‘In his memoirs, Stephen Fry remarked on an encounter he had with Alastair Cooke. After shaking hands, the writer and broadcaster synonymous with Letter from America, informed Fry that he was shaking the hand of someone who had shook the hand of Bertrand Russell. When Fry displayed amazement, the man of letters added that it didn’t stop there, and that Bertrand Russell knew Robert Browning and Bertrand Russell’s aunt had danced with Napoleon.’
‘This example of ‘degrees of separation’, a concept which influenced the early thought on social networks, reminded me of a curious connection between my homeland of south Wales, the promised land of America, the notion of home and the politics of otherness. The sentimental ballad “home sweet home”, written by John Howard Payne in 1822, and adopted after his death as a unifying propaganda during the American Civil War, offered solace in a time where a nation was divided or split geographically.’
‘The song became synonymous with the opera singer Adelina Patti who was described by Giuseppe Verdi in 1877 as being perhaps the finest singer who had ever lived. Abraham Lincoln famously implored the singer to console him with the ballad after the loss of his son Willie to typhoid. The talisman of home offering comfort and protection in a time of mourning.’
‘Oscar Wilde, a man famous, and sometimes infamous, for his use of words referenced Patti in his fiction. On his tour of America the aesthete attended a performance by the singer as a closing entertainment of the Cincinnatti Opera Festival. Wilde was taken backstage to meet Adelina and the experience was to have a profound effect on the writer. He included references to Patti in his only novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, a strange kismet that seemed to foretell his impending destiny. After Wilde’s disgrace and downfall the country to offer Wilde refuge and ‘home’ was France, the nation that offered Liberty in symbolic form to America. Paris would become his home and his final resting place. In the nineteenth century, Britain was not a place to offer ‘home sweet home’ to the homosexual.’
‘In the latter part of her life, Patti resided in the Swansea valley in her retirement home at Craig y Nos, where she built her own theatre. She died in the Welsh castle, but her final resting place would be alongside her beloved Rossini in Père Lachaise, a Parisian locale she would share with Wilde after death.’
‘These serendipitous events reflect the arbitrary possibilities of our social networks. The pervasive sentiment offered by this ballad has permeated generations and centuries and presents us with an idea that should make us reflect on how we connect with others, how we understand our place in the world, and how we generate discourse of belonging and otherness.’
John Paul Evans is a Welsh born photographic artist who now lives in Devon. As an academic, he has lectured in Photography and Art at University of Wales Trinity St David, Swansea and Cardiff School of Art. He has exhibited nationally and internationally and his work was screened as part of the Voies Off Festival in Arles 2014. Solo exhibitions include Bed Sheet Dreams 2005 ‘The Room Gallery’ London. A Different Point of View 1999, CBAT Cardiff & MAC Centre Birmingham, Dark Secrets…Mortal Thoughts 1997, a touring exhibition commissioned by Newport Museum & Art Gallery, and Hunks & Heroes 1996, Castlefield Gallery Manchester. Selected group shows include; Pride Photo Awards 2014 – Amsterdam, Uncertain States – Brighton Photo Biennial, From Common Differences-Diffusion International Festival of Photography 2013, Unreliable Truths- The Glynn Vivian Gallery 2008.
This Saturday 27th June is the opening of Philip Jones Griffiths: A Welsh Focus on War and Peace at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. The exhibition will show images from the Magnum photographer’s work and personal archive material, looking at his early career in Britain as well as his extensive renowned documentation of wars and their effects.
The exhibition runs until December 12th 2015 and the curator William Troughton will give a gallery talk on October 14th. Later this year the Lens 2015 Festival will focus on Philip Jones Griffiths and his work.
You can see Philip Jones Griffith’s ‘Magnum Photos Photographer Portfolio’ here.
We received lots of positive feedback on social media from people who read our Pete Davis blog post about his ‘Photographs of Cardiff 1969-1972′ including BA Documentary Photography (University of South Wales, Newport) student Daragh Soden whose work about the south eastern area of Splott in Cardiff we are sharing here.
