Documenting the communities living by the River Thames from the source to the sea, through their connections to the river and its surrounding landscapes. This is more or less the purpose of Tom Farmer’s work which was funded via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The photographs have been made during the last years and a touring exhibition has started in 2014. Then the idea of a book came out and took ten more months to become real. And here it is, in a ultra limited first edition of 20, which will be probably followed by a second edition very soon !
I like the idea of documenting a community, but the nature of the community did not make the work easy to apprehend. Here we are not in a closed world in the casual sense of « community » with a limit which is defined by the territory, but, like in many communities, the appartenance or the belief is up to everyone. The River Thames has its own existence, a source in Gloucestershire, and 346 kilometers later a mouth in Essex. The name Thames is supposed to mean « dark » whose the title of the book refers to ! When you live by a river, you can choose to live with or without it. You can « grow up » in the floodplain, enjoying all activities induces, or you can just dream to « escape ». This is when you are (or not) part of the community.
There are two main reasons why I really like the book. The first one is very personal : I have a particular relationship with The River Thames since I have been on a summer camp, years ago when I was a teenager, in Wallingford in Oxfordshire. We spent time visiting around but also had some free time for canoeing, which was, of course on the River Thames. I am particularly at ease in the water and this was the only time in my life when I got almost drowned. Since then, I consider myself as part of this community of the Dark River and I don’t blame it. Well, you may already know that I like to add some personal considerations to my book reviews.
The second one, more simple, is a fascination for English photography, especially when it focuses on the Brits and their way of life. In his work, Tom Farmer shows us all the life beside the river. From open landscapes to detailed close-ups of the banks which confines to some intimacy. We’re not on a guide tour but rather with someone who leads you to his very secret and hidden places. You meet boats and find some fishing spots, you discover an old caravan at the bend of a path. In the first part of the book, we are in rural areas and slowly, industrialisation appears. Trees disappear to let the place to concrete buildings. The landscapes change from natural to anthropized and they open. The horizon becomes visible, when not hidden behind a wall and the light also changes. It brightens. But apart in the first photograph, the presence of human beings is always palpable in the photos, wether it is a person herself or the trace of anthropisation (a pylon behind trees…).
Many scenes shown are popular events : a traditional fest, a point of view from Battersea park, regattas, a takeaway van with people queuing…) and all those photos are interspersed with some intimate close-up portraits of inhabitants. They sometimes stare proudly at the camera or don’t pay attention to it, absorbed in their activities. The third typology of photographs is « interiors » photographs. People are photographed inside their home, or empty rooms are shown with what appear to be decorations or trophies hanged on wall. They say a lot about their owners… Last but not least, I also really appreciate the square format of the photographs which does not push the reader in a preconceived formal reading.
Hardcover book with a blue linen and a silkscreen cover, 22 x 22 cm, 60 pages with 45 color photos. Print run of 20 for the first edition.
More info : http://www.tomfarmerphotography.com/
And the gallery where to find the book if some copies remain : www.vortigernmargate.com
All images copyright Tom Farmer, can be removed on request.