Robert Haines

Once Upon a Time in Wales and This Time in Wales

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.’

2Lewis 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.

Billy Diana

‘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.

The book Once Upon a Time in Wales was published by Dewi Lewis Publishing in 2008.

‘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.

James O Jenkins


Gareth Phillips

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?’


The resulting artwork was premiered at a summer exhibition at Ffotogallery and is currently being made into a limited edition book, available in spring 2015. For more info on the book go to



Twitter: @info_hiraeth
Instagram: @garethphillips_

James O Jenkins

Frame of Mind

Christoph Soeder

‘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.’

Frame of Mind

Frame of Mind

Frame of Mind
Crispy Newpoet

Frame of Mind
Crona Dargarth UE

Frame of Mind

Frame of Mind

‘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.
(by Momen).

Frame of Mind

Frame of Mind

Frame of Mind

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.

James O Jenkins