Photograph: Sam Napper

The still, murky waters of the Lee Navigation may provide a bucolic escape for some, though they are far from immune to the vicissitudes of city life.

Pollution has taken its toll on plants and wildlife, hulking new-builds cast shadows over the banks of the water, while boat dwellers on this 45km-stretch, running from Hertfordshire through East London to Limehouse Basin, are finding permanent moorings increasingly difficult to come by.

Photographer Sam Napper is trying to make permanent records of life on the Lee Navigation as it is now. His Leaside photography series goes on display this month at Leyas in Camden.

“It’s a wilderness in London and the other canals are not like that,” says the 29-year-old, a keen explorer of the canals who moved to East London five years ago.

“As you get further out of London the Lee Navigation becomes more rural, even though it’s still in London, whereas Regent’s Canal and the other ones are very urban spaces.”

After spending weeks on the towpath taking photographs, Napper developed a rapport with some of the people living on boats.
“A lot of the people I met were complaining about licences being removed, mooring spaces being privatised… a lot of people were upset but my slant is that it’s a way of life to be celebrated.

“One guy who moved there with his family has just celebrated his first year on the canal. He said to me that you know you can ‘do a canal’ when you’ve done a full season, because winter is so harsh.”

Napper’s photographs capture life on the canal in all its variety, from the joggers and plushy marshland to the bankside remains of Britain’s industrial past.

“It’s a real mix of people in there and I’m not coming from it just from the point of view of people on the canal boats. They’re a big part of the community but it’s just as important for people who want to use it for leisure,” Napper says.

A film and TV producer by day, Napper describes his photography style as “reportage” and observational.

“I really like finding a unique subject and trying to make it isolated and symmetrical so it feels like a whole new environment that no one’s ever seen before,” he says.

Leaside
Saturday 15 August
Leyas
20 Camden High Street
London
NW1

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