20 May – 29 August 2021
Martin Parr Foundation | 316, Paintworks, Arno’s Vale, Bristol BS4 3AR
Chloe Dewe Mathews spent five years photographing up and down the River Thames, from its puddling source to great estuary mouth. The resulting series of work, Thames Log, examines the ever-changing nature of our relationship to water, from ancient pagan festivities through to the rituals of modern life.
In Thames Log, Dewe Mathews focuses on lives that overlap regularly with the river but often go unnoticed — ship spotters, who log the continual stream of vessels that pass through Tilbury, and mudlarks as they comb the city sludge for Roman and Saxon treasure. In the countryside, above the tidal river, she encounters a druid coracle builder, a mass baptism and the annual census of royal swans.
The works in the exhibition are displayed in geographical order to reflect a journey downstream to the Thames mouth then returning back up to its source. There will be an immersive 6-metre print of the water’s surface with floating crucifix, captured after the ‘Blessing of the River’ ceremony at London Bridge. The Thames becomes a protagonist in a series of diverse practices that seamlessly flow downstream, from May Day Morris Dancing and university boat burning in Oxford, to Islamic evening prayer and Hindu rites in Southend.
Thames Log looks beyond the river’s well-documented landscape to consider both religious and secular rituals, and how meaning and identity can be constructed through practices both big and small, private and public. The Thames becomes a source from which to dream, or imagine other places, other rivers – the Volga, the Congo, the Ganges, Venice lagoon, Arcadia. For some, it will represent a final point of departure, as their ashes are scattered into its flow.
Like much of Dewe Mathews’ work, Thames Log pits documentary photography’s tendency to categorise and classify against the mystery and poetry of daily life. Thames Log includes data for each event featured in the photographs including the exact GPS coordinates, dates, tides and weather. By including this information, Dewe Mathews underpins her lyrical images with a rational framework, inviting a reading of the work as a record and witness, whilst reflecting on the process of making work along the river, where a personal photographic ritual evolved.
A book for the series was co-published by Loose Joints / Martin Parr Foundation in January 2021.