Kelly McCann's project documents churches in South London that inhabit ex-commercial, industrial or residential buildings as opposed to traditional church buildings. In this solo exhibition, it is often not just the buildings themselves but their surroundings that make for an interesting and surprising exploration.
The photographer comments: "I have discovered numerous examples of this type of church across South London, and there are several aspects that strike me. One of which is the way in which the churches communicate their identity to the public. The shop front signposting and advertisements displayed on the exterior of these buildings means that their appearance is often not dissimilar to the commercial premises surrounding them. Another feature that stands out is the modesty of the buildings in comparison to traditional churches which appear to shout out to you. These churches are less obvious, with some almost hidden away - despite the signposting, it's easy for the eye to miss them."
The churches featured in the exhibition are far removed from the indulgence and extravagance of traditional, purpose-built structures. By making do with what is available or affordable, they are not immediately recognisable as churches. Their neighbouring shops or businesses are often in marked contrast to these places of worship. In one image, for example, the 'Holy Ghost Christian Centre' is next door to the 'Love Lounge,' a club for 'strictly over 21's.'
Using a standard, non traditional building rather than the more grandiloquent Victorian style holds practical advantages: the cost of maintaining and heating traditional churches can be astronomical, and shops provide a more affordable venue. The decline of religious attendees in England (Church of England weekly attendance fell below one million for the first time in 2007, for example) further increases the financial burden on churches and places of worship, as congregations become unable to support them.
A high street location makes these venues more accessible than those in more traditional locations, and potentially less intimidating to newcomers. The Bishop of Reading recently questioned Christian churches' middle class image: "How did it come to this that we have become known as just the Marks & Spencer option, when in our heart of hearts we know that Jesus would just as likely be in the queue at Asda or Aldi?”
Kelly McCann's images brilliantly capture the setting of churches in unconventional locations. They draw attention to the way these institutions choose to portray themselves to the local community, as well as how they are influenced by their surroundings.
Louise Forrester, Viewfinder's curator, comments: "Like it or loath it, we are becoming increasingly accustomed to the commercialisation of Christmas, with shops stocking mince pies months ahead. What we might be more surprised by is the increasing number of shops which are actually becoming churches - Kelly McCann's photographs of this emerging phenomenon are stark and mysterious, and I hope visitors will be intrigued by this series."