‘My work began by looking for visual hints of ‘aspiration’ in Splott after reading Owen Jones’ Chavs:The Demonization of The Working Class, in which Jones criticizes David Cameron’s view of an apparent lack of aspiration among the working class as part of the reason for the poor circumstances in which many working class families find themselves.’
‘In 1891 East Moors Steelworks was opened in Cardiff, Wales, a plant capable of manufacturing half a million tons of steel a year. To accommodate the workers of the steelworks, rows of terraced housing were built in estates nearby, forming the area of Cardiff known as Splott. In 1978, East Moors Steelworks ceased production.’
“Being born into a prosperous middle-class family typically endows you with a safety net for life. If you are not naturally bright, you are still likely to go far and, at the very least, will never experience poverty as an adult. A good education compounded by your parents’ ‘cultural capital’, financial support and networks will always see you through. If you are a bright child born into a working-class family, you do not have these things. The odds are that you will not be better off than your parents”, Owen Jones.
Daragh Soden (born in New York) is an Irish photographer working in the UK and Ireland. He is about to enter his third and final year studying Documentary Photography at The University of South Wales in Newport.
Splott (which takes it’s name from the Welsh word for allotment) is a south eastern district of Cardiff that was characterised by Victorian housing that existed for Cardiff’s industry workers. Pete Davis’ photographs of Splott show the area shortly after the beginning of the closure of the steelworks in the early 1970’s.
‘This was the area of Cardiff where I was brought up and went to school. These photographs were part of a series I made in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. The photographs of Splott were made at the time that the main employer in the area – the steelworks – was closing, and the area being pulled apart and ‘re-developed’.’
‘They were not poverty stricken families – it may look like that in the pictures. At the time I was taking some of those pictures the steelworks were being closed and the bottom end of Splott was in the process of being demolished piecemeal.’
‘Because of the passage of time the places have gone, the kids have obviously grown up and the area is completely different now. There’s an element of nostalgia I suppose as well as the real interest in my work from that time.’
Pete Davis has been taking photographs since the age of eleven. After ten years as an advertising and fashion photographer, Pete moved to rural West Wales 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. He is currently a visiting lecturer at a number of universities and also engaged with his photography 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. Work from the ‘Wildwood’ series has been acquired by the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea and the National Library of Wales. Pete has been a visiting lecturer at the Karel De Grote-Hogeschool, Antwerp, Belgium, The North American Association for the Study of Welsh Culture and History in New York, The Royal Academy of Arts, The University of Toronto, and at FotoMuseum, Antwerp.
In this blog post photographer Rob Hudson explains his ongoing landscape series ‘Mametz Wood’. ‘The ideas behind Mametz Wood started with an image, as they so often do when we have to navigate the boundaries between the verbal and the visual, between how we think and how we see. It was an image that reminded me of my previous work, some years earlier, illustrating another poem called Mametz Wood by another poet, Owen Sheers. In that poem he tells of the modern day discovery the bones of long dead soldiers in northern France.
“As if the notes they had sung
have only now, with this unearthing,
slipped from their absent tongues.”
It was the year before the centenary of the start of World War One and my mind began to turn over. At first those thoughts were very vague and fluid, it took a great deal of research, reading, contemplation and image making before they began to become more concrete and more complex. I had also discovered a remarkable wood; of ancient sessile oak with stumps and limbs twisted and turned like the imaginings of a fevered mind. The wood wasn’t Mametz Wood, it was a small wood near Bridgend, yet importantly for me, in Wales.’
But Sweet Sister Death
And So To This Hour
‘Photography often clings ferociously to a validation through subject, which is linked to the direct physical relationship between what is photographed and what is in front of the lens. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not how I work, there are better photographers than I pursuing that path. I wanted to follow another route, something more personal to me. For me photography – and visual art in general – can also work through a process of analogy or, at times, metaphor. I prefer to think of my images as a work of fiction, the story is with us from day one, from the small child to the grown adult. It’s easy to grasp while the document is somewhat of a sideways leap in perception, whilst I do allow that it has an undeniable power in its direct relationship to subject. Mametz Wood is simply a work of fiction, a work of the imagination.’
