Chiswick photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten wins major award for her photographs of the Thames

Image above: ‘Ophelia’ by Julia Fullerton-Batten

Gold prize in the Association of Photographers Awards project category

Chiswick fine art photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten has won a gold prize in the Association of Photographers awards for her photographs of the River Thames.

‘Old Father Thames’ was a series of photographs in which she reimagined scenes from the river’s history, recreating them with elaborate care, sometimes standing waist-deep in water, balancing her camera, laptop and lighting equipment and directing up to a hundred people on her set.

The project includes recreations of Millais’ Ophelia and Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, as well as the 1928 flooding of the Tate Museum and the stranding of a whale in 2006.

Julia was up against stiff competition in the ‘project’ category. Judge Eliza Williams said:

“the quality of work was extremely strong with a wide variety of subjects; everything from sort of documentary to work that verged into art and conceptual work. It made the judging harder, but it’s always good to have to judge between really strong work.”

Julia talked to The Chiswick Calendar about the Old Father Thames project when she was still working on it in 2018, and showed two of the series in our  exhibition ‘Chiswick Through the Camera Lens’ at the Clayton Hotel.

‘The stories encompass birth, baptism, death, suicide, messages in a bottle, riverside scavenging youngsters, quaint ancient boats, prison ships (‘hulks’), and include other melodramatic episodes of life and death in and along the Thames’ she told us.

Here are some of the pictures and below them the stories as she describes them.

Annette Kellerman – Swam the River Thames

Annette Kellerman was an Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville star, film actress, writer, and business owner. She arrived in the UK in 1905 aged 19, with the goal to swim the English Channel, she failed three times. However, she became the first woman ever to swim any distance on the Thames.

She swam from Putney to Blackwall, a distance of 27km. On these occasions she wore a one-piece bathing suit that she had self-designed. This was very daring and controversial as, at that time women still wore bloomers and long sleeve dresses.

Her daring apparel was duly noted and became headlines in the UK press. Two years later she was arrested in the USA for indecency as she continued her fight for the right of women to wear a fitted one-piece bathing suit above the knee.

The Thames Whale

In January 2006, a juvenile female northern bottlenose whale was found swimming in the River Thames in central London. Approximately five metres long, she weighed about seven tonnes. Her normal habitat would have been on the coast of the far north of Scotland and Northern Ireland, or in the Arctic Ocean.

It was the first time a whale had ever been seen in the River Thames since records began in 1913. Sadly, the whale died the next day from a seizure as she was being rescued. Her skeleton is now exhibited at the Natural History Museum.

Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson gained worldwide recognition and became the heroine of the British population, especially among womenfolk, when, in 1930 aged 27, she became the first female pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia. Her plane was a second-hand de Havilland Gipsy Moth bi-plane. She named it Jason. It now hangs in the Science Museum in London.

She subsequently set records for flights to Moscow, New York and Tokyo, and survived several crash-landings in doing so. As well as gaining her incredible pilot credentials she graduated from Sheffield University with a Bachelor Degree in Economics.

In 1940, at the outbreak of WW II, with 164 other female pilots, she signed up with the newly formed Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). Their job was to ferry military aircraft, fighters and bombers, single-handedly to various RAF bases around the country.

‘My image illustrates the tragic death of this remarkable woman. She lost her way flying a plane in bad weather from the North of England to a base near Oxford. She had to bail out of her plane when it ran out of fuel over the Thames Estuary.

‘A minesweeper close by saw her enter the rough sea on her parachute and attempted to rescue her. The boat’s commandant jumped overboard, but was unsuccessful. He died two days later from hypothermia. Amy’s body was never found.’

Swan Upping

Swan Upping became important back in the Middle Ages in Britain. Back then, not only was the mute swan a valuable commodity and regularly traded between noblemen, but swan owners were legally bound by the Crown to mark their swans with nicks in their beaks. This activity took place annually in a ceremony called “swan upping”.

Although now largely symbolic, the event still takes place today on the Monday of the third week in July, and serves to monitoring the condition and number of swans on the Thames. The year’s new cygnets can be marked when they are reasonably well grown but cannot yet fly.

Baptisms along the Thames

Baptism is a very important activity in those faiths immersed in New Testament belief. It is a public affirmation of faith, and is done before a group of people who witness the candidate’s confession of faith in Jesus Christ. It is the rite in the Christian Church by which immersion in water symbolises the washing away of sins and admission into the Church.

For many centuries full immersion baptisms were performed by Baptists in the non-tidal section of the River Thames upstream from London. It was one of the more ancient rituals on the river. Several hundred people would congregate to watch the open-air ceremony.

‘My image was shot in the ancient town of Cricklade in Wiltshire 100 miles distant from London where the ceremony still took place on a space known as Hatchett’s Ford at the beginning of the twentieth century. Even today baptism ceremonies take place along the Thames on personal request.’

Image above: ‘Tower Beach’, where bathers used to paddle, sunbathe and swim, 1934 to 1971

One of the leading fine art photographers in the UK

Becoming a self-employed Fine Art photographer is a fairly high risk strategy but it has paid off, as Julia is now described by prominent art critics as one of the leading fine-art photographers in the UK.

Her long string of prestigious awards includes the prestigious HSBC Fondation pour le Photographie in 2007 and the European Photography, 100th Anniversary, 100 pictures that tell a story, (for ‘Marina’, Feral Children) 2016.

Her work has been exhibited all over the world, in Tokyo, Korea, China, USA and Peru as well as Europe. She has a permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery in London and at the Musee del’Elysee, Lausanne, Switzerland. Her images were on the front cover of ‘A Guide to Collecting Contemporary Photography’ (Thames and Hudson, 2012). Her limited edition prints sell for up to £15,000.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar