Photographing London’s Boathouse Hippies

Anna Pantelia

Anna Pantelia's portraits capture what life is like for people who have traded in apartments for houseboats.

I moved to London from Greece in May 2014, hungry for stories from the capital of Europe. In my mind, London was a metropolis—a financial center as well as a birthplace of art and fashion. Soon, I realized that the city was also quirkier than I imagined.

I was walking around Camden Town on a sunny Sunday morning, when I saw the boathouses parked along the riverside. For the next few weeks, I wondered what it would be like to live in one of those boats but also why on Earth anyone would chose to do that in the first place.

I started looking into the subject just before last Christmas. While tracking down the boats was rather easy, talking to the boaters was not. They don't have a permanent address or wifi, so it's hard to track these guys down.

After a bit of digging, I found Yann—a young musician who also works in the entertainment industry. We went out for couple of drinks and chatted about the difficulties of living in London and our future plans. Meeting Yann made me even more curious about life on the boats. A few weeks later, he invited me to his houseboat for tea and some photos. I was in. In the following days, I was introduced to other boaters who were happy to be photographed for my project.

Every one of them had a unique story. My favorite subjects were Andy and Emily, a young couple who met when Emily was studying in Manchester. When she decided to move to London—where rents are soaring—she decided to rent a boat as it would be cheaper than a flat. It turned out to be more exciting too. For Andy and Emily, living on a boat is a lifestyle choice, not a last resort.

Similarly, Marie-Ann and her husband decided to leave the apartment they had been living in for 15 years, randomly, during a slightly drunken night. They bought their boat on eBay.

London's Water Hippies is potentially an ongoing project. However, I have no idea where I'll be in two months time. Between March 21–24, my work will be exhibited in NEC in Birmingham as part of Magnum Photos' 30 Under 30 exhibition, which looks at the best emerging documentary photographers internationally. Besides that, unfortunately my future as a photographer seems uncertain—who knows when the next opportunity will come along?

See more of Anna's work here.

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