About this project
This limited edition book will celebrate the changes and traditions in African Caribbean lives and deaths in London, a subject that Charlie has been sensitively documenting since 1962.
Who is Charlie Phillips?
Charlie Phillips is a 70-year-old London-based photographer whose photographs have been exhibited at Tate Britain, Museum of London, MOCA in Detroit, and whose work is part of The Wedge and V&A collections. Having moved to London from Jamaica in 1953, Charlie was given his first camera by a Black American GI who was stationed near Notting Hill during the Cold War in the 1960s. With his recently acquired Kodak Retina, Charlie set about documenting the lives of fellow members of the African diaspora.
Unable to afford access to professional photo processing labs, Charlie waited until all of the tenants that used the communal bathroom had gone to bed before hand-processing and printing his own photographs in the bathtub.To this day, Charlie remains committed to analogue photography, and has never owned a digital camera.
As the years passed Charlie travelled widely across Europe, briefly working as a paparazzo in Italy during the 1970s and documenting student uprisings in Paris.
He always found himself returning home to the African Caribbean community in London, where he remains an active contributor and staunch advocate for the invaluable contribution that the Windrush and subsequent generations have brought to the UK, and London in particular.
What is How Great Thou Art?
How Great Thou Art is a sensitive photographic documentary of the social and emotional traditions that surround death in London’s African Caribbean community.
The title for this book and 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.
In his time attending and photographing funerals in his community Charlie has witnessed huge changes and emerging traditions in burial and mourning practices. From the disappearance of bodies lying on dining room tables, to the establishment of black funeral directors and the booming business of burying and celebrating the dead.
How Great Thou Art represents a lifetimes work by Charlie, and the book presents you with a rare opportunity to engage with, learn from, and celebrate these rapidly changing mourning traditions and practices London’s African Caribbean community.
The How Great Thou Art exhibition will be held at Photofusion’s gallery in Brixton, South London late in 2014.
Why we need your help
This is not a commercially viable project; funerals are only big business for undertakers. We hope that by reading this information, watching our videos, and thinking about your own experiences of funerals, you might see the value in exploring and contextualizing the values and traditions that British cultures place upon death, burial and a celebration of life.
Your support for this project through pre-orders or larger pledges will cover the costs of producing a first edition of the book. The book will stand as a permanent legacy for not just Charlie’s work, but importantly for the community he has lovingly documented.
The book can survive in libraries, bookshelves and classrooms for years into the future, revealing the currently untold story of how the African Caribbean community established new traditions for life and death in the London.
What will we do if we exceed our fundraising target?
Charlie is keen to have his work accessible to everyone If we are lucky enough to exceed our target, we will be donating copies of the How Great Thou Art book to libraries.
Who else is involved?
The book has drawn together an exciting mix of long-time advocates and new admirers of Charlie’s work. The book will include essays exploring the themes of Charlie’s work by Paul Goodwin and Michael McMillan.
Paul Goodwin’s curatorial and research interests span the fields of art and migration, urbanism and critical curation. He has curated and co-curated a number of internationally significant exhibitions including Migrations: Journeys Into British Art, Tate Britain 2012. Paul is Associate Lecturer, MA Curating, Chelsea College of Art and Design; a Research Fellow in urbanism at the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Michael McMillan works and practices as a dramatist, mixed-media artist, curator and academic. Michael’s recent show My Hair: Black Culture, Style & Politics (Origins of the Afro Comb) was at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge. Prior to that, he engaged audiences young and old with his installation The West Indian Front Room, Memories and Impressions of Black British Homes at the Geffrye Museum in London.
The book design will be overseen by designer Will Bankhead, who has previously worked with Charlie’s work when designing record sleeves for Honest Jons records.
The exhibition is being hand-printed by Nick Jones, using all traditional photo chemical printing processes and fibre-based archival paper. Nick has previously printed for Linda McCartney, The Kobal Collection, Herb Ritts and Norman Parkinson.
Charlie’s work is being archived and preserved by Eddie Otchere and Lizzy King. Eddie Otchere is a fellow photographer and curator of photography. Eddie has known Charlie for seven years, working with him as a friend and neighbour.
Lizzy King will produce the project, following the recent successful production of the British Black Panther Movement book and exhibition.
The book will be printed in the UK, by a small company that provides high quality products at competitive prices.
Charlie Phillips is represented by Nicky Akehurst.
The exhibition will be held at Photofusion in Brixton. Photofusion is a not-for-profit photography gallery and resource centre, they have and continue to offer unquantifiable support for this project and the upcoming show. All of the exhibition costs are being covered by a grant from Arts Council England.
Risks and challenges
As with all creative and culturally sensitive/important projects this one is not without its risks. We are working hard, and drawing on our pooled experience, to mitigate against these risks such as locked-in printing quotes and a simple distribution plan.
Our biggest risk is that funding is not secured. We need to meet our funding target of £7,650 or we get nothing. So please give what you can. If you have any questions at all you can reach us via the button below.
If you’re unable to pledge yourselves but believe in what we are doing, please send the link to our project to friends, family or colleagues that might be able to. You can also use things like facebook and twitter to share our project with your networks.
Thanks for your interest so far, and keep an eye on this page for updates.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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