THE TALES OF OLD FATHER THAMES

JULIA FULLERTON-BATTEN

Fascinated by all the stories that the River Thames has to tell, fine-art photographer and Hasselblad Ambassador Julia Fullerton-Batten set out to bring these tales of life and death to light with the Hasselblad H6D-100c.

Originally from Bremen, Germany, Julia made the move to England almost thirty years ago where she has always found herself living near the banks of the River Thames. As the second longest river in the UK, the Thames has historically been the major line of communication, transportation, and nourishment for not only London, but seven different counties in England. As a great provider for the English people, it’s no surprise that the water source has the nickname ‘’Old Father Thames.’’

Forging a connection with this mighty river, Julia became fascinated by its history and all the tales it had to tell. “That of the Thames is chequered with many interesting individual stories.

The stories encompass birth, baptism, death, suicide, messages in a bottle, riverside scavenging youngsters, quaint ancient boats, prison ships, and … other melodramatic episodes of life and death …”

Using the Hasselblad H6D-100c, Julia embarked on her project, Old Father Thames, to bring to life various stories and situations that have taken place along the river’s banks. Known for her choice of curious locations, inventive concepts, relatable subjects, and distinctive cinematic lighting techniques, Julia’s projects contain mysterious elements that draw the viewer to take more than a second look.

Camera: Hasselblad H6D-100c
Shutter Speed: 1/30 Sec
Aperture: F/9,5
© Julia Fullerton-Batten

Ophelia

The Hogsmill River, a tributary of the River Thames, was the setting for John Everett Millais’ iconic painting of Shakespeare’s Ophelia. As part of the Thames’ history, Julia recreated the scene down to the last detail in this beautifully dramatic photograph. Julia commented, ‘’I was able to shoot the scene on the exact spot where he [Millais] created the first part of the painting in 1851. Furthermore, … I replicated in my image every single flower present in the painting. In addition, I ensured that my model had similar features, hair and skin colouring.’’ 

Bathers at Tower Bridge

At its height, the banks of the River Thames next to the London Bridge proved to be a place of entertainment where all members of society, especially women and children, would bathe. But due to high tide, which was every 3-4 hours, swimming and sun bathing were usually cut short. With this image, Julia portrays a 1950s setting along the Thames with women and children in one-piece bathing suits, the male figures wandering about, and food stalls and other entertainment set up for a quick escape from the tide, all with the Tower Bridge in the background.

Camera: Hasselblad H6D-100c
Shutter Speed: 1/80 SEC
Aperture: F/16
© Julia Fullerton-Batten

Camera: Hasselblad H6D-100c
Shutter Speed: 1/125 Sec
Aperture: F/9,5
© Julia Fullerton-Batten

Swan Upping

“Swan upping” is a practice that began in the 1100s along the River Thames where valuable mute swans were rounded up in order to mark their beaks and indicate ownership. Julia’s photograph recreates this traditional ceremony, which still takes place every year on the third week in July. Nowadays, this is done to take a census of the swan population.

The Grain Tower

Grain Tower, an off-shore fort constructed in the mid-19th century, was built to protect the River Thames against invasion from the French. It’s located 600 metres out to sea, making it accessible only by boat during high tide and a raised path, or causeway, during low tide. This photograph recreates a story from The Times newspaper in May 1867 where Marie Eugenie, the youngest daughter of Captain E. F. S. Lloyd of the Royal Engineers, had died, possibly due to tuberculosis or a lethal accident. Julia’s piece reenacts the officer carrying his dear daughter down the causeway to a mainland grave.

Camera: Hasselblad H6D-100c
Shutter Speed: 1/250 Sec
Aperture: F/13
© Julia Fullerton-Batten

© Julia Fullerton-Batten

Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson, the first female pilot to do a solo trip from Britain to Australia, was lost to the waters of the River Thames. Caught flying in bad weather, Amy used a parachute escape, but to no avail. Julia’s photograph represents the awful death of a heroine whose body was never found in the deep waters of Old Father Thames.

Behind the scenes

Watch behind the scenes material by Genevieve Stevenson

About Julia Fullerton-Batten

Julia Fullerton-Batten is a worldwide acclaimed and exhibited fine-art photographer. Her body of work now encompasses twelve major projects spanning a decade of engagement in the field. She has won countless awards for both her commercial and fine-art work and became a Hasselblad Master in 2008. To learn more about Julia Fullerton-Batten, click here.

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