How Great Thou Art: 50 Years of African Caribbean Funerals in London

Photofusion Gallery, Brixton, London – 10am -5.30pm Friday, November 7th – Friday, December 5th 2014

Photographer Charlie Phillips presents a sensitive photographic documentary of the social and emotional traditions that surround death in London’s African Caribbean community. How Great Thou Art represents a lifetime’s work by Charlie.

The title for the exhibition is borrowed from the popular hymn sung at funerals. The song How Great Thou Art praises the life of an individual, and this project is a declaration of love and celebration for the traditions and cultures of the African diaspora in London.

Paul Goodwin, curator, lecturer and urban theorist based in London has observed: How Great Thou Art is a new landmark in black British photography. No one has explored this subject in such depth and in such a participatory and embedded manner as Charlie Phillips.

Charlie Phillips - Gallarue’s Funeral, 1970s
Charlie Phillips – Gallarue’s Funeral, 1970s

Born in Kingston Jamaica, Charlie Phillips arrived in London in 1953. Charlie’s photography career started in the early 1960s when a Black American GI who was stationed in Notting Hill at the time gave him a camera. With his new camera he set about photographing the lives of the African Caribbean community, which was establishing itself in what Charlie describes as “the ghettos…the no-go areas” of Notting Hill. Charlie’s love of photography was cemented from that point. In the late 1960s Charlie left London for Italy. Whilst in Europe, he photographed student uprisings in Paris and Rome and worked as a paparazzo, photographing Omar Sharif, Gina Lollobrigida and Mohammed Ali. Charlie’s first exhibition “Il Frustrazi” was in Milan in 1972, exploring the frustrations of migrant workers in Europe. Since then Charlie has had his work shown at Tate Britain, Museum of London, Nottingham New Art Exchange and MOCA in Detroit. His work also forms part of The Wedge and V&A collections.

Curated by Eddie Otchere and Lizzy King, with support from Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts Fund, the exhibition’s black and white images are being hand-printed by Nick Jones at Photofusion’s darkroom, using traditional photo-chemical printing processes and fibre-based archival paper.

The public exhibition is open 10am -5.30pm Friday, November 7th – Friday, December 5th 2014 (open till 7pm Thursdays, closed Sundays), at Photofusion Gallery, 17a Electric Lane, Brixton, London, SW9 8LA

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How Great Thou Art:  50 Years of African Caribbean Funerals in London