Week 16 – Telling a Story

After considering the developments around Sheena’s work and receiving additional interest in the project, I have spent this week considering how best to ensure Riparian links together coherently for an audience.

I am now very aware that for this FMP project to work, an audience has to be able to view the works in such a way that link together. I aim to develop each piece so that it encourages an observer to want to view more.

My main challenge will be through any exhibitions I do for the local community. I am finding that the website and planned social media presence does offer an almost private viewing for the observer to view the works.

It could be seen that such an online exhibition of the works makes the observer the voyeur to other peoples private stories.

This voyeurism in some ways is positive, as the observer may find emotive connections with some of the work. Nevertheless, if I plan to showcase the films as one long piece of video, then they must work collaboratively.

I am currently studying the works of Chloe Dewe Mathews and her project, Thames Log.

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Figure 1

To develop this photographic commentary on the river, Mathews spent five years exploring the river course from Gloucester to its mouth in the Thames estuary near Southend-on-Sea. This generated a significant observation of the people, events and culture that exists along the longest river in England.

In a recent review by the Observer, Mathews describes how the project came to get its name:

The title of the series, Thames Log, came from the ship spotters at Tilbury, who “sit all day logging the continual stream of vessels passing through”. Like many who use the river, they keep a constant eye on the weather and on tide timetables – the Thames is tidal below Teddington Lock and high tide readings are recorded at London Bridge and posted online by the Port of London Authority. “I monitored the weather and the tide timetables every day when I was working,” says Dewe Mathews, “and when I exhibit the photographs, they have a log underneath showing the weather and the high and low water readings on that day.”

(O’Hagan, 2016)

Further to this, a recent film on Mathews practice can be seen below:

(Mathews, Chloe, Dewe. Youtube. 2018)

I am very struck by the similarities between Riparian and Thames Log, in the fact that both seek out the metaphorical river. Mathews is looking to tell stories of local events and happenings that themselves represent the Signified element to the river. This projects the Thames to be something beyond a physical river and into a more fragile state of being.

For some of Mathews subjects, the river is an obstacle to be crossed on a regular base – often on the commute to and from work. For others its a source of strength or relaxation, and escape from the stresses of the city.

The river can even carry spiritual connotations and, as seen within Mathews work, even become a source of pilgrimage.

While Mathews does work with video medium, her work is largely stills based. Moments in time that speak a thousand words. Her exhibition structure, of including tide times, dates and numbers of people within her gaze is also very compelling.

I do not feel that the introduction of video as a primary resource to Mathews Thames Log would have added any additional punctum to the work. Her images are emotive enough to carry this alone.

Indeed it could well have formed a more specific focal point for my practice, had I not chosen to go down the route of audio recordings. However, this to me would just have been a repeat of previous MA work, and thus I am still happy with my choice.

Mathews practice has, therefore, further compelled my efforts to capture such metaphorical connections. This has also now helped me developed a research question for my FMP:

Could a local audience learn from my project and how could that learning focus on exploring the metaphorical importance of the river to the local community – through such themes as time, exploration, personal experience and reflection?

I feel that this question sums up my ambitions for Riparian very well. It also gives me an achievable aim that I can engage an audience with. This will help me develop the audio recordings as I move forward with the project.


References

Figures

  • Figure 1: Mathews, Chloe, Dewe. nd. Putney Bridge, London, 11.45am. [Photograph] (source media)