When I first moved to Wales just over a year ago I became better acquainted with the work of Dylan Thomas, poems like ‘And death shall have dominion’, ‘Do not go gentle into that dark night’ and ‘Foster the light’ seemed to resonate within me. My grandmothers side of the family are Welsh and trips from England would always be an exciting occasion for my brother and I. The bright lights of the Port Talbot steel works would fill me with anticipation, I was soon to arrive at my Grandmothers house and be reunited with family I rarely saw in England. We would visit Swansea sometimes and reading Thomas’s words brought back memories of Wales, my childhood and the sea.
‘And death shall have no dominion’s’ bold denial of deaths triumph over the human spirit made me want to find a way to explore the poem through photographs. These photographs are a celebration of human spirit and the ‘ugly lovely town’ that Thomas so loved to hate. I’m interested in the exploration of place and finding a way to translate elements of history into photographs that also speak about the current social and physical landscape of the location.
I met Kyle (above) down Wind street by Salubrious passage, where Dylan Thomas and his friends would heat pennies on the fire and throw them out the window above, playing cruel pranks on those who walked through the passage below.
I’d started the project with the intention of focusing solely on the city of Swansea but as I started to venture out around the Gower Peninsula it felt as if the sea needed to be a reoccurring theme in this work just as it was in the work of Thomas. He was supposedly given the name Dylan by his father because it meant ‘son of the sea’ and the more I read the poem and walked around the Gower the more I felt I needed to include the landscape and the sea that inspired some of his most famous works.
As I started to work my way around the Gower, photographs like the one above of the statue commemorating the death of lifeboatmen drowned at sea seemed to relate to the idea of memorial. Lines from the poem such as ‘Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again’, started to form a connection with the photographs I was taking.
At the beginning of the project I had not intended on making direct references to Thomas himself but as the project started to draw to and end I visited Laugharne, the town where he and his family lived before leaving for America. I photographed his former home, writing shed and the grave of him and his wife Caitlin Thomas. These photographs in turn also related back to the themes of the poem and I felt as though I had now finished my exploration of the poem through my photographs.
I’m currently in my second year studying Documentary Photography at Newport. Work from ‘And death shall have no dominion’ has been exhibited at Newport University alongside the work of my peers.
James O Jenkins