Merthyr Rising

Tom Johnson and Charlotte James combine high fashion and small-town faces in their series shot in former Welsh mining town, Merthyr Tydfil

Words by Charlotte James

Shot in Merthyr Tydfil throughout the summer of 2015, Merthyr Rising, a collaboration between photographer, Tom Johnson and Creative Director and Merthyr native, Charlotte James sees residents of the former Welsh mining town, sourced via street castings, social media, and featuring a number of James’ family and friends photographed in high fashion pieces in a bid to readdress popular misconceptions of the working class community.

Here, James shares a selection of her favourite photographs from the series and tells us more about the Merthyr residents who star in them.

Iris. 72 years old, retired, wearing Moschino
“The first time I saw Iris she was having a cigarette outside a coffee shop in the town centre. She looked amazing – dressed from head to toe in orange with Hello Kitty trainers to match. I took lots of pictures of her that day and a few months later asked her to be part of the series.”

“Upon photographing Iris I received a letter from her husband, John, in which he wrote, ‘In 2002 Iris suffered the effects of a serious brain virus, which for a while threatened her life and kept her in hospital for many weeks. Iris’ illness led to some astonishing changes in her behaviour, her dress code to name but one. She became very colour coordinated; she wears lots of different colours but always just one colour at a time. From time to time people stop and tell her how nice she looks, these little compliments really lift her spirits and mean a great deal to her.”

“I met Iris in town last week with my Nan and gave her the photo from the series. She was so proud to see the image of herself and couldn’t wait to show her husband. That day she was dressed all in blue with three rings stacked on each finger.”

Brandan. 15 years old, wearing Agi and Sam and Vivienne Westwood

Kevin Jones. 50 years old, Pub Landlord, The Whydham Arms
“This is Kevin, Landlord of The Whydham Arms, a pub we’ve been drinking in for years. The pub was once dubbed one of the roughest pubs in Britain but I’ve never seen any trouble there and all the locals are a laugh. It also sells its own beer, Bevans, which is brewed locally in Dowlais.”

“Kevin loves flashing his tattoo. He got it when he was going on holiday to Spain around 19 years ago. Someone made a bet with him that he couldn’t get a six-pack by the time he went. So he got himself a six-pack tattooed on his stomach and proved them all wrong.”

Kyra. 8 Years old, wearing Agi and Sam

Margaret. 78 years old, retired, wearing Giles Deacon
“Margaret is my Nan so this is a really personal image for me. My Nan retired as a nurse when my brother and me were born so that she could look after us whilst my mother went back to work. She has had a lifetime of caring for others and is one of the best people in my life. I loved seeing her have her photo taken, she was really comfortable in front of the camera considering she wasn’t keen on having her photograph taken.”

Thomas and James. Twins, 6 years old, wearing Adidas

Phylis. 91 years old, retired, wearing Pleats Please Issey Miyake
“Tom and I were invited to Phylis’ house for tea one afternoon by her daughter, Karen. When we turned up with my suitcases full of clothes she thought I had brought her my washing to do and kept saying ‘cheese or sex?’ whilst her picture was being taken. We were really hungover that day but she was really funny and had us all laughing by the end of it.”

“Unfortunately Phylis passed away before the project was complete. She leaves behind 9 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren. She worked throughout World War II in London, then as a dinner-lady until she retired.”

The Valley Project

Megan Winstone photographs Welsh village, Abercynon in new series documenting thriving communities in South Wales Valleys

Words by Daniel Finn

This could be anywhere…

Let me just start by saying I’ve never actually been to Abercynon, I’m from a place called Blaengarw about 20 miles west of Abercynon. In fact, I feel slightly uneasy writing about the South Wales Valleys considering I left Wales and the Garw Valley when I was 12 years old (“How green was my valley?” - Not green enough, apparently). In a sense I can’t help but feel like I’ve abandoned my home. On the other hand; I never really left. Everywhere I go people ask where I’m from and I feel the need to explain in lengthy detail where exactly the Garw Valley is:

“I’m from Blaengarw"… "Where is it?"... "Do you know a place called Bridgend?"... "No? Okay, well it’s somewhere between Swansea and Cardiff and from there you head north past the M4. There’s only one road in, one road out and you follow it all the way to the end..." "Oh, right.”

It’s as if I want people to know and acknowledge that there are people and communities who actually live there; all trying to get by on what remains of the post-industrial coal scorched earth and that there’s more to us than being able to play ‘catch the egg’ against the English (and don’t get me started on the ‘x Shore’ spinoff TV show…).

Looking at Megan’s photography of Abercynon and the surrounding landscape I find myself incapable of separating the images from my own memory of the Valleys; the packed rows of hastily built terraced houses for the families of the miners - now homes to their descendants, the eerily silent streets and overgrown alleyways, the lone man hiking across the mountain tops past the graffiti daubed cliff faces.

It’s almost impossible to talk about South Wales without mentioning ‘the mines’. It is integral to our history and our understanding of where and who we are, but we also risk romanticising these bygone days as it implies we have no other path to walk (my old neighbour once said to my Dad, “You could offer me all the money in the world and I still wouldn’t go back down there, no one should.”) Since the closure of the mines there have been few real opportunities for the generations who came after the industrial boom - the generations who still live and grow there. We can’t deny that the industry brought people together and established these communities, with the memory serving as part of the glue that holds them all together. In Blaengarw for example; the workers all donated a portion of their wages to pay for the construction of a local Workingmens Hall for cultural and recreational pursuits (before the Odeon sprung up outside of Bridgend I’d go there to watch films, I also made my first musical performance there).

Visit almost any village or town in South Wales and you’ll find a mural; a newly built park or other landmark dedicated to the people who delved into these pits - pits, which have now become tourist landmarks. You’ll also find boarded up buildings that once were home to local butchers, cafes, barbers and grocers - now we have betting shops, supermarkets and failing pubs. There’s an underlying sensation that we’ve been forgotten by the rest of the world (remember that one time when we were left out of a map of Europe?) and if we must be perpetually reminded of - and bound by - history, the least we can do is tell a contemporary story of the Valleys in the 21st Century. Abercynon is a great place to start this story. To anyone outside the Valleys this could be anywhere - but it’s not.

As a publisher and Community Interest Company, TRIP is dedicated to showcasing unconventional stories that may otherwise be overlooked. We aim to give a platform to the unseen and a microphone to the ignored. Expression is a right and should not be confined to those that can afford to work for free; which is why we strive to support a diverse range of creatives in their work, commissioning exciting projects and creatives to visualize them.

Founded as a magazine in 2013 by photographer, Dean Davies, TRIP was born from a desire to provide opportunity and exposure for image-makers across multiple platforms and medias. With a focus on people and place, in 5 years TRIP gained a loyal readership, and became known for its honest image output and representation of the underrepresented, featuring over 800 image-makers from across the world through a website, 5 magazines and 3 free zines.

As TRIP C.I.C. we are not interested in profiting from the activities of the organization, and re-invest all income back in to consecutive publishing projects.

Dean Davies
Alfie Allen

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