East Croydon Cool talks…is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. This month we caught up with Jim Grover, the award-winning social documentary photographer who is behind ‘Windrush: Portrait of a Generation’, the exhibition that will be on show at Fairfield Halls from 19th September to January 2020. The stunning photo-story, which received widespread acclaim when it was first exhibited for a limited time at the Oxo Gallery on the South Bank last year, documents the lives and traditions of the ‘Windrushers’ who settled in South London.
How did the idea for Windrush: Portrait of a Generation come about?
My passion as a photographer is to tell stories…about people and everyday lives in my local community, here in south London. I am always on the look out for potential stories, particularly stories that haven’t been told before. So when I heard about a dominoes club for West Indians in Clapham, which I had no idea existed even though I have lived here for 30 years, I just had to go along. As I got to know this wonderful community I realised that there was a much bigger story to be told…about the very distinctive lives, traditions, and culture of the first generation Caribbean migrants who came here in the 1950s and 60s. And it seemed a wonderful story to tell as part of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of SS Windrush in June 1948.
The exhibition focuses on South Londoners, are any Croydoners included in that?
Not directly. But the exhibition is all about how the Caribbean community live their lives in South London and Croydon has a very large Caribbean community, The last census shows that, after Birmingham, Croydon is the borough with the largest Caribbean community in this country, and almost 9% of the Croydon population are of Caribbean heritage. So at another level, this is all about Croydon!
How much time did you spend getting to know your subjects before you shot them?
I photographed this project over 11 months. In a project of this type one needs to spend time getting to know people, listening to them, and earning their trust. This community is so warm-hearted and kind; once they understood what I was seeking to do…to tell and celebrate their stories, which they have so much to be proud of…then doors kept opening.
What was the most memorable moment of the project?
There are so so many; it’s been such a joy working on this project, full of unexpected discoveries. But if I had to choose just one, it would be spending a Friday evening in the company of four generations of a lovely Jamaican family in a Brixton home as part their ‘Open House’, a tradition whereby Caribbean families regularly come together to share a meal, chat, and to just catch up as a family…sometimes on a weekly basis. It’s very beautiful and moving to see a family be ‘as one’ in this way.
Have you kept in touch with any of the people you photographed?
Yes, just about all of them. And I am going along to that Clapham dominoes club this evening!
What were the biggest differences you noticed between the Windrush generation and their younger counterparts?
For the first generation Caribbean migrants traditions like dominoes, nine night, ‘the mother country’, going to church every Sunday, ‘rice and peas’, ‘pardner’, are rooted in many of their lives, it’s their culture and what they have grown up with. For the subsequent generations these traditions are, unsurprisingly, less prevalent. As I immersed myself in this project I realised that I was documenting living history; some of these distinctive Caribbean ways of life are likely to weaken, and even disappear with time. The second and third generations, for example, don’t typically see dominoes as part of their lives in the way that their fathers or grandfathers do and some of the dominoes clubs have already disappeared.
How did the collaboration with Fairfield Halls come about?
Neil Chandler, the artistic and venue director of the fabulous newly-refurbished Fairfield Halls, happened to come along to the exhibition when it was launched last year on London’s south bank…and it all went from there. Its been a pleasure working with Neil and his team on bringing the exhibition to Croydon.
What do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibition?
For the large Caribbean community in Croydon, I’d love them to come along and feel huge pride for what they have brought and given to this country. This is their story…and it’s a wonderful story…a story to celebrate. And I’d love everyone who visits to be engaged and moved by the traditions and stories of this remarkable generation.
What are your next plans?
I currently have three or four ideas for new photo-stories, so watch this space!
What else can people find at the exhibition?
A feature of my story-telling is that I like to blend imagery with stories. So as part of this project I recorded the stories of 12 of this community. You can read these inspiring stories at the exhibition. And also, the wonderful Alford Gardner, who is 93 years old and one of the first ‘Windrushers’ to have travelled across on the Empire Windrush in 1948, will be at Fairfield Hall meeting and greeting visitors coming to see the exhibition on the 26th October. He is also featured in this photo-essay. All are welcome to come on down and meet him in person!
How can people find out more?
Visit the website…www.windrushportraitofageneration.com…where you can also buy the book that contain the complete exhibition if you can’t make it to the Halls.
Windrush: Portrait of a Generation is on display at Fairfield Halls from 19th September until January 2020. For more information, CLICK HERE.