Sophie Green captures the rich tapestry of Peckham’s Aladura churches
A chance encounter sparked the photographer’s captivating chronicle of southeast London’s Aladura Spiritualist African churches
‘I have always been drawn to groups who are proud to be themselves,’ says photographer Sophie Green, ahead of the launch of her new docu-photography book Congregation. Green, who photographed ceramic artist Magdalene Odundo in our March 2019 issue, has channelled her interest in collective identities into her images of the Aladura Spiritualist African churches in her local neighbourhood of Peckham, southeast London.
‘Every Sunday morning you can see church goers walk up and down Rye Lane as they flow in and out of the churches,’ she explains. ‘I thought they looked so beautiful and ethereal in their radiant white dress, strongly contrasting with their urban 21st-century surroundings.’
Aladura is a denomination of Christianity predominantly practised by Yoruba Nigerians, and in the last 40 years has become a ubiquitous part of London life – particularly in Southwark, which has the highest concentration of African churches outside the continent.
Green’s interest in this community was first piqued one Sunday back in 2017, when she stopped a lady on the street and complimented on her attire, and soon found herself invited to a service. ‘Both she and the rest of the congregation welcomed me in – I then watched the seven hour service in awe,’ she continues. ‘A crowd of white robed men, women and children were singing, dancing and clapping to the beat of the drum, praying spontaneously in unison and following prayer from the service leader. I was entranced by this powerful display of their commitment to a faith.’
This experience triggered in Green a desire to further explore and document what she had witnessed; and she has been diligently making pictures of various Southwark churches ever since. ‘I wanted my visual and intellectual knowledge of my immediate neighbourhood and communities to develop more fully,’ she explains, and her new book, produced by artist-run publisher Loose Joints, gave her the space to do just that.
Green’s lively album sidesteps appearing intrusive, and instead feels celebratory. The photographer was keen for Congregation to display the ‘warmth and respect’ she feels for the communities that welcomed her in. Indeed, it manages to spotlight Aladura with an inquisitive eye, not a probing one.
The project follows a steep ascension for the artist, who first studied fashion photography at London College of Fashion. Her investigative work, motivated by her ‘innate curiosity in the human experience’, has featured everything from stock car racing to traveller groups, and has featured in Vogue and the Financial Times. Expect big things to come from this sensitive mind. §