Over the past year award-winning photographer Jim Grover, with his Leica Rangefinder camera, has been shadowing the work of 43-year-old Kit Gunasekera. Kit is Grover’s local vicar and Of Things Not Seen seeks to bring to life what it is to be a Church of England minister in a South London community today. This is the first time that the daily life of a priest has been recorded in this way, making it a remarkably unique project.
Grover has spent time with Kit in his vicarage, his church, his parishioners’ homes, in care homes, on the streets of Clapham, and with his fellow priests in the community. From over 15,000 images, curator Katy Barron has selected 40 which distil both Kit’s professional role as priest and lynchpin of the church community, and his personal faith.
The daily routines of running a church with financial pressures and a mission to increase the congregation are reflected in the project, alongside the joys and rewards of having a vocation with a strong calling and a higher purpose. While Kit may have a recognised role in the religious community, the exhibition seeks to show him as a Londoner who is an inspiration to many despite the challenges for ministry in our busy cities.
Kit comments, I didn't know what to expect when we began this project, except that I was determined to be as authentic as possible. Due to Jim’s thoughtfulness and sensitivity, it was as if he wasn't there! This helped me to be myself and to do things as I would normally, without feeling the need to produce anything. As the project developed what struck me was that it was about people. This should be no surprise, because ministry is really about people.
The photo-story is a visual form that began with W. Eugene Smith’s Life of a Country Doctor, and Grover’s year in the life of Kit reflects that heritage. With this exhibition Jim wants to convey Kit’s personal story to the viewer and, through that, a sense of the extraordinary fellowship that inner-city church communities can still provide. Grover says, I wanted a project that was literally on my doorstep that involved local people and gave me a glimpse into a different world. Part of this was also the desire for a new photographic challenge that spanned over many months and would allow me to really explore below the surface. I wanted to challenge myself by shooting in black and white like the original photo- essayists such as Eugene Smith. It’s been enlightening, inspiring, challenging and rewarding in equal measures!
The exhibition will also include a selection of images taken by Kit’s congregation. Grover provided them with disposable cameras and the simple brief to bring their own, very diverse, daily lives to life. A photograph from Of Things Not Seen recently won 2015’s ‘Faith Through a Lens’ competition; it manages to encapsulate the power of a moment of shared faith between Kit and Floris, an elderly, bed-bound, parishioner. The winning image was selected by a panel of judges, led by Don McCullin.