NEWS - GALLERY EVENT
Saturday, 8 September, 2018, 11.00 - 12.45 - Join Geoff Young, co-curator of Ffotogaleri y Gofeb and Judith Alfrey, (CADW),
in conversation with photographer Anthony Stokes
more from The Valleys
4 May - 22 September 2018
The first pictures were made in 2002, the most recent in 2017
Anthony Stokes: More from the Valleys by Judith Alfrey
In the making and remaking of a place, character is given by the actions of people, building, adapting, modifying. Buildings are the sites in which hopes, dreams and practical necessities are given tangible form. People are nowhere and everywhere in these images from the valleys, which reveal the many ways in which buildings are testimony to the endeavours of their inhabitants.
Mostly, buildings are made through a process of deliberate design, visible here for example in a one-off new build which seems precisely honed to the resources of the moment, pride and aspiration laid bare with almost painful clarity (New Build West of Cymer), or in environments made in some soul-less process of modern urban design, whose product is identikit houses and hard landscaping, seen here in houses not yet customised by their occupants (New Build, Brynmenyn; 36A-D Rhodfa Tanyrallt).
New Build Brymenyn, 2012
But most of the buildings here are already old, and their inhabitants are making an accommodation with the legacy of a different age. Time could have given anonymity to terraces built in the heyday of industrialisation more than a century ago – their builders and early occupants long-forgotten, but they are the setting for lives lived now, expressed in an artistry of adaptation and embellishment on the canvas of the original: Colour against the grey (Magpie’s Bush, for example), flowers against hard edges, patterns in plaster-work (Shovel Finish), windows like framed pictures (Horse).
House-fronts are public realm, so external decoration, or outward facing window displays are wordless proclamations to the passing outside world. But buildings are also used as sign-boards for more direct messages and explicit texts – signs both practical and instructive and imaginative (God is Love; Jesus is Lord; Fish; Baker, Aberaman). These signs and names express an investment of determined hope and belief - Fairy Tales and Happiness are possible, even here.
These photographs also take us beyond the limits of design – to the edge-lands ripe for colonisation with sheds and garages, where makeshift arrangements flourish, where there are improvisations with whatever comes to hand, assertions of identity, the clamour of difference (Garages, Cwmavon), and a loving attention (Garage, Garth).
Places are made and sustained by all these interventions, which go beyond making do to a gritty making the best of things. These images also record the processes of holding on, holding out, fending off decay in palimpsests of ingenious interventions, for example in garage doors that are collaged and stitched together. But time takes its toll - the letter slipped from a sign, faded and peeling paint, buildings that have outlived their usefulness (Filling Station, Cwm; Outbuildings, Glyn Corrwg). There’s a sadness in this decay, evidence of giving up, of former hopes betrayed (Civilisati; Panache).
Finally, Tony Stokes also remakes these places in the way he sees them and captures their character. He finds a kind of beauty in casual visual relationships that delight and amuse the eye, for example in the relationship of paint and gorse in 41 Treorchy, or the blue harmony of car and sign in No through road. He also registers both a dignity and a wit which might otherwise have gone unremarked.
Judith Alfrey, June 2018
Present, tense / Indefinite article
by Geoff Young, May 2018
‘Aitch’ is a photograph from 2006 by Tony Stokes, part of his Valleys series, which he began in 2000. To begin with, it can be described as much in terms of abstract painting as of photography. With its flat areas of colour, its textures and an emphatic division of the frame, it is initially a photograph of surfaces. Abstract and minimalist painters have had a significant impact on Tony’s photographic work and in Aitch it shows.
It’s a real, but very ordinary and consequently very unusual, curiously fascinating, subject and not one that many photographers would either notice or think worthy of consideration. And yet it represents to me something approaching a perfect photograph, a beautifully crafted depiction of an outwardly uninteresting, almost dismal subject, fashioned by a very different way of looking. Like an alien photograph.
The black ‘H’ is on a yellow fire hydrant plate, attached to a wall at the corner of a street in Trehafod, South Wales. Between the grey tarmac kerb and pavement below, double yellow lines appear from below, then exit right. On the road is a metal hydrant cover, painted yellow and an unusually blank creamy yellow wall makes up almost half of the image, all resulting in a marked colour theme.
Tony was plainly conscious of this when he first saw and then considered the possibilities of a photograph. Making use of one dominant colour is not an unusual photographic approach and it’s said grey goes with everything and Tony does look for colour interest, but being the photographer and person he is, he went further, retaining the initial yellow idea but developing other compositional and conceptual elements.
Carefully considered and constructed, ‘Aitch’ is an image built simply out of an expanse of blank wall, the bend of a pavement on a street corner (a favoured theme) and some road markings. The cement-grey, hexagonal-sectioned wall on the other side of the road, with its own quite separate modular design, is also worthy of attention and contributes some harsh modernity, but remains inevitably an extra, a comparative bit-part player.
The result is something rather unlike a photograph, because of the nature of what it depicts. It’s a representation of what we can and can’t see, a corner and what’s just around the corner. It’s a present we can see and the future we can’t know. Somewhere we could but can’t go, the vertical edge of the wall acting as a sort of sealed, one dimensional slit, a wall behind which there is a cool depth into which I cannot put my hand. This is the tension and confusion that a photograph can create, by appearing but not being real.
It’s a curious, haunting and beguiling photograph of a seemingly one-off place that Tony, walking one day in Trehafod, happened to come across, as if it had fallen from above and been slotted into place just ahead of him. A mundane, but science fiction-like location, quite empty, that is lacking but somehow essentially full of humanity. It’s both random and functional, a corridor without a ceiling and outside, so how did it evolve and why? And is it really a one-off or are there other similar grey and one other colour street corners all over? I like to think it’s unique.