Observations, Collections, Recollections. Pete Davis: A Lifetime in Photography will open at the Gergynog Gallery at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth on 4th March.
‘The opportunity to review and exhibit six decades of work comes along very rarely for any individual, even if you are lucky, once in a lifetime. However, this is more than just a nostalgic ‘looking back’, the exhibition also contains much new work which offers a glimpse of how my photography might develop further and builds on previous ideas and themes that have interested me over the years’.
‘Ideas and attitudes to creative work alter as time progresses and reactions to particular images change as they are viewed in a different historical and social context from the ones in which they were created. This applies to my own reviewing of this work in addition to the opinions of others. Accordingly, the exhibition features a number of images, some made many decades ago that I have ‘rediscovered’ and never printed before’.
‘Most of the major bodies of work I have undertaken over the years are represented in this exhibition, in addition to images never before seen or printed. Hopefully this will allow viewers to understand my lifelong fascination with particular aspects of the world around us and to observe how I have used various photographic styles and strategies to represent these’.
‘Much of my work may appear to concentrate on the more prosaic elements of our environment; however, photography has the ability to not just represent but to reveal and re-present these in a form that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. I have always loved almost every aspect of life and our environment and it has always been my intention to capture those seemingly mundane moments and surroundings that might pass unnoticed unless observed by a sympathetic eye. These observations have then been collected into coherent bodies of work that allow for the recollections in the future’.
The large format photography of Welsh photographer Dr Pete Davis can be seen in many collections including The Arts Council of Wales, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, National Library of Wales, Museo Genna Maria, Sardinia, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Pete has been taking photographs since the age of eleven. After leaving Splott Secondary Modern School in Cardiff at the age of fifteen and working at Cardiff University, he spent ten years as an advertising and fashion photographer in Cardiff. Pete moved to rural West Wales in 1977 from where he has embarked on field trips around the British Isles, Europe and the USA with his large format camera. For eighteen years Pete was senior lecturer in documentary photography at the University of Wales, Newport and for nine of those years the course leader. Pete is currently a visiting lecturer at a number of universities and also engaged with his photographic projects and research collaborations. He has received numerous research grants and awards and was the winner of the 2002 Wakelin Purchase Prize for Welsh artists.
Recent international exhibitions have included the Festival Interceltique in Lorient, Brittany, Gallery International, Baltimore, USA, at the Feick Arts Center, Poultney, Vermont, USA and at the Fotomuseum, Antwerp. Pete was also been an artist in residence and conducted masterclasses at the Polytechnic, Porto, Portugal, Green Mountain College, Vermont, USA,and as part of the Ulster Arts Festival, Belfast. He completed his Ph.D in Fine Art at Aberystwyth University in 2009.
John Llewellyn Evans was born in 1893 in Newport, and grew up in Whitchurch, Glamorgan. A bright boy, he spent a happy childhood with his mother, father, brother and sister, attending Cardiff High School before receiving an Exhibition Scholarship to attend the Monmouth School for Boys in 1908. He left after a year, however, to work at a Bank in Cardiff. In 1913, he left his home, his family and friends, and embarked on an adventure to Canada, where he soon got a job for the Union Bank, and was appointed a position as bank clerk in Yorkton, Sasketchewan. It was this chain of events which meant that, when World War 1 broke out in 1914, the young Welshman enlisted in the Canadian Army. After a series of training programmes and recommendations, he arrived back in Europe on the SS Olympia in 1916, and, after a short stint at the Canadian Military School in Shorncliffe, Kent, was shipped to France in September of that year to join the 54 Battalion.
On St David’s Day 1917, John Llewellyn Evans fell to his death during the preparations for the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Writing to his mother, his Colonel reports that “he fell when gallantly leading on his men, and that his body was actually the furthest into the German lines of the whole of the British. It is something to be proud of to have given a son like that.”
This information about my Great Uncle was discovered by my nephew during his studies at Sandhurst. Now an Officer with the Welsh Guards, my nephew Tom organised a family pilgrimage to the Pas de Calais last March, to follow in the footsteps of John Llewellyn. We visited Vimy Ridge, his graveside at Villers au Bois, and the beautiful Ring of Remembrance memorial at Lens. The trip was incredibly moving; not one of us had known about the bravery of our ancestor, least of all my father who, on 23 March 2016, placed a single rose on his Uncle’s grave.
I was particularly taken by the land at Vimy Ridge. Now owned by Canada, the land has been left without having been farmed or interfered with. The undulating mounds covered in grass and trees bring to mind a place where magical creatures may live, but the truth is far from magical. These are the scars of shells and trenches; the battle forever embedded into the memory of the land.
No 473117; A man of the Great War began as a book for my family, as a record of this trip and as a memorial to John Llewellyn Evans. However, as I began working on it and looking back at the photographs I had taken during our time in France, it occurred to me that this was much more than a personal story. This is a story of the other 687 men who died that day; the other 3,598 who died during the Battle of Vimy in April 1917; and the other 17 million men who died during World War 1.
Each of us has our own story of an ancestor who gave his life for the future of our country 100 years ago, in the belief that he was doing was going to change the lives of future generations. The landscape of these battles tells their tale. This project is to remember all of those brave men; and to teach our children about their sacrifice.
No 473117; A man of the Great War book and accompanying exhibition launches on 24 February at The Army & Navy Club, Pall Mall, London. Register to attend here.
The Landscape of Conflict, an event exploring the nature of photographing past wars and the memory of the land, takes place on 25 February at The Army & Navy Club with Carole Evans, Andrew Youngson, Marc Wilson & Gina Glover. More details and registration here.
The exhibition will be touring to the Monmouth School for Boys in June this year.