NAME Sebastien & Louise

JOB Documentary Photographers

WEBSITE Sebastien & Louise

PROJECT An Uneasy Paradise – Living on the Waterways

After an 18 month journey around the canals of Britain, Sebastien and Louise returned to a boating community on the Kennet & Avon Canal  to shoot a long term photography project about life afloat.

Sebastien and Louise Tickner are UK based travel photographers who’ve spent most of the last 20 years travelling and photographing around South Asia. Equipped with a Rolleiflex each and a folding darkroom, Sebastien and Louise made a living by shooting, printing and selling their work as they travelled.

More recently, they’ve been living on their narrowboat, traveling the canals of Britain, photographing, printing in their floating darkroom and using the boat as a mobile gallery to sell their work.

They’ve just self-published a beautiful book of photographs – An Uneasy Paradise: Living on the Waterways – about their life on the canal.


Travel photography as a way of life

Do you work as a team or do you work separately?

Louise We work very much as a team. We’ve both got Rolleiflex cameras, so we’re always out with them. But then there’ll be occasions when only one of us has brought a camera so we’ll share it. Sometimes when we get the film back we can’t remember who took a particular shot, so it’s extremely collaborative.

Sebastien Sometimes when we go out, one of us has got black and white and the other one has got colour film. But for some reason that day, it’s a colour day and neither of us can see any black and white images, so we”ll share the camera with the colour film.

How would you describe the kind of photography you do?

Sebastien I guess it’s a passion and I think I’m speaking for Louise as well, we can’t really live without it. We do make a living from it – we’ve always sold, we go around the world, and we sell pictures. When we were in India, we used to travel with an enlarger and we’d travel from town to town taking pictures, and every now and then we’d setup a dark room in the guest house we were staying in and print. Then the next day we’d go out into the street and sell pictures, and that kept us moving for 10 years in India.

Then when we got the boat we turned the outside of it into an exhibition space to sell pictures wherever we were.

A long term photography project

How did the project come about?

Louise When we came back to the UK after 10 years away, we found our boat and we settled near Bath, in a wonderful community. Then we started to realise that the community was under threat and it felt important to start putting some pictures together. It felt like it could be our contribution towards helping people understand this way of life, and see that it’s very beautiful, and it’s very sustainable.

Where did the title “An Uneasy Paradise – Life on the Waterways” come from? 

Louise I guess it evolved out of a lot of conversations with people we were photographing who asked, what’s the book going to be about? And we’d say, it’s about this community, it’s such a beautiful way of life but it’s under threat and it’s under pressure.

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Documentary photography from within the community

How did you go about it?

Sebastien We started by taking pictures of people’s boats, and once we’d printed them, we’d go back and show them the pictures or give them a print. So they’d gain some trust in what we’re doing and understand that we’re not dropping in, taking a picture and then trying to sell it to a newspaper.

Louise  And I think that was a reason we particularly wanted to self publish. I remember standing at the sink a few times thinking, that if a publisher wanted it, even a really really fantastic one, how would I feel? And I always came back to the feeling that it wouldn’t be right. It needs to be from within this community and not be taken over by something bigger.

Self-publishing a photobook

 Once you decided you were going to publish a book, what was the process?

Louise We really liked the idea of following the seasons but when we were looking at the work we might find that we didn’t have enough on autumn, and then you’ve got to wait a year until you get another chance to take more. So it took a while to get enough images that we were happy with.

Sebastien Then because we live in such a small space on the boat, we worked with the contact sheets – we put them up around the cabin, and split the book up into the chapters of the seasons. We’d stare at them for months, we’d slowly take an image off, put an image on and get a feel for the kind of palette of colours to put together.

Louise Once we were happy with that, we went to London and we printed it all in the darkroom at Photofusion. So that took a while but it was a wonderful experience because if we thought, I can’t be bothered to print that one, you realise that it’s not worth having in the book.

Then the proofing process for the book was exhausting. We did great big B1 scatter sheets with as many images as we could fit on, and then tried matching them with the actual prints, to try and get the colour the same as from the darkroom. We worked with a company called Park Communications in London, they were amazing.

Selling & distributing a photobook

 How did you decide on the price?

Louise We tried very hard to keep the price under £20 because we wanted to be able to give it out to everyone that’s in it and share it amongst this community and we couldn’t have done that if it was too expensive. We also wanted to make it affordable for anybody that wants to buy it so we didn’t want to put it in the kind of £40 bracket. We printed 1500 copies.

So what’s your distribution plan for it?

Sebastien Initially we focused locally and we got it into local book shops and it’s been selling really well and we’ve had to restock them all three or four times.

Since lock down, with bookshops closed, we’ve got them into health food shops and local places along the canal. We also made flyers and posted them to all the houses around the canal. And that works – you do your run and on the way put leaflets through people’s letter boxes and then that evening you get lots of emails from the places you leafleted.

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