Things have a strange way of bubbling up in the public consciousness. Until about six months ago, I had barely heard the word “mudlarking”, imagining, if pushed, the kind of ragged kiddos one might encounter in a Dickensian tale. Then suddenly it was everywhere. Jeweler Ruth Tomlinson was scouring the Thames for treasure to form the basis of a collection of offerings she discarded at high tide; Lara Maiklem’s books on the subject have climbed the bestseller lists; then I received an email from photography duo Hill & Aubrey asking if I might be interested in a fashion story they wanted to shoot at the annual Richmond “draw-off”. Ever since I lived on a houseboat for a short stay at Chelsea Wharf in the 1990s, the tidal patterns of the capital’s main waterway weren’t so fresh in my mind.
The drawdown, when the river is drained between Richmond and Teddington locks, only lasts a few weeks, so the decision to undertake filming was quickly made. Hill & Aubrey worked with our Style Director Isabelle Kountoure and model Phoebe Matthews to organize a shoot last November, a freezing and muddy endeavor for which they were rewarded with exceptional autumn light. The banks of the Thames tell an extraordinary story: look closely and they reveal centuries of urban life. Half of the partnership, James Aubrey, captures his fascination with water in the short piece that accompanies the shoot. In the meantime, for this week FT weekend podcast I headed across London to Rotherhithe with Lara Maiklem to find out why the business of bounty hunting by the Thames, first popularized in the 18th and 19th centuries by some of the people poorest people in London, was rediscovered by a new generation of larks in 2022.
Country, the philosophy observed by the Australian Aboriginal community for centuries, is also experiencing a resurgence. As in all indigenous culture, artists do not need recognition from Western galleries, exhibitions and collectors to legitimize their practice, but the attention paid to talents such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Daniel Walbidi and Angelina Pwerle has much helped educate us. on the meaning of Country and its precepts. We are also extremely grateful to Steve Martin, an art collector who has championed the brilliance of Aboriginal art for years. The actor and comedian let us photograph him with some of his favorite acquisitions, works he rightly thinks should hang alongside Agnes Martin and Jackson Pollock in the contemporary art canon.
There may not be any Aboriginal art in the home of Pedro Girao, chairman of Christie’s International Advisory Board, and her husband, interior designer Damian Byrnes, but it contains dozens of rooms that tell the story of art – from a wall hanging by Alexander Calder to Japanese temple flowers of the Meiji period. Pedro came to London from Portugal as a teenager in 1976 and built his life here. Damian is Australian by birth. Reading their story, written by Fiona Golfar, I wonder where British cultural life is heading. Are people still drawn to the capital as they once were? Who now looks at Britain as a teenager and dreams of making it their home? As only a quick sweep of the Thames reveals, millions of immigrants and travelers from hundreds of nationalities passed through or found themselves in this strange, often toxic and utterly magical big city. I hope the same multiculturalism will infuse London for many tides to come.
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