Sophie Green shoots South London’s ‘white garment’ churches

The photographer’s new series Congregation asks broader questions around collective identity and “power within subcultures”, and is being published as a book by Loose Joints

Sophie Green, Congregation

South London-based photographer Sophie Green has long looked to her own neighbourhood as a subject; turning her lens to the characters, places and strange quirks that she finds on the streets of Peckham or across Britain more widely. Named as one of our Zeitgeist award winners in The Photography Annual 2018, Green told us she loves the paradox that Britain is “eccentric and mundane at the same time”.

Around two-and-a-half years ago, Green started photographing the Aladura Spiritualist African churches and congregations, often referred to as ‘white garment’ churches. Aladura – a denomination of Christianity that sees its followers sing, dance and worship while dressed entirely in white – is primarily practised by Yoruba Nigerians, and while London has many of these churches, they’re most densely packed in Southwark, which boasts the highest concentration of African churches outside the continent. The photographer had spotted churchgoers walking up and down Rye Lane in Peckham, and decided to spend 24 months  getting to know the local congregation and pastors.

Sophie Green, Congregation

“I just thought they looked so beautiful and ethereal in their sparkling white dress,” Green told us last year. “I stopped a lady on the street and complimented her on how beautiful she looked, and asked if she would mind if I walked with her to her church and if I could join the service for the day. They welcomed me in [and] I watched the seven-hour service in awe.”

These images, which have formed the series Congregation, are all the more striking for the sense of intimacy: while Londoners might recognise the church, Aladura is largely undocumented in the capital.

Sophie Green, Congregation

The series as a whole asks broader questions around collective identity and “power within subcultures”, according to Loose Joints, which is publishing the Congregation photobook.

Green’s work also sensitively portrays the juxtaposition between, and assimilation of, traditional customs within contemporary London: there’s a charming shot of young girls queueing at an ice cream van, for instance; and a father with his baby in a modern plastic carrier in one hand, Adidas pool sliders in the other, against a skyline dotted with cranes and shiny new-build flats.

As with all Green’s work, whether documenting banger racing or afro hair salons, the process of shooting Congregation was highly collaborative. Eschewing candid style snaps in favour of posed portrait sessions, Green’s subjects appear both natural and complicit: “I always try to make the process a fair and balanced exchange,” she told us.

When she wasn’t shooting pictures for the Congregation series, Green ran mini-photography workshops for the kids she met on the project. Most of these spiralled into “dance-offs, tractor climbing or doing gymnastics on the street,” she recalled.

Congregation is published on 25 April by Loose Joints;