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A celebration of life along the Thames


Chloe Dewe Mathews, a British photographer and filmmaker, spent five years taking photographs on the Thames, the emblematic river in the south of England that flows for nearly 350 km before reaching the North Sea. Five years spent capturing the variety of water, constantly changing nature and the interactions between the population and the river. From former pagan festivals to the new rituals of modern life, ranging from those invented by adolescents to those followed by the traders of the City, the images are the proof of the diversity of relations people have with the river.

In particular, they show shamanic baptisms, women practicing their morning yoga, “mudlarks”, people who scavenge mud in search of lost precious objects, and wardens of the swans. This series of photos is titled Thames Log, a name gleaned from the watchers of ships at Tilbury who, every day, recorded the continuous flow of ships that passed by, and monitored weather conditions and the times of the tides that affected the discharge of the river.

Continuing from a project performed in 2011 on the Caspian Sea, in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan, the photographer considered this report as a means of verifying whether the ritualistic relations that these populations have with water existed elsewhere, in a country like England. The artist discovered traditions as well as renewed interest in the Thames from the neighbouring population:

It now seems to attract people who see a mysterious presence or maybe an antidote to the increasingly uniform city. They motivations are varied, but they are all attracted to the river bank by their fascination for the river (The Guardian, 18/09/2016).

The format and the approach taken by the work are inventive – at the crossroads of documentary, art photography and ethnographic study – and bring the viewer to look beyond the flow of water to consider the relations that unite us with rivers and, finally, the dimension of identity. The author says :

For some, the Thames represents a source from which one can dream or imagine other places, other rivers and places: the Volga, the Congo, the Ganges, Arcadia. For others, it represents the final point of departure, since their ashes are dispersed in its waters.

Thames Log – author Marina Warner; photographer: Chloe Dewe Mathews, published by Loose Joints – 2021 in partnership with the Martin Parr Foundation, which hosted an exhibition of these photographs in summer 2021.

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