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Transformations: The Lea/Lee an Exhibition at City Hall in London
South Marsh (2005) Photo: Philip Jessup

LONDON.- In a long-term visual survey, the Canadian photographer, Philip Jessup (see, is documenting the remains of wilderness in the watersheds of several large cities, including Toronto and London.

The exhibit opened on May 12, 2008 at City Hall in London, TRANSFORMATIONS: THE LEA/LEE, displays the London phase of Jessup's survey - the natural and engineered features of the Lea River and Lee Navigation Channel extending from the M25 to the Thames River.

The 2012 Olympics will usher in the next major transformation of the Lea/Lee. From Hackney Marsh to the Bow River, London’s plan for the Olympic site will restore derelict areas, create 40,000 new homes, improve walking/bicycling paths, and enhance green open space. As the landscape of the Lea/Lee continues to evolve, this exhibit documents the ever changing face of this important urban watershed.

The Lea/Lee watershed offered Jessup a rich visual palette stemming from multiple cycles of industrialization, decay, urbanization, and renewal. During 2005/6, he was able to spend considerable time hiking in and photographing the watershed.

London is a city of canals. Unlike other canals in London, however, the Lee Navigation Channel is a canalised river, a natural watercourse that has been engineered since the River Lea Act of 1766 to accommodate boat traffic to and from industrial and manufacturing centres as London grew. In a few places south of the M25 places, the Lea River still flows free of the Lee Navigation Channel, for instance, around Hackney Marsh. But in most places, navigation trumped the natural features of the old river.

Today, the Lea/Lee encompasses a broad spectrum of uses. These include Thames Water’s London reservoir system; pumping stations; overhead power lines; motorways; grazing sheep; a wide range of industry, including remnants of ancient four mills; new condominium and low-rise housing developments; film studios; and flood control infrastructure. Commercial traffic ended in the 1980s. Today narrow boats carry tourists or residents rather than coal.

The photo exhibit will be accompanied by screenings of filmmaker Paul Kelly’s homage to the Lea, What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?

Philip Jessup is a Toronto-based artist steeped in the photographic landscape tradition. He specializes in surveys that explore the dynamic interactions between human development and the natural environment. Parallel to the urban watershed project, Phil began a survey of the impact of climate change on landscape in 2007, photographing early spring melting in an Inuit community in Canada’s far north, Pond Inlet. The urban landscape survey continues in 2008 with visits to New York (the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn) and Shanghai (the Suzou River and its tributaries). Jessup’s work is represented in the collections of corporate and private collectors in Toronto and London, as well as the V&A Museum in London. In addition to his artistic career as a photographer, Jessup directs the City of Toronto’s climate agency and consults worldwide on municipal climate mitigation strategies.

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