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‘The People of the Thames, A Photographic Journey’ by Jil Orpen

‘The People of the Thames, A Photographic Journey’ by Jil Orpen

The People of the Thames, A Photographic Journey’ by Jil Orpen, exhibited at the Sewell Centre Gallery, Radley College, Oxfordshire between April 17th and May 15th, 2015.

This is the eighth exhibition in a continuing series that has already been displayed in museums and galleries along the river, and at William Morris’s home at Kelmscott.

Photographer Jil Orpen (pictured above, with Christopher Drury and Exhibitions Organiser, ACJ) brings a new perspective to the non-tidal stretch, which runs 140 miles downstream from its source at Thames Head in Gloucestershire to the Teddington Lock in Middlesex. Her photographs portray the strong connections that the river has for many.

The Private View of the Exhibition on Friday, 17th April was opened by OR Paul Bircher (pictured below), who rowed for Great Britain in the 1948 Olympics and came up from Somerset to open the 'People of the Thames' Exhibition. 1948 was a great year for the Old Radleian. After Henley Royal Regatta, Paul (whose portrait is also in the show: see below, with ACJ) and his crew were chosen to represent Great Britain in the Olympics at Henley. The crews raced three abreast over 2,000 metres. They managed to get to the final, only to be beaten by the Americans.

From the great and the good to artisans, Jil Orpen's diverse subjects have strong connections to the river and Orpen’s photographs seek to portray its significance to each.

Included are Christopher Drury, a past winner of the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race; Corrie Starling, the flour miller at the Domesday watermill at Mapledurham and Crayfish Bob, a conservationist who traps edible American Signal crayfish, to prevent them from wiping out the native White Clawed crayfish population, to name a few.

Most of the photographs are accompanied by recorded interviews.

Throughout history, musicians and artists have expressed the Thames’ inspirational character. Clive Francis, actor and chairman of the Trustees of Garrick’s Temple at Hampton, tells how David Garrick, who built it in 1756 as a homage to Shakespeare, used it to read his books, learn his lines, and write his plays. “I can imagine him sitting there listening to the sound of the water and the whole joy of river life, as we do today. The tranquility and peace of the river to a man of his position working in London, to come away and just relax must have been lovely for him.”

Photographed rowing beneath Brunel’s Moulsford Viaduct, Andrew Stinchcombe-Gillies describes it thus: ’What I love the most about the River is its moods. The fact that it can change so vastly from one day to the next, depending on either the rain the night before, the wind, or the changing colour of the sky. It’s just an amazing place to be.To me the most special times on the River are first thing in the morning, especially on a very cold winter’s morning where some parts are even frozen, maybe down to minus 6, 7 or 8 degrees. You hit the water, your hands are frozen but the water’s dead calm and the sun is just starting to creep up right into your eye-line. It’s quite difficult to see. The river feels like it is sleeping, with me in the rowing boat trying to seek that perfect stroke. You almost try not to wake the river up.”

Orpen herself recalls reading that author Jon Berry wrote: ‘Rivers can, when allowed, flow through a man’s dreams and beneath the skin, into his blood and straight to the dark core of his heart. Rivers are not a mere act of geology. They are viral’. Eight exhibitions later she is used to such emotions.

Music was provided by Will Dodd (below).

The Sewell Centre Gallery, Radley College, Oxfordshire, OX14 2HR April 17th-May15th. Opening hours - 10.00-4.00p.m.

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