Views From A Dinghy By John Claridge
Ship maintenance, 1964
Take a trip down the Thames at a relaxed pace with Photographer John Claridge, in his tiny inflatable dinghy with outboard motor attached. The journey begins in 1961 when the London Docks were still working and ends in the nineteen eighties once they were closed for ever. This set of photographs – published here for the first time – are some of the views to be seen on that voyage.
Setting out at dawn, John’s photographic adventures led him through smog and smoke, through early morning mist, through winter fog and haze upon the river, all filtering and refracting the light to create infinite luminous effects upon the water. In the previous century, Joseph Mallord William Turner and James McNeill Whistler had attempted to evoke the distinctive quality of Thames light upon canvas, but in the mid-twentieth century it was John Claridge, kid photographer from Plaistow, who came drifting out of the London fog, alone in his dinghy with camera and long lens in hand to capture his visions of the river on film.
Look, there is a man scraping an entire boat by hand, balanced precariously over the water. Listen, there is the sound of the gulls echoing in the lonely dock. “It smells like it should,” said John, contemplating these pictures and reliving his escapades on the Thames, half a century later, “it has the atmosphere and feeling of what it was like.”
“You still had industry which created a lot of pollution, even after the Clean Air Act,” he recalled, “People still put their washing out and the dirt was hanging in the air. My mum used to say, ‘Bloody soot on my clean clothes again!’” But in a location characterised by industry, John was fascinated by the calm and quiet of the Thames. “I was in the drink, right in the middle of the river,” John remembered fondly, speaking of his trips in the dinghy, “it was somewhere you’d like to be.” John climbed onto bridges and into cranes to photograph the dock lands from every angle, and he did it all with an insider’s eye.
Generations of men in John’s family were dock workers or sailors, so John’s journey down the Thames in his dinghy became a voyage into a world of collective memory, where big ships always waited inviting him to depart for distant shores. Yet John’s little dinghy became his personal lifeboat, sailing on beyond Tower Bridge where in 1964, at nineteen years old, he opened his first photographic studio near St Paul’s Cathedral. John found a way to fulfil his wanderlust through a professional career that included photographic assignments in every corner of the globe, but these early pictures exist as a record of his maiden voyage on the Thames.
Across the River, 1965
Quiet Evening, 1963
At Berth, 1962 - “It wills you to get on board and go somewhere.”
Three Cranes, 1968
Skyline, 1966 - “I climbed up into a crane and there was a ghostly noise that came out of it, from the pigeons roosting there.”
Crane & Chimney Stack, 1962
After the Rain, 1961
From the Bridge, 1962
Across the River, 1965
Wapping Shoreline, 1961 - “I got terribly muddy, covered in it, sinking into it, and it smelled bad.”
Thames Barrier, 1982
At Daybreak, 1982
Photographs copyright © John Claridge
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