You Can’t See Anything
In The Regions Of Air
‘It could have been made anywhere. What matters to me isn’t the physicality of place; it is how we perceive and experience a place and what it means to us. It is the human experience not the trees, rocks and grass. This isn’t Mametz Wood any more than it is July 1916, except in my, and hopefully your imaginations. The validation I do find necessary is in having a story with a basis in reality. It still needed the grounding of real events behind it even though it may work as a piece of magic realism. The big leap in development came from David Jones’ ’In Parenthesis’. In his long, modernist poem he tells of his experience of WW1 in the Royal Welch [sic] Fusiliers that culminated in the battle of Mametz Wood.’
And So To Midnight
Fear Will So Condition You
‘The first images I made were dark, fierce pieces, angry at the terrible waste of human life over a trivial one-mile square wood in northern France. But Jones’ poetry allowed me to develop the theme from such a one-note response. My thoughts began to accrete, building slowly into something that, whilst still recognising that anger and despair, carried a more complex and subtle message. Complexity, like ambiguity, is something to be valued in visual art. So long as we aren’t so ambiguous as to render our work meaningless or so complex as to render it impenetrable. Striking that balance is, for me, one of the most important parts of what I do, or at least attempting to, because I recognise it’s not always easy or even always successful. When it is successful it’s how we communicate with our viewers most profoundly. I am constantly juggling between accessibility and over simplification and depth and unintelligibly. It is, after all, just a picture, so how else do we add value?’
The Sky Flickered
When The Quiet Came
‘Jones’ poetry embraced both the dull, regimented existence of the soldier as well as the tragic battles, but he told the story through the ’lens’ of myth and legend. It’s not a heroic work, as might be imagined, but the heroism of past stories acts as a counterpoint to the grim reality of modern warfare. It also lends a surreal grandeur to the wood, to the place where so many of the fallen men sacrificed their lives. The wood becomes a kind of tribute, a monument to those that died, suffered or lost friends and family. There’s a certain ’madness’ in that mix of myth, legend and actual historical battle, as there is madness in any war. And war often results in ’madness’, in the damaged minds of those involved. It was this that inspired me to use the images to explore the effects of war on the mind. Using double exposures to both disturb reality and create a strange, surreal landscape that explores the experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or what was then known as shell shock). We can’t be sure what is real and what is imagined, just as the victims of PTSD cannot help vividly recalling the terrible memories of what they experienced.’
And In The Core And Navel Of The Wood
His Lamps Hang In This Black Cold
Over a period of 18 months those initial ideas about the First World War had accreted and coalesced, becoming something new, something far beyond those hazy initial thoughts. I need that time for my work to develop, because at the end of the day the story will out when it becomes concrete and real to ourselves.
So welcome to Mametz Wood…
“And so to midnight and into the ebb-time when the spirit slips lightly from sick men and when it’s like no-mans-land between yesterday and tomorrow and material things are loosely integrated and barely tacked together.”
So Many Without Memento
Rob Hudson is a photographer living and working in Wales.
We got to know Jooney Woodward via her portrait ‘Harriet and Gentleman Jack’ (below) which won First Prize in the 2011 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The portrait was taken at the 2010 Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in Builth Wells and features 13-year old steward Harriet Power holding her guinea pig ‘Gentleman Jack’ (apparently named after the Jack Daniel’s whiskey box in which he was given to her). The portrait was part of a wider body of work about agricultural shows entitled ‘Best in Show’ and Jooney has also spent time photographing the world of equestrianism with ‘The Riders’.
Jooney Woodward has also been photographing the landscapes of Wales, ‘over the last 12 years I have travelled extensively around Wales documenting the people and landscapes I have viewed en route. Having grown up in the countryside, I am often drawn to documenting the familiar heritage and traditions of rural life. I love escaping the chaotic pace of London, to return to an environment where time and space seem less restricted.’
Rhoose Point, Vale of Glamorgan.
Nos 4-5, Ynslas, Ceredigion.
