“Photography allows me to witness people’s lives and see places I would never see.”
I was born and have lived in the South Wales valleys all of my life. I come from a coal mining family. After studying for A levels, In 1987, I managed to obtain employment as an Apprentice Industrial Photographer for a large car components company. Although my real passion was documentary photography. Whilst studying under Magnum photographer, David Hurn, I began to photograph the people and places in the mining communities that I grew up in. I started in 1980, and it was the beginning of a photographic journey that has lasted more than four decades.
As collieries closed, more women found work in factories and offices in and around the valley communities. But factories would come and go. The club on a Saturday evening still attracts many through their doors. You could still light up a cigarette inside public places back in the 90s.
I remember when I was a six year old child, hearing about a coal tip falling onto a school, just a few miles from where I lived. My Father went to help with the rescue.
Gaynor is the same age as me. She was dragged out with two broken legs, from the coal slurry that engulfed the school. Her brother and sister were killed in the disaster. 116 children and 28 adults were killed on the 21 October 1966. I made a portrait of Gaynor 50 years on from the disaster. She is looking up at where the coal tip came tumbling down; the flattened a farm house, a large part of Pantglas Junior School and terraced houses, killing many in it’s path. Miners from the nearby colliery came from underground to try and rescue their own children.
When I began this project in 1980, there were over 30 NCB deep coal mines and numerous private drift mines in the South Wales coalfield. After the year long miners’ strike of 1984/85, pits began to close on a unprecedented scale. Communities that depended on the pits for work were becoming ghost towns as unemployment increased. Working mens’ halls, chapels and pubs were all facing closure. The heart of the community could no longer support them. Many traditions would change forever. Many valley folk still blame the ‘Thatcher years’ to this day, for the vandalism of hard working socialist communities.
During the time I spent photographing the police in the Rhondda, they were still busy with drink related incidents. We attended a ‘blues and twos’ call where a young lady had an argument with her partner. The police arrested him for carrying an offensive weapon in the street and threatening his girlfriend. I later took the photo to show the young lady. She was happy for it to be used, as it told the story of abuse towards women.
Since the coal mines have disappeared, the undulating valley landscapes have changed beyond recognition. Job opportunities are rare and many travel to nearby towns and cities to find work. The culture of the hard working miner, factory and steel workers has been replaced with a cosmopolitan culture; people moving from outside of the valleys to live in the area. This however, doesn’t change the fact that ‘there will aways be a welcome in the south Wales valleys’.
This body of work is extremely important to me and very close to my heart. This is why I want to share the photographs in a hard back limited edition high quality book with 200 pp+. I’ve produced a number of books in the past and have always received positive feedback. This book covers a large part of my life and I’m very proud of the photographs.
I recently had a book published through 2Ten Books called ‘Last Days at Big K’. I was the only photographer to make a photographic document of the last deep coal mine in the UK – Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire.
I would really appreciate your support and there are lovely rewards on offer. There is no other publication covering the expanse of time over four decades of valley life. The photographs are all complete and will be placed into chapters, illustrating the four decades I’ve been making photographs in the valleys.
Thank you for spending the time to read this.