Towards a Welsh Photography

A paper presented at the Centre for the Study of Media and Culture in Small Nations, University of South Wales, Cardiff - March 2014.

The title of this paper makes reference to 'Towards a Welsh Photography’, an article written by Alistair Crawford in 1984. Whilst the very notion of a 'Welsh Photography’ would now be a deeply contested one, the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s arguably witnessed the emergence of a form of photography in Wales that reflected the cultural and political dynamics of both 'rural/Welsh language Wales’ and 'industrial/English language Wales’. It is arguably problematic to frame the activity in a reductive binary opposition but it provides a starting point for mapping the foundation of the photographic culture that would develop in Wales during the following decades.

The focus on the notion of a ‘Welsh Photography’ is timely for a number of reasons that include the emergence of a new mood in Wales in relation to photography (photography’s growing visibility in Wales’s national institutions including the National Eisteddfod, and Diffusion (The International Festival of Photography, Cardiff). In addition to this there have been a number of publications (in Welsh and part bi-lingual) reflecting upon photographic work from the period (Arwel Vittle – I’r Gad [Call to Action]; Raymond Daniel - Camera’r Cymro [Welshman’s Camera]). Not least, there is an apparent growing interest in photography’s capacity to articulate nationhood in the UK (Simon Roberts – ‘We English’; Tony Ray-Jones’s and Martin Parr - ‘Only in England’). There are also on-line materials relating to photography in Wales (A Fine Beginning; Gwead).

When the German photographer/artists Bernd and Hilla Becher visited Wales in 1965 any sense of British (let alone Welsh) photography was almost non-existent, certainly outside the fields of applied/commercial photography [1]. The Bechers were in many ways following a well-trodden path of photographers coming to Wales drawn by industry, but in their case it was specifically industry’s physical decline that was important. Having received a British Council bursary they made a recce visit to Wales in November 1965 and returned for an extended visit during1966, initially staying with miners’ families and then in a caravan in Glyn Neath. In contrast to earlier photographic visitors to Wales such as Eugene Smith and Robert Frank, the work of the Bechers’ appeared cool and detached and has been variously described as banal and/or objective.

It has been suggested that postwar contexts created attitudes towards art and photography in Germany that would persist and become recognised as representing something of a ‘German’ outlook. In Klaus Honnef’s essay ‘German Photography – Mirror of the German Mindset?’ he suggests that

"If… one wishes to trace the attributes from which it is possible to deduce that a German photography does indeed exist, the respective German situation plays an important role: the Kaiserreich, the Great War, the chaos following defeat, the ill-starred Weimar Republic, National Socialism, the breakdown in the wake of unconditional surrender, the division of Germany and its reconstruction. As long as similarities and correspondences, social correlations and cultural continuities arise, and as long as these manifest themselves in photographic images, photographs taken in Germany will inevitably have a German flavour. It is of little consequence whether a German photographer or a photographer from France, Hungary or the USA has taken the picture. Given this background, whether or not this vast quantity of images of things German can indicate a certain way of seeing that reflects a specifically German mentality or tradition must remain a moot question" [2].

For the Bechers the drive to forge something new from something old was a strong one and would continue throughout an extended career that would see them make work across the world. Arguably they took their ‘German Mindset’ with them and it became manifest in the corpus of their work through their working methodologies and aesthetics. Perhaps, in contemplating a ‘Welsh Photography’, the formation of a ‘Welsh Mindset’ can be identified as an emerging phenomenon during the period 1965 – 1985? It is arguably more difficult to identify a shared aesthetic, for example, for those contributing to photography in Wales during the period.

If the Bechers were following a well-trodden path to Wales then so was Raymond Moore. Moore was however following the path of artists rather than photographers with his subjects being poetic landscapes and metaphor rather than that of industry. The most successful twentieth century artists to precede him in making their work in the southwest of Wales include Graham Sutherland and John Piper. Sutherland extensively used photography to create studies for his paintings, whereas Piper often incorporated photography in his artworks and was a photographer of merit. Moore, a Royal College of the Arts trained painter, along with his artist-wife Ray Howard Jones, was a frequent summer visitor to Skomer Island off the west Wales coast. Frustrated with the process of painting he turned to photography and had, by the late 1960s, received acclaim with his work entering the then influential Gernsheim Collection. He also spent a period of time with the respected American art photographer Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During the 1960s the Arts Council of Great Britain had been largely hostile to the support of photography as an art form. Wales did however take the lead when it funded the first ever Arts Council support for a living photographer. Through the efforts of one of its officers, Peter Jones, the Welsh Arts Council funded a touring show and catalogue of Moore’s work in 1968. The work presented in both the exhibition and catalogue included that made in Wales along with images made elsewhere. On the one hand Moore produced poetic and metaphorical landscapes such as ‘Cloudpool (Pembrokeshire)’. It is worth noting that throughout the 1970s the photographer/artist John Blakemore adopted a similar approach to his own photographic work on the Welsh coasts and landscapes of North Wales. Moore’s abstracts and details such as ‘Wall of Light’ (which was one of the images acquired for the Gernsheim Collection) was bringing to Britain, a fine art photography approach that was already well developed in the USA. Moore’s image ‘Strange Fence - Blainau Ffestiniog’ perhaps best represents what he became renowned for. Such images offer an oblique, strange and often ethereal projection of his interests in Daoism and photography's capacity to capture something beyond the everyday.

In 1969 the conceptual artist Robert Smithson visited Wales having interest in the two themes expressed separately by Raymond Moore and the Bechers. Smithson and his wife, Nancy Holt, were fascinated by man’s imprint on the natural landscape and spent time in west Wales and visited Pentre Ifan, the Bronze Age megalithic site. Smithson also created and photographed the ‘Untitled (Zig-Zag Mirror Displacement)’ artwork at an opencast coalmine, probably on the outskirts of Tredegar [3]. The works of Robert Smithson and Bernd & Hilla Becher would be brought together in the exhibition and publication ‘Field Trips’ inspired by their visit to Oberhausen in the Ruhr Valley in 1968. During the late 1960s and early 1970s the work of the Bechers’ was taken up by the international conceptual arts world. Photography was becoming widely accepted as a contemporary art form.

It can be suggested that as photography became accepted as a creative independent practice, the two key subjects in Wales, as illustrated here, were timeless landscapes and heavy industry.

The material being discussed here is done so in a linear, chronological order in terms of the creation of photographs, exhibitions catalogues and the like. There is often assumption that those making work, and the creative contexts in which that work is made, are in some form of dialogue with one influencing the other. The work of Merthyr-based Robert Haines provides an example of how this is not always the case. Haines’s 1970s work would not be widely discussed until it surfaced 2008 such as his lecture at the Festival of Welsh Documentary Photography in Aberystwyth. To quote from the cover of the book ‘Once Upon A Time in Wales’ published by Dewi Lewis in 2008

"For 35 years this extraordinary collection of photographs remained hidden from the world. Taken around 1971 - 1972, by 19 year old photographer Robert Haines, they record life in the Welsh valleys, in the village of Heolgerrig and nearby Merthyr Tydfil. Heolgerrig was a very close-knit community with Welsh the first language. It was a mining community where most of the men worked underground and life seemed to revolve around the pub and the chapel. Merthyr Tydfil, once the ‘Iron Capital’ of the world, had a justifiable reputation as ‘tough’ with characters such as hard man, Melvin Webber, who died after being blasted by a shotgun, and ‘Mad’ Malcolm for whom no chemical substance was too strong" [4].

Robert Haines focused on the characters around him at the time including Melvin Webber and ‘Mad’ Malcolm. He was aware that the 1970s were a time of flux and “felt at the time that everything was changing” [5]. Haines went on to work in the television and publishing media as a photographer, cameraman, and journalist and also as a partner in an agency writing news and feature items for ITV and BBC television and radio. Haines rediscovered the images that he had made decades earlier and felt that they would make an interesting exhibition and book. The popularity of this book led to the making of his film ‘Astronauts, Vikings and Ghosts’ when he returned to his hometown in search of the subjects from the old photographs. The film was premiered at Festival International du Film sur l'Art in Montreal and won "Best Documentary" at Newport International Film Festival.

Another body of photographs from the period that is unlikely to have influenced photography in Wales at the time was that of the Swedish photographer Kjell Andersson. Whilst the book ‘Gruvabetare i Wales’ (Miners Wales) was published in the 1970s it was largely aimed at a Scandinavian audience, with its Swedish only text written by Mikael Wistrom. Andersson visited the Bargoed area with the aim of documenting conditions in and around the South Wales coalfield. Inspired by the work of American photographer, Eugene Smith, who had photographed miners in Wales in the 1950s, Andersson visited the Bargoed area in the autumn of 1973 and again in 1976. Living with a local family, Andersson produced photographs taken in and around Bargoed Colliery illustrate the experience of a generation of miners. His images of domestic and social life depict the strength of community and local culture at that time. The street scene showing the graffiti ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’ shows the ambivalence to national identity that could be found at that time.