‘For me the countryside feels nostalgic, comforting and inspiring in contrast to urban life. My subject matter is inspired by road trips and exploring. I find Wales perfect for this, especially with its diverse landscape. There’s always something going on from one village to the next. I like discovering these places and documenting them and the friendly communities within them.’
Dot’s Diner, Cemmaes Road, Powys.
‘The aim of my landscape series was to explore society’s impact on the landscape of Wales and to document the changing shape of the country. I wanted to explore juxtapositions of the past and present, looking at how a new landscape is emerging from its history. I wanted to challenge the strong populist vision of Wales and present an alternative but empathic account of the country, one that avoids sentimentality and seeks to explore the nuances of local Welsh culture, attitudes and lifestyles.’
Viewpoint 3, Borth, Ceredigion.
The Victory Hall and Cinema 1953, Llanybydder, Dyfed.
Jooney Woodward is a British photographer who lives and works in London. Born in 1979, she studied at Camberwell College of Arts. Her photography often documents the British at leisure and seeks to explore the relationship between lifestyle and identity. She has exhibited widely, including a solo show at MOMA Wales and has twice been highly commended in The Observer Hodge Photographic Award.
Tumble is Huw Davies’ ongoing documentation of his home town Tumble in Carmarthenshire, West Wales. Tumble is an ex-mining community in the heart of the Gwendraeth Valley and this work is Huw Davies’ personal and aesthetic interpretation of contemporary Welsh culture and it’s sense of place.
‘Tumble has become the focus of most my projects in recent years, and is likely to be for many years to come, I am mesmerised by it. This is the place that I grew up in. It is a place that holds my memories and experience, and it is a constant reminder of who I am. Not only has it watched me grow, I too, now watch as the social and psychological structure of my home village changes and moves towards a greater anonymity.’
‘In recent years, many rural communities have seen significant change with great effect, inspiring Davies’ decision to photograph the village in what he refers to as its transitional state.’
‘Having been raised in this close-knit community, Davies recognises that the village he calls home is changing rapidly. The traditional ways of rural society are being challenged by a modern homogeneous culture. He accepts that change is inevitable, even though, whilst he was growing up, the village seemed to be a permanent entity. Houses and buildings that had once been fundamental to community life were now being revealed as transient and only of a particular time – they were being replaced by those of a different time. Businesses were closing down or moving out, some of which had been a source of work in the community for over fifty years.’
‘Change has implications, both positive and negative. The death of the original economy, based on mining, undeniably brought great hardship, but also forged further resilience of the community. However, during the latest recession this has been challenged yet again.’
Born in West Wales, photographer Huw Alden Davies received a BA First Honours Degree in Photography at the West Wales School of Arts, and studied his Masters Degree in Documentary photography at Newport University of Wales. His work has been printed in a number of publications including Portfolio, Blown, The British Journal of Photography and CCQ, and has been exhibited in a range of exhibitions around the UK and Europe. His work from the Tumble series was recently included as part of the ‘Valleys Re: Presented, in the Diffusion Festival’ (Cardiff), and he was also included in the archives of both the National Museum of Wales, and The National Portrait Gallery, London. He currently works as a Documentary photographer, and exhibiting artist, while continuing to document his home village Tumble.
Môr Plastig (Welsh for ‘Plastic Sea’), is a photographic study of plastic objects washed up along the Welsh coastline. The work ‘is a formal ‘forensic’ study of plastic detritus washed up off the west coast of Wales, and more recently further afield. With this project, Perry’s photography is not concerned with the campaigning rhetoric of straight environmental documentary. Rather it poetically alludes to changes taking place and what we might be leaving for future generations. His approach remains resolutely open and ambiguous.’
‘At a glance, the shape and size could be familiar, the texture and colour offer a displaced sense of beauty. There is a personal, environmental and aesthetic quality to these objects, which raises more questions than answers. The human stories and the impending environmental impacts soon become more prominent in our thoughts.’
‘On closer inspection, there appears to be something else to absorb, in these highly detailed and forensically photographed objects. The degrading effect of the sea has created extraordinary forms and surfaces. Are we allowed to enjoy nature’s continuous eroding process and the painterly effects caused by the interaction of sun, sea and sand? The repetitive presentation also provides a rhythm of colour and form and allows relationships to develop between the individual specimens.’
