This blog post looks at the work of Robert Haines who is revisiting and updating his book ‘Once Upon a Time in Wales’ to be exhibited in 2016.
Old Mr Jones and Old Mrs Jones. Old Mrs Jones used to sell pegs around the street.
‘For 35 years a collection of photographs remained hidden from the world in a box beneath my bed. They were taken around 1971-2 when I was twenty years of age and they record some of the characters from the village of Heolgerrig and the nearby town of Merthyr Tydfil in the South Wales valleys. Heolgerrig, where Welsh was still the first language, was a small hamlet of several hundred houses on the outskirts of Merthyr Tydfil, once the ‘Iron Capital’ of the world. At the time there were major redevelopment plans for nearby Georgetown and Dowlais, areas that were warrens of small Ironworkers’ cottages.’
Lewis Evans and his wife Martha
Dai Llewellyn. Not quite the world’s best gurner but he did come 3rd in the 1968 World Gurning Championships.
I have no idea who this man was. He invited me into his home to take his portrait.
‘I wanted to record some of the characters, especially some of the old characters who seemed to have drifted in from a previous century. We would never see the likes of them again. They spent their days getting plastered on cider, working underground, and living in often terrible conditions. Some of the people I knew well, several were family members, others complete strangers.’
Dai Passmore and his dog.
‘I spent time with some of them, often having a pint in Ye Olde Express, The Lamb Inn or The Red Lion. Others were just fleeting images of strangers I passed in the street. Merthyr had a reputation as a tough town and justifiably so. Some of the characters in my photographs were hard men who later came to untimely deaths. Yet, a common factor was that they all enjoyed having their photographs taken. It made them feel important.’
God in denim on the British Tip in Merthyr. “I’m God”, he shouted at me as I was passing.
Tex Jones. Tex was the father of my schoolfriend Wayne. He lived on the Gurnos Estate and was crazy about the Wild West.
‘In 2014, with Arts Council of Wales and REDHOUSE Gallery support, I embarked on an updated project. I aim to produce a new body of work featuring characters from present day Merthyr Tydfil and the village of Heolgerrig. It is titled This Time in Wales.’
‘Today it is a much more diverse and cosmopolitan place. The plan is to go out and photograph family and friends just as I did in 1972. An exhibition of the new work together with the old is planned for the REDHOUSE Gallery in Merthyr Tydfil in March 2016.’
In 2010 Robert made a film based on the photographs from the project, titled Astronauts, Vikings and Ghosts which can be seen at Doc Alliance Films. The film was premiered at Festival International du Film sur l’Art in Montreal, won ‘Best Documentary’ at the Newport International Film Festival and was broadcast on the prestigious La Lucarne slot on ARTE in France and Germany in 2012.
Astronauts, Vikings and Ghosts will be shown on Arte on Tuesday 24th February.
Robert Haines was born in Merthyr Tydfil. He graduated in Film at the University of Westminster in London and his first documentary ‘Tommy Gravedigger’ was broadcast on BBC2 in 1975. Robert is represented in Paris by Dominique Charlet.
900 miles in 70 days – Gareth Phillips embarked on a coastal journey to explore the meaning of the Welsh word ‘Hiraeth’.
Hiraeth has no direct English translation but is often defined as a kind of homesickness or memory tinged with grief or sadness. A mix of longing, yearning or wistfulness for a place, person or memory of the past. A nostalgic reflection or memory that often invokes melancholy, as the reflection or memory is one of elation and happiness of a place or loved one that can often never be felt again.
Using the entire coastline of Wales as a catalyst, the resulting body of work witnessed Gareth’s journey to encounter and capture experiences of Hiraeth. To do this Gareth continuously walked nine hundred miles over a seventy day period, making wild, hand constructed shelters or staying in isolated hotels or campsites. All with the aim of bringing him closer to experiences of nostalgia, memory and Hiraeth.
What defines Hiraeth? Houwser Bartels, graphic designers for the book Gareth Phillips and co editor David Plummer are producing, outline the questions they asked themselves whilst producing the first book dummy for the project. ‘After an extensive research period in which we contemplated the abundance of imagery from Gareth Phillips, we asked ourselves a set of questions.’
‘What is it exactly that defines Hiraeth, and can it be magnified by a graphic intervention? Can we use keywords as “contraction”, “exploration”, “longing” and “to immerse oneself” to define a certain rhythm within the book? Can we treat a landscape as a portrait, and vice versa?’
‘An inherent part of the mind is its capacity of reflecting both the outside world and oneself and to put both into context to each other. Frame of Mind reflects on this capacity of reflection through portraits made in cooperation with people who experience mental health problems. Statistically 1 in 4 people experience mental health difficulties in the United Kingdom each year. All participants of the project are photographed in South Wales, either at their home or at places where they seek help such as charities supporting them. Each portrait is framed by a context which relates to the represented person, evoking something that impacts positively on their condition or expresses their distress. Many of the represented people draw, paint or write which helps them both objectifying or also avoiding disturbing thoughts:
Christopher A. Palmer who calls himself Crispy Newpoet would for example express his feelings in a poem the complex structure of which is built from the letters of his name.
‘Crona Dargarth UE’ paints a castle called Miranda over and over again, stating: “…it must be some romantic madness of mine, my soul in her cellar she keeps, to love a building as if it were human, fair and beautiful is the Asylum of my Dreams…”.
Jerry who established a peer support group for people with mental health difficulties in Newport, writes poems asking questions such as: ‘Is nothing anything or not, or just something we have forgot? Is it emptiness of the mind or something lost you cannot find?’.
