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Visual arts: Faith in the City of London by Niki Gorick

by
16 October 2020

The City of London has lost its bustle, but it is still a place where the flame of faith burns. Jonathan Evens views a photographic record

© Niki Gorick Photography

“Easter Vigil — St Bartholomew the Great” by Niki Gorick

“Easter Vigil — St Bartholomew the Great” by Niki Gorick

IT WAS when Niki Gorick was Artist-in-Residence at the Guildhall Library in 2015 that she first noticed how many churches there were in the City of London and became intrigued by this unexpected concentration of global businesses and places of worship. That revelation led to a photographic project, a book, and an open-air photographic exhibition featuring the world of worship in the City of London.

Gorick says: “I wanted to find out if there is a spiritual life within one of the most financially driven parts of the world.” Undertaking the project was also revelatory, as she found it fascinating to discover that there definitely was spiritual life and that “it’s full of contrasts, diversity, and surprises.” Her experience was that when you “explore the spiritual side of things and are offered the level of access that I was given, you begin to see London and Londoners from a completely new angle”.

Her hope is that this revelatory feeling is conveyed in the photos that she has chosen for the exhibition: “Through this work, I am hoping to provide a real insight into how City workers are trying to connect to life’s deeper meanings, and where religious traditions and questions of faith are still very much alive.”

As a British fine-art photographer specialising in images of London and Londoners for more than 20 years, Gorick has a reputation for capturing the true character of the city. Her approach is to catch a particular moment that focuses the attention very strongly on an event in a very immediate way. Her photographs have an “X” factor that infuses what is captured with something more universal to provoke an emotional reaction. She hopes, in the case of these particular photographs, “that a sense of the spiritual comes through in this way”.

© Niki Gorick Photography“Christian dialogue — Bishop Sarah and Bishop Angaelos” by Niki Gorick

In the book and exhibition, she notes many facets to faith in the City, some of it very ceremonial, which fits with the Square Mile’s being one of the oldest parts of London, with traditions and livery companies going back hundreds of years. Among the images that she has captured are weddings, communions, Evangelical Bible studies, livery-company carol services, Muslim worship, and Afghan music. All reveal the Square Mile’s vibrant and diverse spiritual life, which stretches out into many faiths.

One occasion that she found most interesting was a Romanian Orthodox Sunday service at St Dunstan-in-the-West. “The service went on for several hours and the whole church was filled with over 400 people, ranging from babies to grandmothers. It had a wonderfully warm family feel, all centred on the magnificent carved altar that had been carefully transported over, piece by piece, from Romania. And then there was the extraordinarily atmospheric rhythmic chanting of the male choir. I loved the colour and vibrancy of it all and it was terrifically photogenic.”

Nevertheless, the image that, she thinks, reveals the most about the nature of faith in the City of London is a photograph she was lucky enough to capture in the City’s oldest church, St Bartholomew the Great. “It shows one man holding a candle during the Easter Vigil service when the whole church was in darkness except for the light from the candles of the congregation and the only sound was the Rector singing the Exsultet text of the Resurrection. To me, this image conveys not only the deep history of faith in the City going back even to pagan times but also how the City churches are still havens of peace and contemplation and how they offer a real and valuable respite from the hectic working life surrounding them.”

Gorick hopes that the book and exhibition will give people “a different perspective on the City of London to counteract the common view of it as one of the most financially-obsessed parts of the world”. She hopes, too, “that in these difficult times dominated by Covid-19, it will be a timely reminder of how faith is an important part of life in the Square Mile, and, when we return to normality, will encourage people to push open some church doors for themselves and explore the City’s spiritual nuances”.

© Niki Gorick Photography“Romanian Orthodox — St Dunstan’s-in-the-West” by Niki Gorick

Her images reveal that faith is alive and well in the City of London; just as is also the case across the UK. In essence, her project could be repeated within parishes up and down this country, as it is based on recording the many and varied forms of engagement between churches and their local communities.

The Church in the UK has rather shot itself in the foot by focusing media attention on numbers attending services, as opposed to the approach taken in Gorick’s project of recording and sharing the breadth of its engagement. Gorick’s book and exhibition are valuable not just for the excellence of her imagery and the interest of the events recorded, but as a challenge to the way in which the Church communicates with the wider world through the media.

If the true breadth of its life and engagement were to be shared as Gorick has done for the City of London, then counteracting the common view of the Church, providing reminders that faith is an important part of life, and encouraging people to push open church doors and explore our spiritual nuances might all be seen and valued.

 

“Faith in the City of London” will be presented in Paternoster Square, London EC4, from 3 October to 28 October, before transferring to Aldgate Square, Aldgate High Street, London EC3, for its run from 29 October to 26 November.

Niki Gorick’s book Faith in the City of London is published by Unicorn at £25 (Church Times Bookshop £22.50); 978-1-912690-73-2.

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