery. There’s so much you can do with it to ‘make it your own’ and the location is fantastic. This is the second time I have exhibited here… and I’m back again next year!  But you have to work at it. For my first exhibition I stood outside and invited passers-by in (there are so many- that’s the magic of the location) and that definitely contributed to the 7,400 visitors I had last time. This time I didn’t need to do that. I was also in the gallery every day. I think visitors love meeting ‘the artist’.

Can you reveal any details about your next project yet?

‘Watch this space’!


Photographs by Rick Findler.

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