I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...
Monday, 16 September 2013
The houses, the mountains, the rugby, the pits: 'All that bollocks!'
I'm looking forward to the next issue of A Fine Beginning, a collective that includes Gawain Barnard (just about the loveliest photography man around anywhere), Abbie Trayler-Smith, James O.Jenkins (also of Portrait Salon) and Jack Latham (also of Miniclick) all of whom have got their fingers in so many photography pies and are so busy working at great ideas that it makes me feel quite pitiful by comparison.
Above spread by Gawain Barnard
A Fine Beginning shows work that is made in Wales so it's following in the footsteps of people like Robert Frank, John Davies, Geoff Charles and many more, but it goes beyond that more lyrical kind of photography which can have a sentiment-stoked distancing effect. A Fine Beginning wants to be something more real. As Abbie Trayler-Smith says in this interivew with Panos.
'I usually get a bit frustrated by the representation of Wales through photography, even with the wonderful explosion of contemporary photography, its popularity and a photographer’s ability to produce creative and beautiful projects, the representation of Wales in photography usually (but not always) goes back towards the well trodden and awfully boring ‘traditional’ view of Wales. The terraced houses, mountains, rugby, pits… all that bollocks! We can’t seem to get past this ‘Valleys Project’ 70s & 80s ethos of what it was like to be Welsh and it’s a terrible thing to pass onto the rest of the world, this idea of a down-trodden poor nation, still recovering from the mines. I’m hoping that AFB will encourage a rethink of Wales through photography, I don’t want it to be all happy look how wonderful we’re doing Wales, because it’s not, but it is interesting, good and bad!'
Above by Abbie Trayler-Smith
So the idea of A Fine Beginning is it will develop a new national photography and ultimately start commissioning and producing new work that will make the debate about how people, place, landscape, history, colonialism and migration all interact.
It's potentially a fascinating development but how you do that exactly is really difficult, especially as the landscape of Wales is so tied up with its identity; as its community and its history, as is the sentimentalised view of that. As an Englishman who works in Wales and visits there for family holidays, I also find it interesting to define the place as what it is not - why is the Gower Peninsula not like Cornwall (beside the obvious observation that it is avoided by certain London types - but why is that?), why does every Welsh person I know living in England miss their homeland so (and do Welsh people living in Scotland or Ireland have the same homesickness). What isn't it, why exactly is it a conceptual impossibility for somone like David Cameron or George Osborne to come from Wales (and he goes to Cornwall for his holidays).
So it's about getting beneath the surface, and incorporating all the different elements (including all the bollocks!) in a simple, coherent way. To that end, the first issue of A Fine Beginning features stories on the burning of the land, the Eisteddfod, death of valley communities and childhood obesity (Wales has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the UK).
Through its editorial policy, it's trying to do exactly what it says it wants to do which is actually quite unusual. How to do that over a period of time is the challenge. But the second edition will show where that challenge is heading.
A Fine Beginning is available to buy: