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Return / YN Ol (2006)

project

When asked where I come from, I always respond ‘from Wales’. In reality, this is a simplification and only partly true. Indeed, I was born in Gwynedd, North Wales, but I have lived less than half my life in Wales and most of my adult life has been spent elsewhere. For the last 17 years I’ve worked as a professional documentary photographer and I’ve lived in various countries and spent long periods working in yet more. ‘Home’ today is Italy; many of my friends and a lot of my customers are Italian and I presently speak mainly in Italian and indeed think mainly in Italian. I am an emigrant, an “ex-pat”, an exile.

Like many of the kids in my class, I left north Wales, then one of the poorest areas in Europe, straight after school. It was 1982, unemployment was rife, Thatcher was in power, and the general atmosphere was one of ‘no future’. Rather than stop at Liverpool, London or some other UK city, I moved to the continent. Another motive for my leaving was that I mistakenly thought I lived in a uniquely claustrophobic, backward, isolated and forgotten corner of the world. Yet north Wales is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Over the years I have often felt “hiraeth” (Welsh for ‘nostalgia’), I have family and friends in Wales and I have missed my land and language. For many years although I tried to maintain contact with the place I rarely took photos in Wales. So 23 years after first leaving I decided the time had come to do so … before I became too old and sentimental!

Wales has changed considerably since I first left. At times I’ve felt like a total stranger. The place still feels isolated (it is in the north western corner of Europe) but less so than when I left. De-industrialization began in the second half of the 20th century, culminating with a “meltdown” during the Thatcher era, the resulting social and cultural traumas were huge. However, that atmosphere of ‘no future’ has also slowly been diluted with a new optimism and in most areas even the local economy has improved. The saddest thing I discovered (which has not changed) is that the celtic language, Welsh (officially the oldest still spoken in Europe), continues to be in steady decline.

Emigration, even mass migration, are not new phenomena and I have yet to come accross a language which doesn’t have at least one word expressing a longing for ones place of origin. Each language may have a subtle difference in concept, each language has its own melodious sound, yet each language expresses one of the most common human sentiments. Most importantly, in our ‘global era’, it is a sentiment that is inevitably bound to become even more common world-wide. For various reasons ever more individuals are destined to make new ‘homes’ in distant lands: for some it is a choice, a possibility – for others, a necessity. One advantage today, compared to even only sixty years ago, is that at some point, unless you are an illegal immigrant and/or a refugee, a return journey to the place of origin can almost be taken for granted; should it be desired.

These photographs subjectively document an emigrant’s return journey after many years absence.

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Cym-001      

Glaslyn Jump

Youth jumps into Glaslyn river, North Wales
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School, N. Wales

“Ysgol Y Moelwyn” in Blaenau Ffestiniog, a predominantly Welsh speaking town, the language used in the playground, however, is now increasingly English.
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Language Diptych

(Top) Sticker protesting the lack of bilingual signs (obligatory by law), Trawsnant, Mid Wales. . (Bottom) Sign warning of dangerous cliffs on Lleyn Peninsula (one of the last areas to be predominantly Welsh speaking but also popular with holiday-home buyers, predominantly English, who push up house prices beyond the means of local residents who are consequently forced to move to less attractive and non Welsh speaking areas).
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Bodies Triptych

(Left) Bather in the Usk, Brecon. (Centre) Burnt out car abandoned and burnt by “joy riders” in a disused reservoir in Cynnon Valley. (Right) Dead sheep on North Wales road.
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Cym-005      

Mountain Triptych

(Left) Rocks in the Preseli Mountains, South West Wales. The stones used in constructing Stonehenge were taken from this site. (Centre) The summit of “Y Garn” in Snowdonia. (Right) Rocks in the Preseli Mountains.
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Cym-006      

