Documenting Britain

Thames: Dark River, Still Shining

These images, taken along the course of the River Thames, offer a small glimpse of how the river is inextricably linked to the communities who inhabit the surrounding area. Physically, emotionally and spiritually the river weaves its way through the southern heart of England carrying with it the collective history of a nation. Rich in culture and heritage the river has been the scene of many a spectacle from Royal traditions to industrial innovations. Yet it remains a wholly communal river, an inspiration to artists and musicians, a river of leisure, of sport and a place people call home. These images are a meditation on a collective connection to the Thames and they reflect the diversity of community and tradition found along the route of the river.

Winged Harp

For me the act of travel goes hand in hand with photography. Taking pictures is my excuse to explore and my reason for being in an unfamiliar place, with a stranger having a surprising conversation. It’s the idea that there is something new and fresh around the corner, that eternal search for an exciting image that keeps me walking, travelling, and searching.

In January 2012 I set out to traverse the length of the River Thames, with the idea of focusing on the communities living along the river and the landscape they inhabit, a landscape that for me is quintessentially English both in its quiet beauty and mystical history. Over the course of two and a half years, as I explored the Thames in stages, my attachment to the river grew and each time I returned it was like being reunited with an old friend. The river became my guide, my focus and my pull. It carried me along to people and places, to boatyards and cottages, to regattas and jubilees. It took me through the capital and pitched me out into the murky estuary. And gradually I found my way home.

The first image here shows Chris playing the harp in his straw bale house in the Oxfordshire countryside. A keeper of bees, master of ancient technology and committed ecologist, Chris single-handedly navigated the length of the Thames in a self-built coracle, carrying a magic egg. He said the journey sought to unite divided faiths and cultures and celebrate water as a unifying bond between all races creatures and creeds, nourishing all and rejecting none. The other image was taken in Chris’s home nearly two years later on the longest day of the year as people gathered to celebrate the summer solstice. Somehow the two images seemed to bookend my travels and bring the project full circle, my own exploration mirroring that of the journey between the two photographs, as if the man playing the harp had taken flight and returned home on the wings of a swan, bathed in glorious sunshine.

Over the next few months I will be sharing some more of the images from Thames: Dark River, Still Shining, as well as my new project covering the Isle of Thanet on the Kent Coast in the run up to the 2015 general election.