Thames Log examines the ever-changing nature of our relationship to water, from ancient pagan festivities through to the rituals of modern life.
Dewe Mathews spent five years photographing up and down the River Thames, from it’s puddling source to great estuary mouth. She focuses her attention on lives that overlap regularly with the river but often go unnoticed, like ship-spotters, who log the continual stream of vessels that pass through Tilbury, and mudlarkers as they comb the city sludge for Roman and Saxon treasure. Above the tidal Thames, which transforms the landscape twice daily, the young river meanders constantly through the verdant countryside. There, she encounters neo-pagan rituals, eccentric coracle builders and the custodians of royal swans. Far from holding a fixed identity, the Thames becomes a protagonist in a series of ceremonies and practices that seamlessly flow downstream, from boat-burning in Oxford to evening prayer in Southend; from mass baptisms to teenage rites of passage.
Despite its status as one of the most iconic and well-documented rivers in the world, the images in Thames Log invite you to look beyond the river to consider both religious and secular rituals, and how meaning and identity are 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; and for some, a final resting ground, as their ashes are scattered into its flow.
Like much of Dewe Mathews’ work, Thames Log engages directly with the tension between documentary photography’s tendency to categorise and classify the world into knowable pieces, against the mystery and poetry of daily life. Presented in geographical order across rolling French-folded pages, Thames Log not only records events across the spectrum of significance but also the exact GPS coordinates, dates, tides and weather of each event. By including this data, Dewe Mathews invites 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. By underpinning her lyrical images with a rational framework, Dewe Mathews both halts and submerges us in the mutable flow of the river, sculpting an unending story of London and the surrounding counties, in all of their diversity.
Thames Log is co-published with the Martin Parr Foundation to accompany Dewe Mathews’ solo exhibition at the gallery in May - September 2021.
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152 pages, 76 colour plates, 240 × 295 mm
Softcover with French-fold pages
Text by Marina Warner