Photography's Voice

Article in Bevan Foundation Review, Winter 2012

Growing up in the Rhondda, and coming from a family that included keen amateur photographers, it was not surprising that I should eventually become deeply interested in the ways in which photography could engage with notions of history, memory and place.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the society of south Wales was one of those most devastated through the vagaries of laissez faire capitalism and also, because of this, one of the most visualised. By the time I was recording the region as a documentary photographer in the late 1980s, the traditional indicators of working class life were rapidly disappearing. My own photography attempted to reveal the dramatic changes that were taking place. The terraces of miners’ houses had become homes for commuters, pitheads had been replaced by memorial sculptures, and conical slag heaps had become smooth green bumps. My book, Creative Photography and Wales, presents a history of the relationship between photography and the industrial south east of Wales in the twentieth century where, to a large extent, those from outside the region produced the images that would represent it.

Through my own teaching I have been keen to promote the notion that photography can be a tool for change, capable of challenging dominant forces. The importance of providing opportunities for individuals to share their own narratives, in their own voice, was at the core of the pioneering digital storytelling project Capture Wales run by the BBC. I was delighted to have been involved with this, and subsequently helped develop one of its highly successful spin-offs, Breaking Barriers, currently based in Llanhilleth.

Photography teaching at Newport’s University has an international reputation for helping develop some of the world’s leading photographers. As Academic Subject Leader for photography, I strive to promote Newport’s long-standing ethos that as photographers we should not only apply integrity when showing the world, but should also use photography’s influence to change it for the better.

As a member of the Bevan Foundation I fully support its desire to shape government policy, inform public opinion and inspire others into action. Through my own work I aim to promote individual and collective engagement in the pursuit of social justice within Wales and beyond – and in particular, in the ways in which photography can provide a voice that can challenge and enhance the society in which we live.

© Paul Cabuts 2012