Jim Grover is a photographer, but he sees himself as a storyteller.
Every day in August, Jim photographed a person or group of people sat together on a bench in Clapham Common, and asked for their Covid-19 stories.
The resulting exhibition, ‘Covid Tales From Tom’s Bench’, launches on Wednesday 30 September at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre, and is a fascinating and unique look at how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the people of Clapham, from all walks of life.
Jim explained: “I was looking for a way to personalise the sheer breadth of experience that the people of this country have faced.
“Because the range is enormous, from the harrowing all the way to the surprisingly rewarding. We hear every day on TV or on the radio people who have been affected by this virus and I wanted to tell their stories.”
As the name indicates, even the bench in Jim’s exhibition has its own story.
‘Tom’s bench’ is named after Tom Hucklesby, who set up 24 hour ‘snack wagon’ Honest Tom’s 30 years ago and who passed away last year.
The wagon, which is still operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, has been at the heart of Jim’s Clapham Common project and closed for the first time in its history due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The bench, erected in Tom’s memory, has an inscription plaque and flowers that are refreshed every week.
Jim added: “The flowers revealed a fascinating insight into the passage of time.
“August was a very hot, sunny month, so every day the flowers would wilt a little bit more in the sun, and then every week they were replaced. Photographing it every day for a month, I got to see that cycle.”
Jim’s exhibition is part of a wider, year-long photography project that the retired strategy director has undertaken in Clapham Common.
The 62-year-old, who lives in Clapham, is spending the entire year by the Mount Pond in Clapham Common, documenting a year in the life of the community.
Jim said: “I’ve always wanted to spend a year immersed in this community.
“I love exploring and photographing communities, and I want to tell stories about everyday life, about people’s cultures, traditions, and above all communities. And I want those stories to be from where I live. My passion is local stories that haven’t been told before. To make the unseen, seen.”
Jim acknowledged his luck that he was largely unaffected by the Covid-19 outbreak, and kept working on the project through lockdown, using his hour of daily exercise to walk through the common and continue his photography.
Looking forward, Jim already has another project on the go, as he looks to create a piece eulogising Maurice Dorfman, one of the subjects of Jim’s earlier work ‘48 hours on Clapham Common’.
Mr Dorfman ran a shop on Clapham High Street for 60 years, before passing away earlier this year aged 87, and Jim is looking to raise £9,500 on Kickstarter to fund the project.
While Jim’s projects are a celebration of life, there can be no denying the real impact that Covid-19 has had, and ‘Covid Tales From Tom’s Bench’ is bookended with tragedy.
Yvonne, who Jim photographed on the final day of his month-long endeavour, lost her husband to the virus after he was hospitalised, an encounter that Jim said put all the others into context.
The exhibition will also be available online in its entirety on Jim’s website: Jim Grover Photography.
Jim Grover teaches Documentary Photography at the Leica Akademie UK.