The personal element implicated by each individual is explicated in visual form using a two-way mirror that appears in all photographs and is mostly held by the subject. Also called see-through mirror, it is an acrylic glass with a transparency-reflection ratio that shifts proportionally to the ratio of light in front and behind it, and allows to visually overlay the mirrored image with the background. This two-way mirror provides the platform for individual expression. Emphasising the cooperation between photographer and photographed, the two-way mirror is the surface where the viewpoints of both merge into one.’
Crona Dargarth UE
‘In the 25th hour,
Of the 8th day,
Of the 5th week,
In the 13th month,
I was talking to a creature that hasn’t been created,
In a language I don’t know.
It said to me, you humans don’t know much.
I said, we are smarter than you think:
We love, care and forgive.
Christoph Soeder is currently studying Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales, Newport. In 2012 Christoph obtained the 2nd award ‘Close Up! – Young Photojournalists at the 62nd Berlinale’ and exhibited his work together with other participants of the programme at C/O Berlin. In 2013/14 his book ‘Clear-Cut’ was shortlisted for the Unseen Dummy Award and exhibited at the Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam as well as in Tokyo with the Brighton-based arts organisation Photobookshow. In 2014 Christoph was part of the A Fine Beginning group exhibition ‘Made in Wales’ held at Arcade Cardiff and Oriel Colwyn Gallery. In November 2014 Christoph took part in the ‘Open for Business‘ exhibition in Newport/Wales presented by Magnum Photos and Multistory.
‘From the mid 1950s my family went on holiday to Rhyl on the North Wales coast. The heyday of this resort seems to me to be the 1960s when I was taken to Rhyl as a small child. My family took snapshot photographs and made short cine films to record our time at Rhyl and along the North Wales coast. Perhaps this was the starting point for my own photographs of Rhyl that I began to make in the mid 1980s when I was a student at Newport Art College in South Wales.’
‘Influenced by the documentary tradition at Newport I walked along the seafront to map out the topography of this place. The photographs concentrated on the location rather than the people, much in the style of the British photographer Ray Moore. Over the following decade I would return to the resort to continue this exploration of the resort as it slowly crept in to decline.’
This archive of photographs was exhibited at Rhyl Arts Centre titled: ‘Postcards from Rhyl’ in 2006, which also showed in a different format at Oriel Colwyn in 2013 (re-titled: ‘Shifting Sands’).
As John K Walton explains, ‘Stephen Clarke’s exhibition at Colwyn Bay, a portrayal of changing perceptions and experiences of the nearby resort of Rhyl between the 1960’s and the turn of the millennium, offers a sharper, more obviously critical, more unforgiving angle of vision on what has gone wrong across parts of the British holiday coastline during those years. His approach communicates a sense of loss and desolation, through the juxtaposition of ‘before’ and ‘after’.’
‘Before’ is focused on the 1960’s, and sometimes earlier, because the presentation through colour postcards includes images from the 1950s, signposted most obviously by the vehicles visible in street scenes, a reminder that postcards sometimes had quite a long shelf life in the shops. The cards are adapted to display textual insertions from the Ward Lock guidebooks of the time, providing demographic detailed information and the eulogistic descriptions of the locality for the literate and self-improving holidaymaker, and certain illustrations are carried over from one illustration to the next. They also contain images from the address and message side of the card, superimposed on the picture.’
‘After’ takes the form of a separate series of black and white photographs. They show facades and frontages of buildings, alongside occasional beach scenes and isolated advertising figures of promotional fantasy, but with colour and most of the life leached out. The contrasts are arresting and disturbing.’
‘The postcard pictures are lush, soft and alluring in their bright colours. They depict scenes from the traditional family holiday which created its apogee and the climax of its democratic popularity in the post-Second World War generation, adapting nineteenth-century motifs for the new working-class markets of holidays with pay, in the final flush of the long heyday of Victorian and post-Victorian industrial certainties.’
‘Clarke’s black and white photographs contrast starkly with this sense of comfort and security. This suggested contrast reflects widespread perceptions of the decline of the British seaside, along with the industries, which supplied its reliable contingents of annual holidaymakers since the 1970s, as old ways of life fragmented and the lure of cheap flights to the Mediterranean prevailed.’
Last year photographs of the now demolished fairground, Ocean Beach, were published by Café Royal Books. This photobook will be accompanied by a new publication this summer that looks at Rhyl’s promenade. Pictures from this second book featured in the recent Carlisle Photo Festival.
Stephen Clarke is an artist, writer and lecturer based in the North West.
John K Walton has recently retired from the post of IKERBASQUE Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU, Vitoria – Gasteiz, Spain.
John K Walton’s text was from ‘Walton, J. K., (2013) ‘Shifting Sand: Photographs by Stephen Clarke’, The Royal Photographic Society Contemporary Photography Journal, 52 (Summer), pp. 9-13.’
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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
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).”
Women’s Institute Folk Festival at Margam Park, 1951
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.”
Group of Americans on a visit to Dyffryn Ogwen, 1952
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.”
Carrion birds caught by Mr T Mitchell, 1942
“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.”
Ellesmere Carnival, 1955
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”.
‘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.’
‘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.’
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.
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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘The taxi passengers represented a small cross-section of society, and these photographs hope to visually document a slice of Neath in 2010.’
’Taxi’ was exhibited at ‘Monkey’ in Swansea and you can see more of Mike’s work at mikeharvey.co.uk
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
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.
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.
“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.”
‘Gwerinwyr Gwent’ was formed in 1976 by eight people from Gwent who revived the tradition of Welsh folk dancing.
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.
Malcolm Rees, a 4th generation coracle fisherman, on the bank of the river Teifi in Carmarthenshire, West Wales.
Lin Cram of the ‘Y Morys Caerdydd’ – The Morris Dancers of Cardiff.
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.”