Andersson would later return to Wales to make a film about the Miners' Strike in 1984 – 1985 and went on to be a notable film-maker in Sweden, with television and cinema releases including ‘Wallander’ and music videos for the legendary Abba. In 2012 he donated his series of photographs of the Bargoed area to the Winding House, the museum for Caerphilly County Borough. The photographs formed the subject of an exhibition and catalogue in 2013 with Newport Documentary Photography students assisting in the editing of the show. Newport staff were able to assist in the development of a partnership between the Winding House and Ffotogallery with the show becoming a key feature of the Diffusion International Festival of Photography. The 1970s works of both Kjell Andersson and Robert Haines suggests that interesting and important photography is not always immediately visible following its production.

In 1971 the Welsh Arts Council presented Magnum photographer David Hurn with an award for ‘outstanding merit in a living artist’ [6]. Hurn’s work had, by this time, been published and exhibited internationally. Hurn’s coverage of the 1966 tragedy at Aberfan was a key factor leading to him returning to make his home in Wales - he had lived in Cardiff as a child [7]. In the early 1970s he was encouraged to establish a photography course at Newport by Peter Jones of the Welsh Arts Council - the course was a TOPs scheme that had been developed to get people into jobs. Hurn had an extraordinary impact on Photography at Newport. Projects included getting students to produce photographs illustrating big national news stories published as far afield as the French press. The course created unique characteristics in what would become Newport’s extensive alumni of documentary photographers. Creative skill, married with a strong understanding of the competitive pressures of photography, were among the attributes that Newport photography graduates took into the world. Photography at the time was rapidly evolving and the gradual acceptance of photography was starting to be established within the fine arts. David Hurn persuaded Keith Arnatt, a leading contemporary British artist at the time, to join the photography staff at Newport adding another dimension to what was largely a reportage orientated photography offer.

The desire to further develop live-brief work for students, along with the humanistic dimension of the documentary photography course, led to the development of the ambitious Newport survey, which started in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, Documentary Photography students worked closely with those studying Graphic Design to document life in the town. Collectively, the Newport Survey sought to document different areas of life in Newport’s changing communities during a decade of intense social change. The resulting work was published annually and also displayed within the town’s Art Gallery and Museum. Whilst the policies of Thatcherism did much to generate the demise of the heavy industry in the region it would be misleading to characterize the Survey as depicting nothing but decline; on the contrary, it often showed the resilient spirit of Newport’s population along with the presence of new industries such as the emerging electronics sector at that time.

The 1970s saw creative/independent photography in Britain starting to gather momentum in its development. An exhibition of Bill Brandt’s work at London’s Hayward Gallery in 1970 has since become regarded as a milestone for photography in Britain. During the decade organizations such as the Arts Council of Great Britain became more supportive of contemporary photography fostering the development of a small number of photography-specific galleries in Britain, including the Photographers Gallery and the Half-Moon Gallery (London), Impressions Gallery (York), Open Eye Gallery (Liverpool) and the Side Gallery (Newcastle).

In 1973 the Arts Council of Great Britain appointed Barry Lane as its first photographic officer. Another important contribution to photography in Britain at the time was the development of a small number of publications including Creative Camera, which regularly featured reports on the activities at Museum of Modern Art. A visible example of growing Arts Council support was the annually published ‘New British Image’, a series showcasing the emergent British photography at the time. In 1977 ‘New British Image 4’ provided an anthology of 73 students and recent graduates, with the editorial committee including several photographers teaching on the documentary photography course at Newport. David Hurn, Daniel Meadows, Ron McCormick and Keith Arnatt from Newport, joined Paul Hill, Bill Gaskins, Aaron Scharf, Chris Steele Perkins and Peter Turner on the editorial committee. Ron McCormick, the editor for the 1977 publication, writing an afterword to the photographs suggested that the work of these young photographers

"constitutes a step forward when the prevailing climate in British photographic education has for so long been characterised by an almost unhealthy concern with the industrial and commercial applications of the medium. Such a constrictive educational environment has produced generations of photographers singularly lacking in creative vision. The debate currently taking place in photographic education revolves around this very issue of, a training for industry or the study of the medium within a broader aesthetic and social context" [8].

