Jim Grover: Of things not seen / Reviewed by Sharon Boothroyd / 02.05.16
In 2014, Jim Grover asked Kit Gunasekera, a vicar in Clapham and a neighbour, if he could take photographs of him and his ministry for a year. The subject choice is interesting and surprisingly unusual. Perhaps people don’t see the value in this kind of work today. In such a career minded city as London, full of busy and ambitious people, the quotidian often gets overlooked. Therefore it’s refreshing to be reminded of the service of others and the power of community presented in this exhibition.
Perhaps Grover was attracted to this story because he was an outsider to this community although had lived next door for years. Photography gives us permission to discover new terrain. It is interesting then, that as a result of this experience, the onlooker became an insider. This is testament both to the power of photography but also to the power of humanity: that outside can come in. It is also testament to Kit, for giving permission and what appears to be a reflection of what his mission, and life, stand for in a multicultural urban environment. In these sociological terms Of things not seen is a success. It shows the overlooked and makes the viewer consider a different way of life. It also shows that documentary photography does not have to be about distant observation.
In its disparateness however, the series betrays a lack of consistency of vision from the photographer. This is evidenced by the fact that 15,000 pictures were taken; making one question what Grover was looking for. The edit, undertaken with an experienced curator, condenses it somewhat and forges a narrative, yet it remains disappointing not to get a sense of the photographer’s authorship. These images and their monochrome treatment root this series in a very traditional style yet this traditionalism jars at a time when linear narratives have been succeeded. One of the potentially strongest images is a bird’s-eye-view of a living room carpet with Kit and Joyce’s legs severed by the frame. Unfortunately the detail is lost in the dark tones and I can’t help thinking the image would render well in colour. Perhaps using colour overall would have provided a more resonant language to connect a current audience to this work?
In her accompanying essay, curator Katy Barron references W. Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor (1948, Life magazine) as inspiration for Jim Grover’s first ever photo essay. Country Doctor represented a new kind of photojournalism emerging from a post-war era. People were searching for humanity and Smith’s images show respect and dignity yet are fuelled with pain and exasperation. The success of Smith’s longevity is such that photographers still see the value of this kind of image making today. However we have come a long way, photographically speaking, since 1948. Of things not seen both reminds us of an important sensibility that we need not lose but also begs us to ask what is next for the contemporary photo-essay?
– reviewed by Sharon Boothroyd
Jim Grover Of things not seen was exhibited at OXO Gallery, London 03.03.16 – 20.03.16
Gallery@Oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH