Hirael

Garry Stuart

Hirael is a portrait of the Hirael district of Bangor in North Wales in the 1970’s by photographer Garry Stuart.

‘Between 1972 and 1976 I ran the University Photography Society, which I had renamed Photoworkshop, while being a student at the School Of Plant Biology UCNW Bangor. I photographed for the student newspaper Forecast documenting demos in London and more importantly for me getting into music gigs for free to shoot all the bands that played Bangor. In between lectures and often instead of lectures I tramped around the streets of Bangor shooting street scenes.’

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‘I worked weekends and holidays in Royston Photographic Camera owned by Ronnie Aggett who really mentored me and showed me his photographic book collection. We had many discussions on photographic styles during the store’s quieter moments. I don’t remember getting paid as such. Ronnie just allowed me to take film, paper and chemicals in lieu of wages which was fine by me.’

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The North Wales Chronicle ran a couple of stories on my photo documenting of Bangor. In the article I rather pompously declared that the County Archives should be helping document contemporary Wales rather than publishing the touristy ‘Hen Bangor’ ‘Hen Caernarfon’, etc (‘Hen’ meaning old). As a result the Gwynedd County Archivist Bryn Parry got in touch and agreed to help me out with film and photographic paper. The North Wales Association for the Arts also gave me a small grant for photographic materials.’

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‘Now I had to back up what I’d said in the local newspaper which focused my attention on what I was doing. I decided to concentrate on photographing a sub section of Bangor. Hirael had a character all of its own and an island of terraced streets which had connections to the Penrhyn Slate Quarries and Port Penrhyn where most of the locals had worked until the demand for Welsh slate had diminished.’

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‘Many of the terraced stone cottages were being boarded up and the tight knit population were being relocated to awful 1950s flats and the nearby Maesgeirchen council estate which did not have a good reputation then. It represented a disappearing part of North Wales history so I decided to focus my attentions on this small area. I concentrated on photographing the older residents who formed the majority of the population. They freely invited me into their houses and gave me tea and biscuits or cake as is the Welsh custom.’

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‘A selection of 40 prints were exhibited at Theatr Gwynedd in 1977 and Bangor County Council purchased all of the prints. Most of my Hirael work has never been seen and I hope that this can be rectified 40 years later with an exhibition in 2016 in North Wales.’

garry_stuart@msn.com

James O Jenkins

Without Words: The Photographs of Geoff Charles

Geoff Charles

This blog post looks at Without Words: The Photographs of Geoff Charles, a publication by the National Library of Wales with text by Russell Roberts and Peter Finnemore. The newspaper style publication asks us to re-examine the work of the photojournalist Geoff Charles whose extensive collection is held by the National Library.

“Newspapers are essentially ephemeral. They are often read then discarded, left on trains and buses, re-purposed, thrown away, forgotten. Such photographs found within their pages are rarely remembered beyond these associated with major historical or scandalous events, the rest belong to the traffic of familiar or eminently forgettable news stories. Without Words offers a slower contemplation of an encounter that was originally, in most cases, a fleeting experience with a half-tone illustration in a newspaper. By presenting them here in a new light, we invite audiences to think differently about one of the most ephermal forms of photography in the case of the extensive and singular career of the photographer Geoff Charles (1909-2002).”

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Women’s Institute Folk Festival at Margam Park, 1951

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Ellesmere Carnival, 1955

“Born in Brymbo near Wrexham, Geoff Charles later studied Journalism at the University of London. He initially worked for local newspapers in Wales and England during the late 1920’s and early 30s. Charles then returned to his home around 1934 with a position on the Wrexham Star. Following its closure in 1936, his attention turned to photography. For the next 40 years he devoted his professional life to capturing the unexpected dramas, civic ceremonies, traditions, modernisation and general fabric of everyday life in North and Mid-Wales and the Borders.”

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Group of Americans on a visit to Dyffryn Ogwen, 1952

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Clown, Orthopaedic Hospital, Gobowen, 1956

“As a regular photographer for Y Cymro and Montgomeryshire Express amongst others, Geoff Charles left an extensive visual map that historically reflects a deep but shifting value system in the life of a nation. There are recurring themes associated with the day to day to meet the diet of expected news stories, but also images that raise questions as to what Wales was, is and might be.”

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Carrion birds caught by Mr T Mitchell, 1942

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“The Geoff Charles Collection, held by the National Library of Wales, consists of over 120,000 negatives and is a powerful resource in the wider, unfolding story of the significance of photography in Wales. In Without Words, we have used various media to open up Geoff Charles’ photographs to a different kind of inspection.”

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Ellesmere Carnival, 1955

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Young boy at the Aberaman Miners’ Training Centre, 1951

“The resulting selection celebrates the unseen and known dimensions of the Geoff Charles Collection. These images removed from their original context can still be incredibly direct about the world around us but also mysterious fragments of it. Ultimately, Without Words offers a fresh perspective in order to make the richness and wider potential of these photographs better known and understood. It is an invitation to a different kind appreciation of Geoff Charles’ photographs, and a call to invigorate thinking about national histories through such images”.

Text © Russell Roberts and Peter Finnemore.
Images © National Library of Wales.

You can read more about The Geoff Charles Photographic Collection via The National Library of Wales.

James O Jenkins

Thirty Years Ago

Roger Tiley

‘During the 1980s one of the greatest battles in industrial history erupted in the coalfields of Britain. The south Wales valleys were one of the key areas to subsequently feel the affects of pit closures. By the early 1990s, most collieries had closed and the mining workforce had melted into the history books.

Eighteen months ago I embarked on a project to make portraits of former miners and their families I originally photographed thirty years ago. I have also recorded interviews on audio and video, to run alongside with the still images to place powerful stories in the informative context that captures stories of fight, camaraderie and disappointment.

Three decades on, faces have aged and circumstances have changed. The landscape sculpted by coal has also changed. So it became apparent to combine both facets by placing large scale photocopy portraits in the former industrial environment. This was a fundamental narrative in telling the story.’

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‘The juxtapositioning of the two elements bring another dimension and meaning that highlights the sometimes-eerie circumstances of individual talking of the past. The postindustrial valleys are all too evident. The work is transient, as it diminishes into the fading industrial past, along with the dilution of the identity of the south Wales valleys culture of strong-willed communities.’

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In 1984 Roger Tiley, a photographer from the Gwent Valleys, was 24 years old. The miners strike was unwrapping on his doorstep and he documented it whilst working for newspapers.

You can see more of Roger’s work on the Miner’s Strike and Wales here.
@RogerTileyPhoto

TAXI

Mike Harvey

Mike Harvey worked as a taxi driver in Neath for 4 years and started taking photographs of the passengers in his taxi ‘to document the array of people that occupied the taxi space. I was fascinated by the cross section of society that was represented by the journeys – people from all walks of life, rich, poor, old and young. And the discussions I would have with the passengers themselves were of even more interest to me, it gave me an insight into people’s lives, what interests or concerns them, their background – it was very educational.’

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‘I started documenting the journeys at the tail end of 2009 and took about 130 in total over a 6 month period. I would ask the passengers at the end of a journey, once we’d built up a rapport, and offer to waiver the taxi fare as a thank you. The photographs are titled after the cost of the fare.’

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‘I would keep my camera in the glovebox and take it out whenever I asked people if I could take their photo.I made sure that I used the same taxi in every one of the photographs. In a way it’s the view from a rear-view mirror, of what a taxi driver sees.’

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‘I wanted to document the lottery of people that occupied the taxi space, and the experiences that taxi driving gave me. Whether it be rushing a pregnant woman to hospital or being regaled stories of World War II by an elderly passenger, the taxi provided a space to meet, converse with, and learn from people.’

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‘The taxi passengers represented a small cross-section of society, and these photographs hope to visually document a slice of Neath in 2010.’

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’Taxi’ was exhibited at ‘Monkey’ in Swansea and you can see more of Mike’s work at mikeharvey.co.uk

James O Jenkins

Aderyn Rhydd | Free Bird

Mira Andres

‘The mid Wales landscape; the sea, the woods and the mountains embody a feeling I had as a child while escaping into my imagination. During my time in Wales I have made friends with a few people from Borth (near Aberystwyth) and encountered new people living at – to me – unconventional places; colorful, artistic and full of individuality.’

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Aderyn Rhydd in Welsh means ‘free bird’ and explores the region around the North of mid Wales. Restricted in the West by the Irish sea and in the North by the mountains of Snowdonia, the area signifies freedom to its residents; freedom to breathe, freedom for self-expression within art and poetry; or freedom to allow oneself to live an alternative lifestyle.’

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‘Living remotely within the rural idyll during the 70’s and 80’s, mid Wales used to signify the place to escape from the increasingly hectic cities in Britain. Opposing the modern economic system it was the incomers intention to preserve traditions, and to use technologies in an environmentally sustainable way.’

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‘In contemporary mid Wales this significant environmental impact remains and identifies the area. Mid Wales is the place where traditions are highly valued. People strive to attain natural resources from the countryside and to preserve and relearn the Welsh language.’

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‘Socio-geographically there isn’t a motorway in Wales, which connects the South with the North, mid-Wales remains as the outlying space in between. To dwell on someone’s property relies on a mutual agreement between landowner and inhabitant. With the UK housing prices on the rise these people have decided to live an alternative lifestyle by giving up the comforts of a traditional home. They pay a low rent and their living spaces are small. But these unconventional houses are full of little details. The diversity of the landscape – the sea, the woods, the flatland – is mirrored in each inhabitants interior and stands for the peoples affection for the idyllic landscape in mid Wales.’

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Originally from Switzerland, Mira Andres began her studies in Media & Arts at the University of the Arts in Zurich in 2011. In the second year of her degree she began with an exchange semester at the University of South Wales in Newport where she is now completing her third year on the Documentary Photography course.

‘Aderyn Rhydd | Free Bird’ will be exhibited in from 24th January to 15th April 2015 at the Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop in Machynlleth.

Look closer and
Here you might see a woman beneath a shelter of leaves.
Look again
And there is a man who sleeps in the empty lair of a beast.
Now listen, as if staring into a deep pool of clear sound
Each layer of the birds song goes deeper and further down into the water.
The sky is very thin here and
Know these people live on a fragile earth
Like on the surface of a precious bubble
In a magpies eye they all persist.
This place goes on forever, always has and
One day in forever will go on without us.
But for now
Breath slowly in and
Deep in this place
Feel everything bleed into everything else
Breath gently out and disturb nothing.
Feel even diamonds melt.

George Romary, 2014

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Gawain Barnard.

The Loss of Tradition

Mark Griffiths

“Tradition, which is always old, is at the same time ever new because it is always reviving – born again in each new generation, to be lived and applied in a new and particular way”.
Thomas Merton, ‘No Man Is an Island’.

“Britain’s oldest surviving traditions allow us a glimpse of childhood past times devoid from the modern technology that encapsulates our daily lives. Conkers, Sunday Church Service and Punch and Judy shows were the staple diet of those that grew up in an era where social gatherings and physical activities outweighed the need for the latest gadget in today’s society of materialistic ideologies. From Social gatherings to Social Networking, Britain’s youth participate less in the active traditions that have shaped the childhood of many. In years to come these quintessential British pastimes will deplete in popularity through the lack of ‘new blood’ actively participating in such customs.

The images in this series capture those that have battled to keep our beloved British traditions alive, many of which have been passed down through generations of family members. From afternoon tea to coracle fishing, the images portray a nostalgic sense of what is being lost.”

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‘Gwerinwyr Gwent’ was formed in 1976 by eight people from Gwent who revived the tradition of Welsh folk dancing.

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The Mary Llwyd horse at the Tafarn Sinc pub on the edge of the Presseli Mountains. Deriving from an ancient rite for the Celtic goddess Rhiannon, or an ancient kingship ritual, the Mari Lwyd was once widespread throughout Wales.

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Malcolm Rees, a 4th generation coracle fisherman, on the bank of the river Teifi in Carmarthenshire, West Wales.

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Lin Cram of the ‘Y Morys Caerdydd’ – The Morris Dancers of Cardiff.

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Lave net fisherman Rob Evans’s son holding ‘the priest’ a tool used for killing the catch. Lave net fishing is a traditional method of fishing which has been practiced for hundreds of years. The last lave net fishermen at Black Rock all come from the local villages of Sudbrook, Portskewett and Caldicot in Wales.

“Many of these customs date back hundreds of years and have helped shape the notion of our British identity and made us who we are. The importance of keeping these unfamiliar traditions alive is imperative for the historic culture of the land and its people.”

‘The Loss of Tradition’ is now on show at The Oriel Bach Gallery in Swansea until November 23rd.

@markgriffphoto

James O Jenkins

Lens 2014

On Friday 28th November we’re pleased to be speaking at the ‘Lens 2014′ Festival at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
Speakers on the Saturday include Homer Sykes, Amanda Jackson, Neil Turner, Tina Carr and Annemarie Schöne.

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More details about The National Library of Wales can be found at llgc.org.uk
@NLWales

Be Still, My Heart

Marta Giaccone

Be Still, My Heart is a documentary project about teenage mothers in South Wales. Britain has one of Europe’s highest rates of teenage pregnancies and in the eyes of society this is still looked down upon.

Marta was interested to meet young girls and help them tell their stories through photos and interviews. From as early as 16 the young women become brave mothers who fight to defend their dignity with a humbling maturity. Meeting them gave Marta a positive insight into a situation that is sometimes regarded as a ‘mistake’; the perception of young motherhood is usually generalised into negativity as statistics are used to form the overview of a failing society. But such perceptions and generalisations do not tend to correspond with the experiences and feelings of the young mothers, they incline to be proud women who have sometimes experienced domestic hardships but nonetheless decided to go through with their pregnancies, even though nearly always advised not to, and who now consider their children their saving grace.

(Please note the interview text does not relate to the photograph it accompanies as Marta wanted the text and photography to remain anonymous).

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My boyfriend and I had agreed that I wasn’t to have the baby because I was only 17, so we were in duration of an abortion. We had been together for eight months then and we were living together. I had had a massive argument with my mother and she kicked me out, his mum wasn’t too impressed about taking me in so we took it upon ourselves to get a property, not that we wanted to do that, but at the time we didn’t really have a choice. Then, literally after a fortnight, he died in a motorbike crash. The police said it was his fault even though it wasn’t. He was an only child so that’s why I decided to keep the baby in the end, and I called him after my boyfriend.

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I found out I was pregnant about 3 weeks ago, my boyfriend and I had actually just gotten together. I was really nervous and frightened, but the idea grows on you and at first I was scared but I knew straight away there was no way I was gonna get rid of it or anything. We still don’t know the gender but I hope it’s a girl. We like the name Lila.

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It’s going to be a boy, but we broke up. He’s not who I thought he was, he didn’t want any of it. The whole way through our relationship he was with other girls and I didn’t know it. I just don’t know what’s going on with him. He’s always at the skate park, he doesn’t work or do anything with his life.

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I wanted a cattery in my back garden, that’s what I wanted! The only reason why I ever slept with my first child’s father was because I really wanted to be with him and I thought if I don’t do what he wants me to do he’s not gonna be with me. I was 15 and still in school. We’d been in a long relationship, he said we should keep the baby and then all of a sudden he just messaged me saying, “I don’t wanna be with you any more”, which broke my heart because I’d kept her and everything and I was going through a rough time. I really needed someone and he just… but yeah… it’s just life.

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I got pregnant the first time at the age of 15. A lot of my family were telling me to get an abortion because I was such a wild child, constantly going out, drinking, but I decided to keep him. Later on I couldn’t cope with his behaviour so I handed him over to my mum and then I got pregnant again at 18.

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At first, when I found out I was pregnant, I freaked out. I was scared but I was so happy at the same time, I was really excited. My boyfriend and I had been together for two years and he had always wanted a baby with me. He acted like, “Oh, this is brilliant,” but he didn’t stop taking drugs and I was gonna protect my child no matter what my feelings were, so even though it was hard I had to break up with him.

Marta Giaccone completed an MA in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport, in 2014. She is currently based in the UK and Italy. Her photographic work and research has mainly focused around issues concerning family and youth, with a main interest in the feminine perspective.

You can see more of Marta’s work here.

James O Jenkins

Kingsmoor Common

Lewys Canton

“I’ve always felt an urge to document experiences that other people go through, especially those who live totally different lives to the one I do. Kingsmoor Common is based on the concept or notion of a ‘sense of place’ and how this relates to a modern day community that settles in one place. This project is a documentary series focused on a gypsy travelling community in Pembrokeshire, Wales.”

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“Being from an area where travellers have settled I’d always imagined what it would be like to shoot a photographic project about a modern day community that has settled in one particular place. Throughout this project I explored the theme of identity and place. I wanted to construct a narrative to depict their way of life to enhance my visual interpretation of what a place is like to an alternate community and how a different community identity is created.”

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“My interest comes from ideas about human experiences, in a way these images are constructed with the intent and purpose to comment on preconceived ideas of what a travelling community is like and aims to undermine this nostalgic pre-conception we already associate towards a travelling community.”

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This year Lewys graduated from the Coleg Sir Gar Carmarthen with a BA Hons photography degree. Kingsmoor Common is currently on show at The Cardiff Millennium Centre as one of the ‘best graduate projects across Wales for 2014’. The work will also show at Narbeth’s Oriel Que in January 2015.

Lewys’s book Kingsmoor Common is available to buy here.

lewyscantonphotography.com
@photoLewC

James O Jenkins

Into The Blue

Robin Mitchell

Here, Robin Mitchell tells me about his work, ‘Into the Blue’.
 
“When I was studying Documentary Photography at Newport (2007 – 2010) there was a module called ‘The Grid Project’.  The tutors took a map of the area around Newport and literally cut it into sections and handed out the pieces.  Each student had to go out and make work in the area of the map they had been given.  I thought this was a great idea, although it wasn’t rigorously followed through (no one, for example, took note of what area you had been given!)  In my area there was the river, allotments, industrial units, housing and pink limo hire.  I chose to work in the Newport Indoor Bowling Centre, I can’t remember why – I think it was because it was raining when I went out looking!  I started out attempting traditional, black and white reportage, but it became clear from looking at the earlier images that what was interesting was the variety of shapes that people make when doing what is, ostensibly, the same action.  I homed in on this as a subject and my tutors encouraged me to use lights.  This was the first time I used studio lights.  I developed the project over a couple of months, but the final images came from a one-day shoot.

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On the day, I worked with another photography student, Joao Bento, and set up lights at one end of the ‘green’.  When the people photographed had finished their usual bowling session they came over to me.  I photographed each one four times at most, one shot per bowl, and they were with me only a few minutes.  With each shot I was aiming to catch a moment after the ‘wood’ had left their hand but before they lost the bowling position.  I wanted to use the camera to freeze the movement and to expose the subtle differences in technique and physicality between them.  By cropping out the wood, I was able to focus attention on the human shapes.

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Although I had not previously had an interest in bowling, I was impressed by the inclusive nature of the game, how it made allowances for people with a range of mobilities and disabilities.  I struggled to think of a title, and ‘Into the Blue’ came to me at the last minute, it was referencing the colour of the bowling green which was unexpected.”

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Robin is a freelance photographer working mainly in the arts.  Before studying at Newport he worked in theatre for 20 years as a designer and props maker.  He lives in Glasgow and regularly photographs with theatre companies, musicians and for film stills.
robinmitchellphotography.com
 
Abbie Trayler-Smith
@abbiets