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 mudlarks 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 categorize 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, 14 Jan – 14 March 2021.
About the Author
Chloe Dewe Mathews (born in London, 1982) is a photographic artist based in St Leonards-on-Sea. After studying fine art at Camberwell College of Arts and the University of Oxford, she worked in the feature film industry before dedicating herself to photography. Her work is internationally recognized, exhibiting at Tate Modern, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Museum Folkwang, and Fotomuseum Antwerp, as well as being published widely in newspapers and magazines such as the Guardian, New Yorker, Financial Times, Harpers, and Le Monde.
Public and private collections have acquired Chloe’s work, including the British Council Art Collection, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Irish State Art Collection. She has also received commissions from institutions such as the Contemporary Art Society, Oxford University and Photoworks.
Her awards include the British Journal of Photography International Photography Award, the Julia Margaret Cameron New Talent Award and the Royal Photographic Society Vic Odden Award and her nominations include the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, the Prix Pictet and Paul Huf Award.
Chloe’s first monograph ‘Shot at Dawn’ was published by Ivorypress in 2014 and in the same year she became the Robert Gardner Fellow in Photography at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.
In 2018 she published Caspian: the Elements with Aperture / Peabody Press and In Search of Frankenstein with Kodoji Press.