The Unknown River

Words and images by Tanya Houghton

By September 15, 2021The Collective

“A million cascade brooks unite to form a thousand torrent creeks; a thousand torrent creeks unite to form half a hundred rivers beset with cataracts; half a hundred roaring rivers unite to from the Colorado, which rolls, a mad, turbid stream, into the gulf of California”

– J. W Powell 1869

An Unknown River is the first chapter in Houghton’s latest body of work exploring the romance of the Colorado River. Drawing on themes of exploration, time and spiritual ecology the work is inspired by the journals of John Wesley Powell.

In 1869 John Wesley Powell set off on a government-funded expedition to explore the Utah canyons of the Colorado River. Powell and his men spent three months travelling down the rapids of the Colorado River documenting the canyons, places and native people living along the river’s banks. Powell’s journals provide some of the most detailed and poetic accounts of the canyons to date.

Flowing from the Rocky Mountains down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Colorado River has shaped the American landscape. Providing a large percentage of America’s drinking water, the river has been manipulated by humans into vast lakes and reservoirs, bleeding into the surrounding landscape. Over the course of history, the fast flowing river has carved out vast deep canyons through the land. To be in the presence of the canyons is to be able to look back in time, to see signs of civilisation slip away, bathed in the pure sounds of the river, allowing the constructs of time to wash over and away from you.

Every year the canyons attract a huge number of visitors to the National Parks and surrounding areas. Pulled by the flow of the rivers calling, they are dwarfed by the immense scale of the river’s canyon home. The desire to capture, climb, swim, paddle and camp all over, a natural playground for rewilding, provides visitors with an experience largely untouched by the development of humankind. Through the landscapes grandeur they are able to take a small piece of the rivers wild spirted experience home with them.

The rivers cool blue waters contrast with the red land burning bright, sunsets paint wide open spaces, the earth falls away, confronted by the echoes of time layered in the surrounding rocks, stories of the past woven into the fabric of the landscape, existing long before us the river will continue to flow and outlive us in every way.

Tanya Houghton

Tanya Houghton

Tanya Houghton (B.1985,UK) is a photographer and interdisciplinary artist based in London, drawn to wild remote landscapes around the world her work explores the human connection these spaces and the imprint of stories across the land. she employs photography, video and sound to compose her narratives. Houghton holds a BA(Hons) from the London University of Arts and an M.A in Photography and Urban Cultures from Goldsmiths University, she is a member of the Urban Photographers Association and Equal Lens. Her work has seen recognition from various awarding bodies including; in 2015 by The British Journal of Photography Break through award, in 2016 by The D&AD for the Next Global Photographer, in 2017 by Organ Vida festival for the New Citizens category, Reclaim Festival Professional Award 2017 & in 2019 her work was shortlisted for the La Fabrica x Photo London Dummy. Recent exhibitions include, Songlines of the Here+Now solo show at Argentea Gallery 2018, Charting the invisible II at P31 Gallery in Lisbon 2018 and Charting the invisible I at the APT Gallery in 2017. Urban Photo Festival Artist in 2017. Houghton has been a recipient of recent funding to develop her practice, in 2020 The Arts Council England, 2020 La Wayaka Current Residency and 2020 The Eaton Fund for women. The Songlines of the HERE+NOW is the first book from Houghton published through The Lost Light Recordings. For this project in 2018 Houghton travelled 10,500km across the Australian outback, inspired by Aboriginal Songlines. The work aims to draw parallels between the past and the present, through listening to the language of the landscape and is a homage to the First Nations Peoples of Australia.