Waplington’s most recent photo book captures Londoners at leisure during a blistering summer of soaring temperatures, football, and political upheaval
Nick Waplington visited a secluded swimming spot on the River Lea, Hackney, in the blistering summer of 2018. With its sloping, shady banks and shallow depths, the stream provided an oasis for flocks of bathers searching for a respite from the city heat. “It is very close to my studio. People in the pub were talking about it and my oldest son,” he remembers. “One day, I got on my bike and went up there.” It was a Sunday and the waters were teeming with people. Waplington was captivated and made some pictures but it was not until he returned the following week that he recognised the subject’s real potential.
The spot had emptied out and Waplington observed his surroundings. The photographer watched as the sky clouded over casting a strange light across the gloomy water. The river’s shadowy surface dappled with sunlight conjured up works of art by the luminaries of British landscape painting — from Constable to Turner. “I thought it was something that could make aesthetically interesting pictures, which were organically referencing various parts of art history,” reflects Waplington. “This, coupled with the fact that it was a super hot summer and the atmosphere was good. All these things fell into place and I realised I had something that was worth pursuing.”
Waplington spent the next five to six weeks frequenting the spot and taking pictures, which are now published as a book — Hackney Riviera. “It is wonderful when you stumble across something and you have to drop everything else to pursue it,” he says. A middle-aged man standing among scantily-clad swimmers could have proved problematic, but, on the whole, the photographer found that people were welcoming. His images do not feel voyeuristic rather we get the sense that Waplington is part of the scene. The subjects depicted appear oblivious to his presence; his photographs catch them off-guard and we are given a direct insight into their experience.
“It is wonderful when you stumble across something and you have to drop everything else to pursue it”
Along with the extreme weather, the summer of 2018 will be remembered for the FIFA World Cup and the political chaos leading up to the original Brexit deadline. Waplington’s series is the antithesis of the negativity associated with the latter. “I have a history of making work with a positive dynamic about Britain,” says Waplington, referencing his Living Room project, which cast an alternative perspective on the lives of dispossessed residents living in the same Nottingham housing estate as his paternal relatives. Waplington hopes that his images will not be constrained by their subject-matter. “They work on many levels and are about many things,” he explains. “As any good body of work should, it transcends what it is actually physically about.”
Hackney Riviera is published by Jesus Blue.