Land Use Triptych

(Left) Forestry Commission woods near Maentwrog, North Wales. Since WW I large areas of Wales have similar plantations. (Centre) One of many reservoirs in Wales, Trywerin, was built in the sixties to provide water for Liverpool, causing big protests as it involved forcing a Welsh speaking community to move. The city of Liverpool only recently apologized for its actions. (Right) Sheep on Moel Wnion, North Wales, there are still approx 15 million sheep in Wales (population 2.9 Million).
Picture 219
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Wind Farm

An old plough, trees and wind farm near Lledrod, Mid Wales.
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Cym-008      

Communication Diptych

(Top) View from a BT phone box, Elan Valley. (Bottom) View from a BT phone box in Aberystwyth (the motto under the three feathered principality symbol reads; “Ich Dien”, German for “I Serve”).
Picture 222
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Steel Press

Steel Press at historical steel works site, Blaenafon, South Wales. Wales was one of the first countries to be heavily industrialized as it had both coal and iron. The social traumas of industrialization from the late 18th Cen and de-industrialization from the late 20th C have been huge.
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Industry Triptych

(Left) Port Talbot Steel works, South Wales. (Centre) Slate quarry, Bethesda, North Wales. (Right) Old chemical deposit Barry Port, South Wales.
Picture 251
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Lowery Pullover

Tourist with a pullover depicting a scene by the artist Lowry, Aberystwyth.
Picture 223
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Workers’ Clothes

Shed with workers’ clothes left untouched since the slate quarries closed in 1966. Although the sheds are used by climbers and others, who have scratched their names on the walls, they have not moved or destroyed the coats and boots. Llanberis, North Wales.
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Cym-013      

Marriage Couple

Marriage couple at Nant Gwrtheyrn on Lleyn Peninsula, North Wales. The setting for a local, tragic tale involving a young married couple, Meinir and Rhys, who on the eve of their wedding play a game of hide and seek, Meinir hides in a hollow tree trunk and her remains are only found many years later.
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Cym-014      

Faith Diptych

(Top) Via Crucis procession, Blaenafon, South Wales. (Bottom) Friday prayers in Butetown Mosque, Cardiff. Butetown has had a Muslim community for almost two centuries, however the mosques are all relatively new.
Picture 241
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Uncle’s Funeral

My Uncle’s funeral in Llanrwst, North Wales. Gwyn left for Birmingham to find work as a youth and returned to his hometown after he had retired. He died a few years later.
Picture 176
Cym-016      

Chapel, S. Wales

Old chapel near Carmarthen, South Wales. The 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries saw great religious fervour throughout Wales particularly in Welsh speaking areas. (Speaking Welsh was frowned upon and at times actively repressed in public, the work place and schools but not in the chapel due to freedom of religion laws). A variety of Methodist, Calvinist and Baptist sects mushroomed; unfortunately religious bigotry had many negative effects on both Welsh and English speaking communities. Today, the few active chapels remaining are more often than not empty.
Picture 244
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Arcade, Rhyl

Abandoned Amusement arcade in Rhyl, the once popular seaside resort on the North Wales coast.
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Cym-018      

Road Diptych

(Top) North Wales rural road with bilingual markings.(Bottom) Typical terraced housing, Tonypandy, South Wales Valleys.
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Buildings Triptych

(Left) Derw village store, Mid Wales. (Centre) Ebbw Vale Football ground, South Wales. (Right) the decommissioned nuclear Power station at Trawsfynydd, North Wales.
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Bridges Triptych

(Left) Bridge over Menai straights with railway lines and the A55, the North Coast highway running West- East. (Centre) Bridge on the A470, the main road through Wales, running North- South. (Right) Severn suspension bridge for the M4 motorway, the main South Coast road running West - East.
Picture 194
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Comotized Youth

Comatised youth at the “Seshiwn Fawr” (Big Session) music festival, Dolgellau. North Wales.
(Top) Young couple in Dolgellau’s town cemetary. 
(Bottom) Butetown Youth Pavillion; one of the computerized dolls, designed to teach teenage girls just how much work is involved in having a child, starts screaming. The dolls are programed to start crying at random times and are taken home by the girls for a weekend after a preparatory course. Wales has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe.
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Youth Diptych

