‘St Davids is a city founded on the desire for seclusion. As the United Kingdom’s smallest city, both in terms of size and population, it shelters on the most westerly tip of Wales, surrounded on three sides by vast expanses of open water, where the last shards of land stand strong against the crashing waves and perilous currents of The Bitches. It is a landscape that has been shaped by nature and in turn has shaped the inhabitants of this community, who have learnt to live and adapt to its remote geographical location in quiet solidarity.
The writer, Thomas Mann saw in solitude something that “gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous”. The return to my hometown after four years away has enabled me to consider St Davids and its people through fresh eyes, examining their relationship with the landscape and the connections and fellowships that have formed within this tight knit community. The people that live there have a connection with one another that goes far beyond just a postcode. They have a patriotism for the place. This book aims to give voice to some of the individuals that inhabit the landscape, and the stories they have to tell’.
What is your relationship to St Davids and why did you undertake this work?
I have lived in St Davids since the age of three, but having spent the majority of the past four years away at University, I came back to the area as if with a brand new pair of eyes. I was revisiting the places that I had grown up and had completely taken for granted, with a new sense of understanding and appreciation. Growing up in such a secluded part of the world had its positives and its negatives, and for me it didn’t really offer what I wanted out of life. The project all started with my neighbour Dai and my relationship with him. He has spent his entire life living within a three-mile radius of where he grew up, with no real interest of living anywhere else. For him, St Davids offered everything he wanted in life, and he used to tell me all about his life and his experiences growing up here. This project was an exploration of my relationship with the place that I grew up, and how it has impacted not just my life, but the lives of every individual that lives there, and my changed perception that came as a result.
Is St Davids being so secluded reflected in your photographs?
St Davids is about as far West in the UK as it is possible to go. I remember whenever my dad used to give people directions when they came to visit us he would say, “Just keep going West until you reach the sea. If you hit Ireland, you’ve gone to far.” It is a very secluded place in terms of its geographical location and amenities, but I don’t think socially it is a secluded place to live. Everyone here looks out for one another and there is a very tight community. I think it would be difficult to feel completely isolated and alone in such a small community.
St Davids, and Pembrokeshire in general, is a very beautiful and picturesque part of the world, and so it can be very easy to fall into taking quite clichéd images. Of course, images are cliché for a reason and that is because they are aesthetically pleasing, but I wanted my images to show a different side to St Davids that goes beyond just the natural beauty of the landscape and show something that people won’t have necessarily seen before. I wanted my project to focus on the people that live within the landscape, and how it has impacted them and their lives. I wanted to show an alternative viewpoint of St Davids from my perspective having grown up there, and one that I think, is a more truthful representation of the place. Whether that has been a success or not, I don’t know.
Who are the people in your photographs?
Living in such a small community of less than 2000 people, you tend to know pretty much everyone there to some extent, but I think that photography is an incredibly powerful tool that can, at times, break down barriers between people and enable you to have a connection with them that you wouldn’t have if the camera were absent. The majority of the people that feature in the project I know, whether that be on a personal level or just by recognizing their face, but with each person that I have photographed I learned something completely new about them and about the community, which I think has really made me appreciate St Davids a lot more. Every person has a story to tell, and I see it as my responsibility as a photographer to tell their story and capture their lives in this moment of time.
What did you experience by photographing your hometown?
Coming back to St Davids and spending a prolonged period of time there, having spent the past four years in big cities where there are thousands and thousands of people and so many opportunities, has made me view the place in a completely different light. It is a surreal thing photographing the places that you have grown up with, with the intention of creating a body of work. Ordinary things like housing estates and parks that before I would just pass by without a second thought, I began to view in a very different way and I began questioning everything. I was learning new things about the place I grew up that before I knew nothing about – folk laws, UFO sightings and original plans that saw Brunnel’s Great Western Railway terminating there. It was fascinating to learn so much about the area and to hear the stories that people had to tell.
Are you aware of other photographers who have worked in St Davids?
Ed Sykes is currently working on a fascinating project, ‘The Witnesses’, based on events in 1977 in an area of Pembrokeshire approximately 15 miles away from St Davids that became to be known as The Broadhaven Triangle. Across the region people saw strange lights in the sky, UFOs and alien figures in the landscape, and the project examines these anomalies and the paranormal narratives that captured the publics imagination 40 years ago. It is an ongoing project and is certainly something to watch out for.
Do you have any future plans for the work?
I don’t really consider the project to be finished. I have photographed 48 people over the course of the project, but there are 1891 people living in St Davids. Once I have photographed them all and heard all their stories, that is when I will consider the project finished.