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‘20% of rivers in England and Wales are classed as being in an unhealthy state’.[1]​

As a nation we are failing our waterways. The waterways that carry nutrients around all areas of the country, act as draining channels to prevent flooding and provide habitats for many organisms.


The water sector in the UK was privatised in 1989 and was taken over by 10 water companies, overseen by one economic regulator, Ofwat. Ofwat’s main focus was to improve efficiency, keep customer bills low and profit high. This short-term, profit-driven approach led to many detrimental and long-term effects on our water whilst leaving the environment in a worsening state for the next generation.


Increasing urbanisation is also changing the landscape. Development on absorbent green spaces has resulted in pressures on the sewerage system; the rain can no longer be soaked into the Earth, instead it just runs off of hard surfaces back into the sewers.[1] It is important that the water companies start taking these factors into account and act as custodians of the environment. Water is essential for our survival and rivers are a vital source of fresh drinking water; when water becomes polluted we are in dangerous territory. 


To explore water pollution, documentary photographer Eva Falk-Drake, has used Direct Positive Photographic Paper loaded into 5x4 camera. The direct positive prints were made on the waterways around Cardiff, where she lives, and then coloured with acrylic paint. The colour base of the photographs correlates with the pH of the water sampled, which is an indicator of the pollution level.


“Extremes in pH can make a river inhospitable to life and low pH is especially harmful to immature fish and insects. Acidic water also speeds the leaching of heavy metals harmful to fish.”[1]


Pollution is a major cause of pH fluctuation with acid rain being one of main examples of damaging human influence. Acid rain is produced by the combination of nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and other acid compounds, which react adversely with water. These emissions usually come from mining or fossil fuel combustion. [2] Direct Positive Paper was used as it requires a specific pH when being developed (pH 7-10) and if not developed in those conditions will not achieve the desired effect.



[1] Blackburn, H, O’Neill, R and Rangeley-Wilson, C. (2017) Flush Away: How Sewage is Still Polluting the Rivers of England and Wales. Available at: (Accessed 29.09.20)

[2] Fondriest Environment. (2013) pH of Water. Available at: (Accessed: 18.10.20)

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