Views from the Valleys 1

In 1984, within a day or two of the announcement by the National Coal Board of the closure of more than 20 pits that led to the Miners’ Strike, I went with three other photographers to photograph in the Welsh valleys. They had already suffered from the closure of pits and steelworks, vastly accelerated by the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher, who the previous year had appointed the former British Steel boss Ian McGregor to do a similar hatchet job on the miners.

© 1984, Peter Marshall

I intended to return and made a few half-hearted attempts to get some funding for a more extensive project, but the money that was available went to better-known photographers, and after a while I more or less forgot about these pictures, only coming across them now, when I’m going systematically through all of my old (and decaying) negatives, producing high-res scans of those I find of interest.

© 1984, Peter Marshall

This is a long, hard slog, though not without moments of interest – and the pictures from Wales provided some of this recently. I started the process some years ago, soon after I first bought a film scanner although some of the early scans might not be too good, as scanners (my first was a real dog) and my scanning techniques have improved over time. But  I came back to the job seriously around the start of 2012, scanning pictures I took in 1978, and I’m now up to May 1984, so I’m making some progress, though at the moment I’m only scanning images and have only retouched the few that I want to actually publish – like these – and even then only removing the major problems that would show on a small image.  Fully retouching some of these can take an hour of tedious work.

© 1984, Peter Marshall

I’m trying hard to be selective, although there are quite a few from that period that are of more interest to my own family than a wider audience, as my two sons were both young at the time. Though I think some of my family pictures are of wider interest, and my first web site, initially put on line at the end of 1995, though I re-scanned the images a few months later and rewrote the html in 2003, still gets some interest – Family Pictures.

I think I took notes in Wales about where the pictures were taken, but all I’ve found so far are the brief names of places (sometimes wrongly spelt) on the contact sheets. We stayed at a small guest house in Merthyr Tydfil and the first contact sheet says ‘Cefn Coed, Dowlais’ as well as telling me some technical details, though I don’t think you need to know that they were taken with an Olympus OM2 on Agfapan 100, developed in Rodinal 1+60 for 8 minutes.

© 1984, Peter Marshall

Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer is noted for its viaduct – now a footpath as trains ceased to run in the 1960s. When I stayed with my aunt and uncle in mid-Wales as a child we sometimes travelled up through the valleys on several changes of train to reach them, and I almost certainly went over it, though the line now ends at Merthyr. Most of the rest of the pictures in this post are I think from Dowlais, which at one time had the largest iron works in the world.

Of course, Wales was full of chapels, with almost every minute doctrinal disagreement leading to worshippers walking out and setting up a new one down the road. I think my forebears were responsible for several, though not this one. Built in 1838, Rebuilt in 1861 it states, but by 1984 it was derelict. It is still just visible on Google ‘Street View’ , on the corner of an alley leading to Old Church St,almost hidden behind bushes and shrubs that have grown in front of it.

© 1984, Peter Marshall
Ebenezer Independent Chapel, Pontycapel Road, Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer

These pictures were a few of those from the first couple of films, and altogether there are perhaps around 50 that I thought I should scan of the roughly 250 black and white exposures. Back in those days I couldn’t afford to take a great deal of film, though there are one or two motifs that I struggled with for 10-15 frames, but mostly I was satisfied with one or two exposures. Generally it is the more straight-forward images rather than those where I was trying to be clever and arty that interest me more now. Probably one day when I have a few hours to spare I’ll put up a web site with these pictures from the valleys.

Continued on Views from the Valleys 2

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