Photography Exhibition | Charlie Phillips


Photographer Charlie Phillips presents a sensitive photographic documentary of the social and emotional traditions that surround death in London’s African Caribbean community.

Taking place at Photofusion Gallery in November 2014, How Great Thou Art represents a lifetime’s work by Charlie, and the offers visitors a rare opportunity to engage with, learn from, and celebrate the rapidly changing mourning traditions and practices of London’s African Caribbean community. A video installation will accompany the exhibition.

Photography Exhibition | Charlie Phillips

© Charlie Phillips

The title for the photography 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.

Dr Michael McMillan, curator of West Indian Front Room and long-term collaborator of Charlie Phillips said: “Charlie Phillips captures in his photographs and ephemera of West Indian funerals cultural practices and spiritual beliefs that resonate across the African diaspora from the idea that death is part of life, to the Nine Night wake, dressing up for the funeral, to the belief that though the deceased have physically gone their spirit remains with us.”

Eddie Otchere, exhibition curator said: “curating Charlie’s funeral works has been a hugely rewarding task, it is rare that one gets the opportunity to see the establishment of a photographer’s style. Looking at his earliest images from 1962, you can see where Charlie’s unique street style, and grass roots aesthetic was born. The confidence and sensitivity with which Charlie has captured his community, reminds us of the powerful role the photography, and photographers have as shapers of history; providing source documents for future historians, and adding new communities to the British photographic canon.”

Photography Exhibition | Charlie Phillips

© Charlie Phillips

The exhibition is being hand-printed by Nick Jones at Photofusion’s darkroom, using traditional photo-chemical printing processes and fibre-based archival paper.

A series of talks and events will accompany the exhibition, including artist-led talks and exhibition tours. A limited edition book will be for sale at the exhibition.

Eddie Otchere and Lizzy King are curating this exhibition, with support from Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts Fund.

Born in Kingston Jamaica, Charlie Phillips arrived in London in 1953. Charlie’s photography career started in the early 1960s when he was given a camera by a Black American GI who was stationed in Notting Hill at the time. 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, he used his money from a paper-round to buy darkroom chemistry, and waited until the users of the communal bathroom were all in bed before processing and printing his photographs in the bath-tub.

In the late 1960s, fuelled by a love of opera, 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.

Thanks to everyone who supported the successful Kickstarter campaign for the production of a limited edition book to accompany the exhibition: