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Friday, December 14 2012 @ 02:26 AM EST
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Sweet Thames, Run Softly 'Til I End My Song

A walk following the river from the source of the Thames to London

The idea for the project started when watching the first few minutes of Danny Boyle's London 2012 Olympic Opening ceremony which showed a sped-up aerial journey starting at the source of the Thames and ending up in London. I immediately realized I wanted to walk the length of the river and try to produce a photographic artwork based on that experience. I've recently got married and live with my wife in Cheltenham near the source. My childhood was in Oxford, half way along, and I lived in London for seven years as a Student, so the river has a very personal connection for me. Earlier in the year I'd been hospitalized with meningitis and then immediately afterwards witnessed the birth of my son. So I started the journey with more sensitivity to the notion of the river as a metaphor of life than I might have done otherwise.


1/2 Mile downstream, Thames Head © Quintin Lake

I've always been a keen long distance walker having backpacked Lands end to John O'Groats and many of the long distance trails in Britain. I always travel alone and camp, as its cheaper (much cheaper in the Thames valley!) and gives me a greater connection to the landscape and allows me the concentration necessary to think about and notice interesting light for photography. It was surprisingly difficult to camp along the Thames as it relatively populated and I prefer to wild camp so I often pitched after dark and broke camp at dawn. The journey was 170 miles and it took me ten days.

The weight of the photographic gear I take is the most important consideration when I am also carrying camping equipment. Over the years I have become more minimalist in this regard and find I get better results this way. For this journey I used a Canon G1X which weighs 0.5KG. I find with this plus the 6KG in my backpack (using ultralight backpacking equipment and techniques) I am still mentally fresh enough to see a good picture at the end of 10 hour day of walking. The G1X has a 28-112mm equivalent lens that I found sufficient for 70% of the shots. For the remainder I would have liked 200mm reach. I achieved this by cropping in post, which is a compromise I'm happy to accept for this project.

103 Miles downstream, near Henley-on-Thames © Quintin Lake

Had I not been carrying backpacking gear I would have carried a Canon 5DII with 24-105 f4, 17-40 f4 and 70-200 f4 lenses and a Gitzo traveller tripod. I retrospect I don't feel this would have given me better shots as I would have lost a bit of the poetic connection I had with the river by fiddling with gear. I did adapt my technique to the limitations of the G1X but I didn't find this restrictive.

Whenever I work on a photographic project I think of the images as a series to which I endeavour to give a particular and constant feeling. I never know what this feeling will be before I start a journey - that is part of the thrill. In the arctic this was the play of light, in Iran it was the architectural symmetry, and on the Thames I felt it was the pattern and texture of the water. I purposely cropped out the landmarks to emphasize the difference of the texture and colour of the water. Before I started the journey I would never have thought that the water at the source could look quite so different to the same water as it passed under the M25 bridge.

165 Miles downstream, Wandsworth, London © Quintin Lake

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long
TS Eliot.

Signed limited edition prints available at £195 each (40x40cm).

Editor's Note

Read Quntin's blog at blog.quintinlake.com and see more images from Quntin's journey down the Thames in his album "Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song".

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