Swans of London

Last year I set myself the task of seeing if I could photograph a swan in every borough in London. As I had taken quite a few photos of swans recently for my Cygnus themed works, and I love travelling around London discovering new places, this seemed like a natural progression for my project. Maybe it will eventually turn into everywhere in London you can find a swan, but this is perhaps a bit hopefull as they move around!

I already had quite a lot for Westminster, as there are so many in the major parks, such as Hyde Park and St. James’ Park, and also Southwark, as this is where I live, so I began to make a plan as to where else I could go. This mainly consisted of looking at a google map of the different boroughs and seeing where there was water where a swan could possibly be hanging out – lakes, ponds, rivers and canals essentially.

The first trip I specifically went on to do this, was a hot day in June 2022. I needed to go and collect a piece of work from a gallery in Enfield, although happily I had already snapped a swan on the river Lea here while visiting before, so although I didn’t need a swan for here, it was a good reason to go round the north west areas of London where I rarely tread. On that day I managed Walthamstow (wetlands), Redbridge (Eagle pond), Barking and Dagenham (Barking park), and Havering (Harrow Lodge park), as well as a failed attempt in Newham (Olympic park). On paper it doesn’t look that much, but in real life was quite a feat on a hot day lugging round my heavy camera and more, and relying on public transport. I nearly got stranded in Elm Park as the district line decided to fail just as I was about to head back to central London, and my phone battery was about to die, which would have left me pretty much clueless as to how to get back from the far east, in what might as well be a different country! Thankfully my phone stayed alive long enough for me to realise if I could make it to Upminster, I could get a train back to the more familiar terrain of Cannon street, and the District line still had a couple of trains going that way, so all was saved!

A couple of days after this I developed Covid for the first time (thankfully not too badly), so this put pay to any more adventures for a couple of weeks. I decided then to take it a bit more gently and not try to do all boroughs by the end of summer, which had been my original plan (I also have two part time jobs, so I have to plan trips around when I am free, as well as being weather dependent), and just do one or two boroughs at a time to make it more feasable.

So fast forward to now, 8 months on, and I have almost completed the task, at time of writing only Harrow and the City elude me. I am debating whether I can get away with a statue for City, as there is a lovely swan statue there, as well as Vintners Hall, which is the home of Swan Upping (so quite ironic it may be the one borough that I cant get a photo of a swan in!).

My next step will be to decide what to do with all these photos, as I would like to use them to make some kind of artwork/map/document of some sort. For now I will be experimenting with the cyanotype process to see if that takes me anywhere, so watch this space.

During the course of taking these photographs, bird flu has become more and more of an issue, and I am now regulalry hearing and reading stories of swans being found dead, from which bird flu seems the most likley cause, sometimes in large numbers, in London and beyond. This has made this project seem even more poignant and relevant, the thought that it is likely some of the swans I took photos of in the earler stages may have died of bird flu already. As yet there doesn’t seem to be much of an answer to this epidemic sweeping through our wild and domestic birds, lets hope that changes soon, otherwise seeing swans and other wild birds in London, something we take for granted, may become a thing of the past.