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.
Craig Bernard’s project Standard Survival Technique began from a visit to the Forest of Dean. ‘The pictures were made in 2009 and 2010 and I wanted to create a feeling rather than a narrative so the lighting is important. I took a few pictures on a day trip to the Forest and the whole project stemmed from those first pictures.’
‘Because of the open ended feel to the story I wanted to just hint at things. The pictures are about me just as much as they are about the children in them. I tried to create this foreboding place that three brothers travel through with each other, so a sense of togetherness or dealing with a situation comes across in the pictures, I think when children share a history good or bad they find a way of talking or coping with that history collectively or individually.’
The songwriter Colm Hall wrote a story to accompany the work, some of which is included with the photographs below.
For there are those other memories too. The ones we hid, and bade ourselves keep. The ones that Shaun could not laugh off; that Darren could not fight. Memories of hiding out here past dusk, refusing to go home; of the things we could not do then, of the things we did not understand.
Feeling afraid. And over time, that fear became anger, and I could not put it out. We locked them up in the dark, and made them dull; those memories. We left them in our wake, so that they might fade. And the details slip away towards obscurity, but never fully get there.
The colors dampen in the mind. Who wore what when? Who did what to whom? And in what order? These things go. Dialogue is erased, the faces are drawn blank; the light drained. I look at the land about me, the woods, the sheer brightness of the day, the colors so vibrant in the daylight, and it hardly seems like this could have been the place.
Our memories are elusive. They paint their own past. Or cover it over. We are left with a negative; a small dark clip of the truth, and that is all that we are able or prepared to see. We are afraid to blow it up, afraid of the bigger picture. These things we have seen; they have shaped us. They direct us still. And we will keep them with us always, whether we mean to or not. So, no, we have not forgotten; but then again, nor do we remember.
Craig Bernard is a Cardiff born photographer living in London. His pictures are ongoing project based stories, some made over years to just days. Craig previously worked as a manager and curator at Third Floor Gallery curating monthly exhibitions of new and established documentary photographers.
South of the Landsker is work by photographer Mark Griffiths exploring ‘The Landsker Line’ – a language boundary between the Welsh speaking and English speaking areas of South West Wales.
‘The Landsker Line is an invisible but definite line that has been present for nearly a thousand years and divides the south west corner of Wales from the rest of the country. South of this line the people are of very mixed origins: Scandinavians, Normans, Anglo Saxons and Flemings as opposed to the Anglo/Celtic native heritage from the regions north of the line.’
‘The people within this region are an eclectic mix of characters with a diverse range of cultural and historical backgrounds. The region has been described as “Little England Beyond Wales” due to the sheer number of emigrants to the area and the abundance of the Welsh language spoken.’
‘The Landsker has changed position many times, first moving north into the foothills of the Preseli Mountains during the military campaigns of the Early Middle Ages, and then moving southwards again in more peaceful times, as the English colonists found that farming and feudalism were difficult to maintain on cold acid soils and exposed hillsides.’
‘This body of work is the outcome of a loosely based exploration of the land and the people encountered. A vast majority of this landscape remains untouched and its historic roots and identity are still prominent in the ancient woodland, mountains and lakes that encapsulates the county.’
Mark Griffiths graduated with a degree in photojournalism from the University of Wales/Trinity St David in 2013. He is based in South and West Wales and works as a freelance photographer.
South of the Landsker will be exhibited at the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven from the 4th to 30th May.
Lua lives next to the river. It partly explains her reasoning when asked to photograph the River Usk in 2014 why her gaze turned from the water to those beside it. The life that the river brings seems to excite her, not the river itself. She explained that the water seemed “cold and disconnected” from the people that surround it and that she wanted to “look at the river and its relationship with the people surrounding it and how it affects their daily live instead of focusing on the physical form of the river”.
‘Discovering that there was a deep detachment between the population and their ‘natural’ environment became the inspiration behind the work. This is where the study of the city comes in, the postnaturalism that surrounds the natural, city dwellers and city life creating an evolving form of realism that makes sense then and there, crafting a life and moving through it, the river of life sitting right beside the real thing.’
‘Villages were built beside rivers for the simple reason that they provide water and energy. During the industrial revolution the river’s role changed and became a tool for transporting coal and other materials. However, nowadays, with the further proliferation of capitalism, the use of the river is now little more than a nostalgic view. A fenced off postcard.’
‘By exploring this disconnection, I also observed how the river could be perceived as a threat. The separation with the nature and its rhythm is now part of how we interact and exist within the land. Cautionary barriers alerting us to the dangerous deep zones in the riverbanks, make impossible to discover and interact with the river. One of the consequences of this situation is the idealization of the nature and its naive misconception. But I like to think that we are more primitive than we think. The turbulent nature maintains engrained above the modern conventions. Undetectable rituals in the everyday life manifest in the form of plastic trees, exotic pets and yearning songs. Mysterious symbols of human expression proof that the strength of the river still lives inside of us.’
Lua’s work explores identity, representation, and otherness reaching the documentary photography boundaries. Her work focuses on the banal moments and subjects from daily life in western modern civilization. She uses photography to consider social issues while commenting on this tradition and challenging its limits.
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.’