‘To achieve these images Perry has used a very high-resolution digital camera. He shoots in neutral daylight avoiding strong shadows and dramatic lighting. His intention is to show the objects as they are, thus achieving an objectivity to the process, allowing the viewer to bring their own interpretations and thoughts to the viewing experience. This is clearly very different to much environmental photography, which uses strong emotionally charged images to document the effects of climate degradation. Clearly, this approach leads to a paradox in that the shoes have become both aesthetically appealing objects and yet dangerous pollutants at the same time.’
Shoe 2, Cwm Gwyllog, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 2013.
‘Whilst the sheer number of shoes is a reminder of the ubiquity of plastic on our beaches, it is also a barometer of the infinite choice now offered by our global consumerist world. Sandals come in every size, shape and colour. No two shoes are the same and they now frequent every beach on the planet from West Wales to Eastern China. These products don’t need global logistic companies to transport them from market to market, the worlds ocean currents do it for them. Perry has found Russian sandals on his Pembrokeshire beach and British Flip Flops on the beaches of East Africa.’
Grey Cylinder, Traeth Llyfn Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 2015.
‘For as long as we can remember, artists have been interested in collecting and sifting through the trash society leaves behind. Perry is motivated by giving these remains a status and attention they wouldn’t normally assume. He wants people to share ‘a strange knowledge’ and spend a little time looking at things that they would normally walk past and ignore as rubbish.’
‘This collection of extruded polymers offers something more than an array of colour, form and extraordinary surface details or a worrying warning of looming environmental disaster. It is perhaps, most of all, a powerful reminder of the power of nature. Not as a creator of sublime epic landscapes or breathtaking natural disasters, but as a moulder and sculptor of all things, however large or small, living or synthetic. Looking at this body of work one must surely conclude that nature is the ultimate designer.’
In May 2015 a selection of work from Môr Plastig is showing at the 56th Venice Biennale.
After a post graduate degree in economics and 13 years in industry, Perry left the world of commerce to focus on his art and environmental projects. He now lives between London and West Wales where he is converting a coastal sheep farm into a site for sustainable architecture and art. His work is increasingly influenced by the surrounding landscape and environmental concerns. Perry’s early large scale highly detailed colour photographs, often taken whilst driving around Britain’s marginal coastal and upland regions, combine powerful painterly aesthetics with seemingly mundane locations or areas of environmental degradation.
Mike’s first public show Beach was at The Photographers’ Gallery in 2004, and in 2007 he was a featured artist in BBC 4’s Arts Documentary, Britain in Pictures. In 2009 he won best picture at Christies of London’s 25th anniversary photographic competition, and in 2012 Mike was part of the group show ‘New Ground: Landscape Art In Wales since 1970′, curated by The National Museum of Wales, including Richard Long, David Nash and Keith Arnatt. In 2013 Mike’s collection of plastic shoes was on show at the Institute for Contemporary and Interdisciplinary Arts (ICIA) and selected for The National Eisteddfod of Wales 2013. In July 2014 Perry’s Môr Plastig was included in Cornelia Parker’s ‘Black and White Room’ at The Royal Academy of Arts.
A short film about Mike’s work as Artist in Residence at Oriel y Parc can be seen here. Mike’s work is also represented by The Photographers Gallery.
Text used is from an essay by Lindsay Hughes (ICIA Exhibition Catalogue, 2013). Lindsay Hughes is Creative Producer (Visual Arts) at The Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts (ICIA), University of Bath.
The Reclusive Relationship is an exploration of Nathan Klein’s upbringing, documenting notions of memory and belonging. This is a series of photographs showing the existence of Klein’s grandparents relationship that has ostensibly become reclusive, resulting in them living separate lives.
‘Nature versus Nurture; both come together to create the people we are today. Wrexham was my home; not a rich place, but happiness could be found. My grandparents raised me as my mother was in an abusive relationship; this is their story. My grandparents have been married for over fifty years, which sounds wonderful, yet are they happy? They respect the vows they made to each other and yet their daily lives show little communication nor contact. They believe in marriage, yet have created their own definition of what this means. It seems to work for them, or at least it is tolerable.’