Photographic education was developing quickly with key courses established at Trent Polytechnic at Nottingham, Derby College of Art, Manchester Polytechnic and (of course) Gwent College of Higher Education (Newport).

In the days before the Internet, mobile phones and indeed ‘every’ home having a telephone, it was deemed necessary to list the addresses of all those photographers who had contributed to the book at the rear of the publication. No doubt, this was in anticipation of excited readers seeking to purchase the work or services of those listed therein. The list offers an interesting snapshot of the range of colleges providing photographic education at the time. From Wales, Newport has nine students represented, joined by two from Swansea College of Art. There are, however, students from Wales representing colleges in England. One of these is Marian Delyth (then Jones) from Llanbadarn Road, Aberystwyth.

After her early education at Ardwyn Grammar School in Aberystwyth Marian Delyth studied at Cardiff Art College in 1972, eventually graduating from Gwent College of Higher Education in 1976 with a First Class BA in Graphic Design before proceeding to gain a MA in photography at Birmingham Polytechnic in 1977. Her photograph in ‘New British Image 4’ is from a series of photographs of deserted homes in the streets of Pill, Newport, taken when the area was part of a regeneration scheme. During the period 1973 – 1976 when Delyth was studying at Newport she undertook a number of personal photography projects in Ceredigion, Splott/Adamsdown in Cardiff and at Pill in Newport. Discussing the period she said

"Looking back now I see how attending Newport School of Art from 1973-76 (then Gwent College of Higher Education) was hugely important to my life and career. I don't believe I knew anything about the Documentary Photography School when I applied - I was going there to study Graphic Design. But sneaking into the lectures of that school opened up a whole new world and a new way of looking at photography and an introduction to the work of major photographers" [9].

Marian Delyth’s first language is Welsh and using the language to title the photograph in the New British Image publication provided a clear statement regarding her strongly felt beliefs about Wales – its language and its self-determination. For many in Wales during the period, there was a strong sense of crisis with the declining use of the Welsh language in everyday life and the erosion of traditional ways of life and culture in Wales. There had already been decades of struggle to secure a future for the language. The lack of devolved political power in Wales in the 1950s was exemplified by the flooding of Tryweryn. The event had galvanized nationalism in Wales and resulted in every Welsh Member of Parliament, nationalist or otherwise, voting against the scheme to provide water to the English city of Liverpool. Both peaceful and violent resistance in the name of nationalism and language increased from this time. The decline of the Welsh language was evident: in 1961 only 25 per cent of the population used it, and this had fallen to 20 per cent by 1971. In 1962 Saunders Lewis had called on the Welsh people to make the salvation of the language central to their lives in his speech ‘Tynged yr iaith’ (‘The fate of the language’), the speech was given as the BBC Wales Annual Radio Lecture.

Non-violent action against government offices, road signs and television masts increased, and a steady shift in attitude was brought about in Wales by increasing the awareness of the loss of the Welsh language. The Welsh Arts Council did start to subsidize publishers of Welsh-language books and eventually both Labour and Conservative governments yielded to political pressure, opening the way for the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales in 1964. There were a string of ‘Welsh’ successes including the introduction of a major Language Act in 1967, although for many these ‘gains’ failed to meaningfully address the problem. To put the ‘crisis’ into perspective, the referendum on Welsh Devolution, which took place on 1 March 1979, resulted in Wales voting by 956,000 to 243,000 against an elected Welsh Assembly. By 1981 the proportion of Welsh-speakers in Wales had slipped further to 18.9 per cent.

For her MA in photography Marian Delyth decided to undertake a project on life in rural Wales, near her home in mid-Wales. In his 2013 autobiography ‘Relationship with Pictures’ the art historian Peter Lord discusses Delyth’s project and her developing interest in the concept of documentary photography at the time.

"The interaction between documentation (involving the idea of dispassionate or objective observation) and 'committed' or creative' photography would become a feature of her work as it developed, and the seeds of her concern with the elusive distinction were sown in the Mynydd Bach project… she chose to work within a single square mile, imposed on the map, rather than to explore an area the boundaries of which were defined by its sociological or topographical coherence. Nevertheless, she derived her concept from the writing of D.J. Williams, and in Welsh, D.J.'s phrase, ‘y filltir sgwar’, has an emotional resonance far deeper than the cold measure evoked by the English words. The expression suggests not the measured square mile, but the networks of relationships among the people that create the identity of a rural community" [10].

