My initial prejudice of a Welsh photography exhibition is rugby-galore: muddy shorts, dragon face paint, spilling pints of ale. Not to mention a few Llareggub-esque village shots, and of course a great deal of landscapes. But in Made in Wales II, presented by photography collective A Fine Beginning, these stereotypes are nowhere to be seen. Though I suppose the hint is in the name – the gallery isn’t Welsh themed; it’s simply made in Wales.
Mike Harvey’s Taxi series – there are three here from a larger collection – presents colourless shots of the backseat of a cab (I assume the same one). In the bottom picture are three women in their fifties or sixties, either embarking on or returning from a night out; long earrings, fur coats – glammed up. Above them are a man and woman in their thirties – a couple? brother and sister? friends? – both geared up in sportswear, grinning and looking content – almost as content as their dog. The top picture shows the youngest customers; two women in their twenties, dark hair, almost smiling – something suggests students. This, I noticed, was the first of a few photographs in the gallery that, when placed together, depicted different generations in similar situations.
While Harvey’s images present us with different generations together in the same timeframe, other photographs display those of a similar age decades apart. Pete Davis’ image – from the Splott district of Cardiff in 1970 – of two angry youths is placed next to the more recent peaceful image of Jenna, aged 9, by Mark Griffith – her face pensive and calm in a rural area.
However, it is two portraits, side by side, that stand out the most. On the left is Geoff Charles’ 1951 photograph Women’s Institute Folk Festival at Margam Park – showing a middle-aged woman in traditional Welsh costume. She looks stern; her arms are folded as she frowns and glares into the distance. The portrait alongside it is Marta Giaccone’s photograph entitled Christina (18), Three Months Pregnant, taken in 2014. It is part of a documentary project about teenage mothers in south Wales. Unlike the lady in Charles’ picture, Christina looks straight at the camera. She is in what looks like a front room, sitting on a couch – her pregnancy not quite showing. She’s in a floured dress, nails painted silver, septum pierced. Her look is a defiant one, as if she’s daring us to judge her.
Would the two women in these portraits get along? My initial thought was “probably not”, and it still sort of is. Charles’ lady at the folk festival looks like the visible embodiment of Welsh conservatism – the chapel-goer. It’s unlikely that she would approve of (what I assume to be) a pregnant girl out of wedlock. Yet what is apparent in both their faces, more than anything, is strength and resilience.
The gallery is in Oriel Colwyn until the end of April; entry is free of charge. This is the last stop for the exhibition’s tour – previously displayed in Cardiff and London – so make sure you don’t miss this superb banquet of time, culture, and life.