Photography & words: Connor Guy
Connor Guy is a photographer from Newcastle upon Tyne, but is currently based in South Wales. His practice sits in the genre of traditional documentary photography and he is concerned with highlighting class struggle and challenging the taboo of conversations surrounding class. This is underpinned by often working in overwhelmingly working class areas and spaces, as a method of representation from a person that understands and has experienced class struggle. He is currently completing his BA in documentary photography at the University of South Wales and is due to start an MA in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism at LCC.
How Green Was My Valley is a photographic project based on the 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn, and then in 1941 the novel was adapted to cinema by director John Ford. The novel and film are based on the coal mining industry in the Rhondda Valley, Wales, that was booming in this era. The story is told through the lens of Huw Morgan who is the youngest of the Morgan Family, the family the film is based on. The common themes that run throughout this story are family, despair, and love.
Although this project is about how people in the Rhondda Valley have reclaimed the land in which the mines used to exist, during an era of deindustrialisation. This project is about reclamation of land by local people that was once owned by industrial figureheads. The prominent purpose of the project is to emphasise the importance of green spaces that are owned by local people, and to be celebratory of the people in the South Wales valleys rather than reinforcing a ‘woe is me’ rhetoric that often comes from overwhelmingly working-class spaces. This project is made up of diptychs of portraits and spaces both from the Rhondda, to create a narrative to emphasise how the regions' spaces now belong solely to those that occupy it.
Within the project there are a number of different anecdotes that I have when making photographic work within the area, I have been recognised a number of times simply as ‘the man with the camera’. The portrait of the two young lads was a direct result of this, they approached me a couple of times asking for their photograph to be made, the first time I had no film left with me so I was unable to do it for them on that occasion – the second time we met I was fortunate to have plenty of film available so I was able to make their portrait on that occasion. There is also a story surrounding the portrait of the family, I approached them on their farm on the first day I had of making pictures with a new camera set up, I made an initial portrait of a grandmother, a mother and a daughter but unfortunately due to not using film for a number of years I accidentally double exposed that frame rendering that portrait useless. Following from this I made my way to the farm every time I was around to tell them the bad news but it was a rarity that they were around. I eventually caught them one day to let them know why I hadn’t sent through the image yet and they were kind enough to let me make another portrait of the family.
The sequencing choices within the project are relatively simple, as you see throughout the project I have sequenced the portraits in age ascending order. This decision was to reinforce a more subtle narrative, the process of ages ascending throughout the photographs is a subtle metaphor for growing old in the Rhondda Valley, and by using this particular methodology it ties back to the concept of the project. Each of the Morgan family within How Green Was My Valley are at different stages within their lives, which is something I wanted to provide within the photographs, each portrait is of a person at different points within their lives.
The decision within the project to revert back to 120 film is something that I believe was a pivotal decision in the creation of the work. As someone who has not used film for around 4 years, it allowed me to slow my photographic process down and truly think about the pictures I was making. Whilst photographing it allowed me more time to make both technical and ethical decisions, I was extremely careful when making the work to not cross any ethical boundaries as I understand that the representation of these people and this area was entirely in my hands. I don’t believe in the rhetoric that pointing a camera can provide an ‘objective truth’, as every decision you make when making pictures is entirely subjective, whether that be the decisions on apertures, shutter speeds, or the decision to use flash. As far as I am concerned, all of these factors alter the representation of those in your photographs, but I would like to believe that my decisions tell a subjective story about the Rhondda Valley. A combination of the lived experience of those in the photographs combined with my personal experience in the Rhondda constructs subjective narratives, which I believe is an honest representation of the area.
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