Whilst Delyth was very selective in terms of locations, she has pointed out that she actually did not restrict herself to the literal square mile. She wanted to reflect the locality of Mynydd Bach and therefore ensured that her selected locations included key elements such as chapel, school, shop, farms and the area’s farmers cooperative. The resultant photographs were arranged on a number of designed panels and were organised as portraits, interior views, landscapes, etc. One panel presented the map itself with colour-coded numbered dots placed along side properties with the four categories of property being ‘Permanently Occupied’, ‘Occasionally Occupied’, ‘Vacant’ and ‘Derelict’. The portraits, often featuring groups of all those in a property, were also presented with associated colour-coded numbering allowing the viewer to match the people to the properties. The result of this was striking.

Whereas Twm Penllwynbedw and those others who had lived and farmed on Myndd Bach for generations seemingly match the fabric of the places depicted in the interior shots and landscapes, the other inhabitants look modern, sophisticated and somewhat out of place. The strategy that Delyth was applying to her documentary project was providing a clear illustration of the demise of farming in areas such as Mynydd Bach and the increasing trend for redundant farm buildings to be purchased to be converted into holiday homes by those from outside the area.

Marian Delyth’s enthusiasm for the potential of photography and her deep-rooted commitment to Wales, which was in turn coupled to her experiences of living and working in both rural and industrial Wales, led to the publishing project ‘Cymru’r Camera (Photographers’ Wales)’. Y Lolfa publishers agreed to produce a photography book on a Wales theme with Delyth as editor. She solicited submission from her own networks as well as advertising the opportunity in newspapers in Wales. Published in 1982, the book represented the first survey of contemporary photography in Wales and highlights the concerns and approaches of photographers at the time.

Industrial community and the decline of industry itself are among the themes illustrated by Steve Benbow. Benbow had been one of the early students on the Documentary Photography course at Newport and went on to have a career as an international photojournalist. He was also a founding member of the London based photojournalists co-operative ‘Network’ and a founder member of Ffotogallery. Also featured is the photograph ‘Gwyrthdystiad, Abertawe’ (‘Protest, Swansea’) by Huw Phillips, which epitomizes the joined sense of purpose in Wales at that time. Featuring a demonstration at Swansea, the photograph shows police restraining protesters holding English- and Welsh-language placards of which the most prominent reads, ‘Blae mae’r sianel Gymraeg, Lloegr? Blae mae’r gwaith?’ (‘Where is the Welsh Channel, England? Where is the work?’). This Welsh-language placard partly obscures an English-language message, which reads, ‘Workers: stop another 1926 sell-out’. There is a sense that in this single photograph, old-Wales joins modern-Wales in a new-Wales, a Wales about to be dramatically shaped by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.

Martin Roberts and Huw Jones illustrate the issue of holiday homes in Wales and Anglicized road signs respectively. The billboard poster advertising Cottage Country Butter in Roberts’s image is deliciously subverted with the overwritten graffiti ‘Burn Them Down’. The humour of David Hurn shines through in his sheep sheltering on Mynydd Epynt and people sheltering on a windswept Aberafan beach. The two-page spread provides clear reference to prevalent binary of the time, rural and industrial Wales.

Mike Berry’s contributions focus on traditional life in mid and north Wales – in particular the decline of religion. A theme that he would also explore a few years later as part of his work at Glyncorrwg for Ffotogallery’s Valleys Project. Raymond Daniel captures the spirit of a Magic Mushroom Festival in the Elan Valley (as police move hippies on from this remote area of Wales). Daniel had an extensive and successful career working for Y Cymro newspaper. ‘Cymru’r Camera’ included just two of Marian Delyth’s images from the Mynydd Bach project - the brooding landscape ‘Toriad gwawr, Mynydd Bach’ and the portrait of Twm Penllynbedw. Robert Greetham’s photographs of stallholders at a fair were taken in Aberystwyth where he was studying an MA in photography under Alistair Crawford. Greetham was the first graduate to undertake a MA in photography in Wales and became the Director of Ffotogallery in 1982.

