Aberystwyth – Chloe Dewe Mathews

Somehow Aberystwyth seems to me to be the last place a photographer would go for an interesting story, but London-based freelance Chloe Dewe Mathews has proved me wrong with her Hasidic Holiday: The Annual trip to Aberystwyth which appeared on Burn Magazine today.  Apparently around a thousand orthodox Jews have taken an annual holiday together there each August, staying in the student village for the last 20 years or more.

Obviously Mathews has succeeded in gaining the confidence of the families she has photographed and given us an insider view of a community which likes to keep itself. On her web site you you can also see another rather different story about an annual visit to the sea, when tens of thousands of European Roma make a pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in late May for the festival of their patron saint, Black Sara. Her pictures from this are rather more emotional than those from Aberystwyth, but perhaps that is not surprising given the nature of the event.  But the Welsh work has a clarity of colour and a precision that appeals to me.

There are a few pictures of the Jewish holidays by a Welsh photographer (who has also produced a book on Aberystwyth), Keith Morris, on the Welsh Photolibrary site (perhaps surprisingly, apparently the only 8 images on the site featuring Jewish people.)  Like the Guardian link in the above paragraph I think these are interesting simply as an illustration of the difference between competent library images and some excellent photojournalistic projects.

I  think it must be around 50 years since I last visited Aberystwyth, as a small boy with my family on a coach outing from an isolated village in mid-Wales where some of us were staying one summer.  It wasn’t quite like the outing in one of Dylan Thomas’s short stories, but there were some similarities.  We did eventually get there, after quite a few stops on the way, and about all I can remember about the place was that it seemed cold, windy, wet and grey. But it doesn’t quite look that way in Mathews’s pictures.

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