UNQUIET THAMES Photographs by Crispin Hughes Museum of London in Docklands 2006 Exploring the eerie, watery world beneath London’s quays and bridges, documentary photographer Crispin Hughes captures the unseen world between the tides – an empty, wild place in the heart of London. His strangely beautiful panoramas are on show in Unquiet Thames, an exhibition at Museum in Docklands from 1 Feb 2006. Over two metres wide and taking in 360º, these images capture the play of shadow and light, the massive drowned structures revealed by the ebbing tide and the odd mixture of expectation and foreboding that the river carries with it. Crispin Hughes says, ’The Thames in central London has a seven metre tidal range and it is in the enclosed spaces flooded alternately with light and with water that I have concentrated my attention. Most of these places were not designed to be seen by the general public at all and are often an amalgam of very ancient timbers and modern steel and concrete. Thousands of people walk about above them every day not knowing that beneath their feet is a strange amphibious architecture, which I find very beautiful and evocative. I have sequenced the pictures to draw the viewer in from exteriors in which bits of central London are recognisable, to private rather feral interior spaces. While taking the pictures I was constantly aware of the tide rising around me. Many of the pictures have a blank screen or stage-like area at their centre as though a drama is about to be enacted. Returning after the rise and fall of the tide everything would be subtly re-arranged. For decades Londoners turned their backs on the river as something finished with by trade and industry and no longer of any use. Recently it has been re-discovered by tourists, commuters and party boats using the new river services. Buildings are now built to face onto it rather than away from it, but looking out across the river we miss what is nearest to us. Unlike the coal m

Unquiet Thames

‘Allied to the bottom of the river rather than the surface, by reason of the slime and ooze with which it was covered, and its sodden state, this boat and the two figures in it obviously were doing something that they often did, and were seeking what they often sought.
But, it happened now, that a slant of light from the setting sun glanced into the bottom of the boat, and, touching a rotten stain there which bore some resemblance to the outline of a muffled human form, coloured it as though with diluted blood.’
Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend

In 2006 this exhibition of 2.5 metre wide panoramic images was exhibited at the Museum of London in Docklands with a soundtrack by Susi Arnott. While making the work I was thinking as much about Dickens, Melville and Poe as about climate change but as rising sea levels have become a more urgent concern the images have gathered a renewed interest. Panos Pictures are currently running the work as one of their stories:

Unquiet Thames
Chambers Wharf from Unquiet Thames
Bankside Pier from Unquiet Thames
Dark House Walk 2 from Unquiet Thames
Hungerford Bridge from Unquiet Thames
London Bridge from Unquiet Thames
Vintners Place from Unquiet Thames
London Bridge City Pier from Unquiet Thames