As with ‘New British Image 4’, it was deemed necessary to list the addresses of all those photographers who had contributed to the book at the rear of the publication. In her Welsh language introduction to the book Marian Delyth points out that the backgrounds of the contributing photographers varied widely whilst the foundations of all their pictures is very much of Wales. She also acknowledges the influence of Newport’s school of Documentary Photography on many of the 37 photographers listed.

Since that time Marian Delyth’s work has been published regularly in all major Welsh publications and numerous books. During her career she has illustrated and designed over 400 book jackets, designed many books in which her photographs appear and collaborated with artists and poets to create award winning books. In 2007, S4Cs ‘Sioe Gelf’ produced a documentary film about Delyth’s Mynydd Bach project and the resultant exhibition in the area, in which the original project was shown alongside the new contemporary work that she had made there. As previously mentioned, in 2013 Peter Lord discussed Delyth’s Mynydd Bach project along with her commitment to Wales in his autobiography ‘Relationships with Pictures’.

In rounding off this survey of photography in Wales 1965 - 1985 there is a need to briefly review the early development of the first gallery dedicated to photography in Wales. It is perhaps no surprise that the gallery’s first show in 1978 would take the form of ‘Collected Photographs – Photographs from the collection of David Hurn’ or that an exhibition of Raymond Moore’s work would soon follow. Within twelve months of that there would be a show selected from photographers in Wales entitled ‘Photography Wales 79’. Those interested in the relationship between photography and Wales are indebted to Robert Greetham for his unpublished history ‘Ffotogallery 1978 – 1996’. Some of the information therein contributed to an overview of Ffotogallery during the period to be found in ‘Creative Photography and Wales’ published by the University of Wales Press in 2012. It is worth briefly recounting some of the dynamics that led to the gallery’s creation.

If Marian Delyth’s book is the first articulation of Welsh Photography in images, then Alistair Crawford produced the first written description of photography’s emergent Welsh dimension. Published in ‘Planet’ magazine in 1978, the photographer and academic outlined photography’s position in Britain and suggested that there should be priority in Wales for the development of a photographic gallery for Wales in which photography and its relationship to Wales could be celebrated. During 1977 and 1978 David Hurn had helped organize a series of lectures on photography through the Extra Mural Department of University College, Cardiff in collaboration with the Welsh Arts Council. Sir Tom Hopkinson, one time editor of ‘Picture Post’, was the Director of the Centre for Journalism Studies at University College, Cardiff and a key advocate for photography in Wales at the time. The lectures drew a large popular response with guest speakers including Bert Hardy and Don McCullin. As a direct result of those lectures Oriel Ffotograffeg came into existence through the work of enthusiasts, professionals and academics.

The first few years would prove turbulent and difficult as the organization, largely run by volunteers, would work to professionalize itself. On the one hand volunteers such as Marian Delyth and Steve Benbow would paint out the gallery on weekends buying the paint from Bessemer Road market (then the only place open on a Sunday). On the other, the ambition of Director Bill Messer to engage with European Photography would see him, along with the focus of the gallery, often some distance away from Wales. Following an acrimonious dispute, and the intervention of the Welsh Arts Council, Robert Greetham took over as Director and the organization was rebranded the Ffotogallery. As part of this process Ffotogallery restated its aims as “To promote and encourage the practice of photography in Wales. To bring photography of the highest international standard to Wales” [11].

The change in focus became visible in Ffotogallery’s programming with exhibitions such as ‘Cardiff as a Seaport’ and the development of shows to be presented away from its own gallery such as ‘The Welsh Landscape’ for St. Donat’s Art Centre, and Peter Fraser’s ‘Recent Colour Work’ for University College, Cardiff which had an exhibition corridor for photography during the period. It is worth adding that at the same time that the colour work of Peter Fraser (who is from Aberdare) was on show in the University College, Martin Parr’s black & white project, ‘Bad Weather’, was being exhibited at Ffotogallery’s Charles Street premises.

Photographers at Newport would have a significant influence on Ffotogallery’s early output. Between 1981 and 1984 the gallery’s management committee consisted of approximately ten members, a proportion of whom were photography staff from Newport including Ron McCormick, Ian Walker, Keith Arnatt, Clive Landen, Pete Davis and Daniel Meadows. Keith Arnatt was the selector for Ffotogallery’s Welsh Open Photography 1983. Both he and Ron McCormick would feature in a two-part landscape exhibition ‘Eye of the Beholder’. Interestingly the two parts were urban/industrial and poetic/rural – themes that had continued through the period discussed here.

Ffotogallery continued its focus on promoting and encouraging photographic practice in Wales with the development of a similar project to the Newport Survey, but covering a wider geographical area. In October 1983 Susan Beardmore became Ffotogallery’s director and announced that an inaugural exhibition of the Valleys Project would take place in February 1984. The exhibition was made up of the work of sixteen contemporary photographers, a selection of historical photography, and the work of four community photography workshops. Phase two of the Valleys Project proved distinctly different from the first, with Ffotogallery funding the contributors through commissions. Ffotogallery was one of the early photographic galleries in Britain to make a commitment to photographers, allowing them the time and creative freedom to document their subjects within an overarching brief. The commissions were awarded to Ron McCormick and recent Newport graduate Paul Reas. Rhymney Valley District Council commissioned John Davies to undertake his part of this phase – the exhibition took place early in 1985.

Later in 1985 Ffotogallery produced the publication ‘Valley Visitors’. Researched and written by Newport’s Ian Walker it provided an insight into the range of key photographers who had previously worked in the Valleys. It remains a significant contribution to the understanding of the relationship between photography and the Valleys, and at the time also provided Ffotogallery with a counterpoint to the potentially contentious contribution to the Valleys Project by fashion photographer David Bailey. However, as with the broader project, Walker’s focus was on the south Wales Valleys and not Wales as a whole.

By the mid 1980’s there had been almost two decades of steady development in photography in and of Wales, with photography as a creative and independent (non-commercial) activity receiving various forms of advocacy. Ffotogallery had started to publish and distribute its own magazine Ffotoview with the cover of the Spring 1984 issues giving an insight into the concerns of the day including features on ‘The Earliest Photography in Wales’, ‘Alvin Coburn in Harlech’, ‘The Valleys Project’ and the article by Alistair Crawford ‘Towards a Welsh Photography’.

Crawford’s considerable endeavor to help develop photography in Wales would often lead to him producing provocative writings. Here, in reviewing a book ‘wrapped in Welsh poetry’ by Ron Davies, he derides Welsh book publishers for not having the confidence to publish books that focus completely on photography. He seemingly contradicts his own argument as he suggests the ‘barrier’ of a Welsh only text diminishes the photographs themselves, whilst also highlighting the ‘international’ nature of the language of photography. It should be noted that in the case of Kjell Andersson’s book the quality of the photographs overcome any barrier the Swedish language could offer. Arguably Crawford’s dispute is more about the hierarchy of one communicative form (the word) over another (the photograph). At the very least, the title of his article suggests that there was a mood at the time that the relationship between Wales and photography was a significant and mature one.

To return to the notion of a ‘Welsh Photography’, does the work produced in Wales during the period 1965 – 1985 represent a ‘Welsh Mindset’? It can be argued that the ‘correspondences, social correlations and cultural continuities’ that Klaus Honnef discusses in his essay emerge in a Welsh form in photographic images discussed here. Whether that then manifests itself into a form of aesthetic, such as seen in the example of work of the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, is less clear and certainly needs much more work. To paraphrase Honnef;

that the photographs of things Welsh discussed here can indicate ‘a certain way of seeing’ that reflects a specifically Welsh mentality or tradition must remain a moot question.

© Paul Cabuts

[1] David Bailey was one of a number of fashion photographers who could be seen to represent a ‘British/English’ attitude.
[2] HONNEF,K. 1997. German Photography – Mirror of the German Mindset? In: HONNEF,K. et al (eds). 1997. German Photography 1870 - 1970. Köln: DuMont. p15
[4] HAINES,R. 2008. Once Upon a Time in Wales. Stockport: Dewi Lewis. cover.
[5] ibid. p5
[6] HURN,D. 1979. David Hurn Photographs 1956 – 1976. London: Arts Council of Great Britain. end cover
[7] Lens -Welsh Festival of Documentary Photography 2009
[8] McCORMICK,R. (ed). 1977. New British Image 4. London: Arts Council of Great Britain. p91
[9] Email exchange between Marian Delyth and Paul Cabuts 2014
[10] LORD, P. 2013. Relationships with Pictures. Cardigan: Parthian. p87
[11] GREETHAM, R. 1996. Ffotogallery 1976 – 1996. Unpublished. p7