Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer

Barge portraits: A window into life on the Regent’s canal [photoessay]

Photographer Rose Palmer’s portraits of boat owners shot through their windows encapsulate the cocoon-like cosiness of a narrowboat on chilly autumn evenings.

When Rose Palmer, a documentary producer and photographer who has worked for Economist Films, moved to Mile End in the middle of the pandemic, she became intrigued with the canal boats on her many walks along Regent’s Canal while she was on maternity leave.

She explains the genesis of her idea to take photos of people inside their houseboats from outside their window: ‘My husband cycles to work along the canal and he mentioned one day that he liked peeking through the window at people settling down for the evening on their boats.’

And so this project captures houseboat dwellers in their quiet evening routines through their window panes. Taken during November, Palmer wanted to capture the cosy feeling of being huddled in the warmth of being indoors during the colder months.

‘I wanted to capture intimate scenes of people’s autumn evenings on the boats. The project worked well because I took the photos while social distancing and through a barrier of glass, so everyone felt comfortable.’

To get these photos, Palmer knocked on the doors of canal boat homes and asked if she could take their photos through their windows. ‘Almost everyone said yes, which I wasn’t expecting!’ She says.

‘It has been a strange and quite a lonely time to be on maternity leave, especially the last few weeks while we’ve all been locked down again. I’ve been able to bring [the baby] along when I take photos and have found it refreshing to be able to speak to new people.’

These photos are a delicate interplay of light reflecting on windows, which was no easy task as she had to find the right time of day to get the lighting right.

‘Too early in the afternoon and there were too many reflections on the window, and too late and the low light made it really challenging. So I found the best time was just before dusk and I liked how at that time you get the contrast of the warm light inside the boat with the cooler light outside.’

See the full photoessay below. And you can find more of Rose Palmer’s photography on her website and on Instagram.

Sitting - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Reading a book - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Enjoying a cup of tea - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Cooking - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Working at the laptop - a view through the window of canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Doing the crossword - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Preparing a meal - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Knitting - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Doing art - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Looking at mobile - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer
Cuddling the dog - a window into canal boats on Regent's Canal, by photographer Rose Palmer
Canal boat windows. Photography by Rose Palmer

If you like this article, you might also enjoy these photographs of how our area changed during lockdown.

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