‘Throughout their relationship they have slowly moved into their own separate existences, living in different parts of the house, sleeping in different rooms, and spending their day-to-day life alone. They spend very little time, if any, together. They communicate in a way that is similar to animals in the jungle – they shout. And as I became part of that jungle pack, I believed this to be the norm of home life for a long time. My granddad has little patience and suffers with arthritis and other conditions. This has caused him to be a very moody elderly man. It has caused a division within the family, as no one feels comfortable around them causing further isolation.’
‘My grandparents were brought together through their love for travel and the daughter that quickly came along. A child forms the cement between a disparate couple as they combine their forces to do the best they can for that child; the love between them is partly transferred to the child as the focus and centre of attention as time demands. One’s own needs get pushed to the back. That child has gone, yet they stay together because at their age, they see little option. It is not unpleasant, yet not joyous, and maybe not even adequate. The idea of being alone scares them.’
‘I confronted my grandmother with the question of why are they still together? She responded…”well, there’s nothing else in life to do than stay together…well whatever…you watch after each other…I said I believe in the vows of marriage…we watch after each other…not like youngsters who marry for no reason…we didn’t do that”.’
‘Both my Nan and Grandad live a very lonely and isolated life and yet they are together. Family gatherings play a part in bringing them together, but like two opposing pole of a magnet, they quickly separate and slip back into what has become the norm for them.They took me on in difficult and trying circumstances when I was 11, this was emotional for all of us. And yet, my presence gave them a mission; a new and unexpected child to care for and nurture. A new life and raison d’être.’
‘And yet now, like my Mother, I am no longer with them. And now I have flown the nest as an independent mature young man looking to make my life a success, I worry about what I have left behind.’
Nathan Klein is currently in his final year of a BA(Hons) Photography degree at the University of Portsmouth. Nathan’s work concentrates on the exploration of notions of memory, escapism, and the repetition of everyday existence. Through exposing intimate moments in life, attempting to challenge the understanding of intimacy through questioning what is public and private in today’s age, with inhabiting images of what is deceived as private.
Last November we were pleased to be invited to speak at Lens 2014: Festival of Welsh Documentary Photography at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Another of the Festival’s speakers was Neil Turner who we are grateful to for sharing with us his photographs of Cwm Colliery, near Pontypridd, in the run up to the 1974 miners’ strike.
The strike was the result of the ‘three day week’, one of several measures introduced by the Conservative Government to conserve electricity. From 1st January until 7th March 1974 commercial users of electricity were restricted to three specified days consumption each week. At the end of January 1974, 81% of the National Union of Miners members voted to strike after rejecting the offer of a 16.5% pay rise. The Prime Minister Edward Heath then called a general election for February while the ‘three day week’ was still in force.
In 1974 I started work for the National Coal Board. As part of my training I was sent to work at Cwm Colliery, near Beddau, where I was assigned to the stores. 1974 was the year of the miner’s strike during the premiership of Ted Heath.
Many of the photographs are of the day to day comings and goings of the miners. The photographs were taken on my Nikkormat with my solitary lens of the time, the trusted 50mm F2. Film was processed by myself in my parents kitchen which doubled as a dark room for printing after everyone had gone to bed.
Some of the men in my photographs will have started work down the mines when they were 14 years of age, as did my father. The likes of such men will never be seen again.
I consider it a privilege to have spent a few months at Cwm Colliery and to have been in a position to document such times. I just wish I had known what I was doing at the time, and the significance.
The 16-week dispute, which saw coal production come to a complete standstill, ended 48 hours after Mr Heath’s Conservative party was voted out of power. The election produced a hung parliament with Harold Wilson becoming Prime Minister with a minority Labour Government.
On 6th March 1974 the miners called off a four-week strike following a 35% pay offer from the new Labour government. 260,000 miners accepted weekly pay rises ranging from £6.71 to £16.31. The offer was more than double the figure offered by Edward Heath’s government.