Art & Events Interview Caro Meets

Jim Grover: Covid Tales From Tom’s Bench

By | Published on Friday 25 September 2020

Despite only beginning a career in photography six years ago, Jim Grover has met with an impressive degree of success, winning awards and exhibiting in high profile venues.

I was particularly intrigued by his latest project, which features portraits of members of the public sitting on one specific bench on Clapham Common (including the picture above).

The exhibition, which can be accessed online or in person at the Omnibus Theatre Cafe, opens on 30 Sep. I spoke to Jim to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling our readers what to expect from this exhibition?
JG: You’ll see the human faces behind an extraordinarily broad array of COVID experiences… from unexpectedly rewarding, through the things that many of us have experienced, all the way to harrowing. Each day in August I photographed and interviewed whoever sat on one particular bench on Clapham Common. The photo-story thus comprises a single portrait and story for each day of the month in August – apart from when I was out of London on a 4 day ‘staycation’!

CM: Can you tell us the story behind it? 
JG: I wanted to find a way to make very real, for all of us, the broad range of personal COVID experiences that we read and hear about every day.  I wanted to put human faces to these experiences…to make them feel very personal and to make us think harder about the experiences that others have been through over the last few months.

CM: What made you want to use the bench as the focus for this project? 
JG: I am currently immersed in a year-long documentary photography project about a wonderfully thriving local community of very diverse characters, in part driven by the presence of a terrific 24-hour/365 days a year ‘Snack Wagon’ – called ‘Honest Tom’s’ – on the edge of the pond on the Common. 

Tom died last year having founded his snack wagon 30 years ago. To commemorate Tom and his contribution to life around the pond, a bench was erected for him, complete with a name plate and a vase for flowers.  

I thought that Tom’s bench as a ‘temporary portrait studio’ would be a great way to get a wonderfully random and unexpected group of local characters to share their personal stories of COVID with me, and thereby help me create this photo-story.

So every day in August I waited for someone to sit on the bench – I once waited for three hours! – and made them my subject for that particular day.

CM: What inspired you to do this project?
JG: I think the whole COVID experience has encouraged many of us ‘creatives’ to think about what work we want to create and how best to do it in these extraordinary times.

I have been very keen to find ways to continue to create new work ‘come what may’; this is just one example. I have three photo-stories ‘in the melting pot’ and am really enjoying the challenge of creating new work.

CM: What do you do in ‘normal’ times? How has COVID affected you work-wise?
JG: I am retired…so am spared the challenges of working from home…and feel very fortunate and privileged!  Documentary photography is a big part of my new life.

CM: How have you coped with being in lockdown?
JG: It’s been as fine as it can be. I feel I have been very lucky compared to so many – made even starker as some of my subjects shared their own experiences. I really have nothing to complain about.

CM: How did your career in photography begin?
JG: I’ve come to this, as a career, late in life…and have only been doing what I am now doing for the last six years. It’s been an amazing six years – with four major projects and exhibitions – I am still learning and as passionate about it as when I started. I am lucky that I love what I do.

CM: Was the social documentary element always a part of your photography work? 
JG: I am especially, and genuinely, interested in people… communities… everyday lives… cultures… traditions… unsung heroes… and especially in my ‘backyard’, South London. My photography is now pretty much exclusively focused on these sorts of subjects. And I have found that the more I look and explore, the more I find.

CM: What aims do you have for the future, artistically?
JG: To continue to ‘make seen the unseen’…and to move and emotionally engage people through a combination off imagery and words.

CM: What’s coming up next for you? What should we look out for?
JG: I plan to complete my year long story of Mount Pond on 31 Dec – of course! – and once it’s completed will decide how best to present it next year. I am very excited about what is emerging from my nine months to date.

I am also looking to stage an exhibition early next year to celebrate the life of Maurice Dorfman who was, for 60 years until his recent death, a haberdashery shop owner on Clapham High Street…and something of an institution!

I am about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund this…so please take a look on my website for more information.

‘COVID Tales From Tom’s Bench’ launches on 30 Sep and runs until 31 Dec. You can view it online at or see it in person at Omnibus Theatre Café/Bar SW4 from Thursday to Sunday (check venue for times).

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