(Top) Young couple in Dolgellau’s town cemetery. (Bottom) Butetown Youth Pavillion; one of the computerized dolls, designed to teach teenage girls just how much work is involved in having a child, starts screaming. The dolls are programmed to start crying at random times and are taken home by the girls for a weekend after a preparatory course. Wales has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe.
Picture 205
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Young Musicians

Young musicians entertain tourists on the sea front in Llandudno, a Victorian seaside resort, still relatively popular with OAPs and families with young children. North Wales.
Picture 200
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Degree Day

Degree day at Aberystwyth University, the oldest lay University in Wales.
Picture 229
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Cardiff Bay

Rollerblade enthusiast in Cardiff Bay.
Picture 227
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"Young Carer"

A "Young Carer" (child or youth who must look after a family member with problems) during a day outing with the group when the kids get to relax from their daily responsibilities. On the horizon an old coal debris deposit. South Wales.
Picture 234
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Cardiff Club

During a televised musical talent competition in one of Cardiff’s clubs.
Picture 235
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Brecon Jazz

Street scene during the “International Brecon Jazz Festival”. Mid Wales.
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Jumping Jack

Recently built amusement park for children in Rhyl on the North Wales coast.
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Development Triptych

(Left) The recently built National Botanical gardens near Carmarthen, South Wales (Centre) The new St Dewi’s Hotel, Cardiff Bay (apparently the most expensive in Wales and also apparently sinking). (Right) A development site in central Llanelli, South Wales.
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Town Triptych

(Left) View from a rooftop car park in Cardiff. (Centre) View from a rooftop in Wrexham. (Right) View from a rooftop car park in Llanelli, South Wales.
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Cym-032      

Era Triptych

(Left) Access to a military firing range on the Eppynt mountains, Central Wales. The bilingual warns not to enter the area when the red flag is flying (Centre) Statue dedicated to Industry, Aberdare, once one of the major coalmining and industrial towns in the South Wales Valleys (Right) Entrance to a Mac Donalds “drive in”, Fflint, North Wales.
Picture 230
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Miner

A miner, his cup of tea and his car at Tower Collieries, Hirwaun, South Wales, the last deep coal pit in Wales (in 1950 there were over 300). The mine has been owned and successfully run by 300 workers who bought it in 1985 during the Thatcher era.
Picture 240
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Farmer

A farmer with his prize-winning bull at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show. Builth Wells, Mid Wales. Farming, especially livestock farming, once an important element of the Welsh economy and culture has been in decline for decades. The last decade has been particularly bad, the advent of BSE and severe outbreaks of "foot and mouth" was the last straw for many farmers.
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Cym-035      

Farmer's Diptych

(Top) Working on potato crops, Pembrokeshire, South West Wales. (Bottom) At the livestock market in Welshpool, East Wales.
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Cym-036      

Shopping Trolley

A shopping trolley on a recently opened retail park near Bridgend, South Wales.
Picture 246
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Spar Shop

Spar Shop in Llanwrtyd Wells, Mid Wales. Officially Britain’s smallest town. In towns or villages too small to justify supermarkets there is always a Spar.
Picture 238
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KFC Builders

Workers assemble a new KFC restaurant on a new retail park in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, one of the areas with the highest unemployment rates in UK.
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Cym-039      

TV Set

On location for a Welsh language drama, “Talcen Caled”, an independent production for S4C (Welsh language TV station).
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Cym-040      

Politics Diptych

(Top) Labour candidates pose for propaganda photos in Cardiff Bay during the second ever National Assembly elections in 2004. (Bottom) A 2005 General Election polling station (in a hairdresser’s) in the Blaenau Gwent East constituency. The seat was won by an independent candidate, Peter Law (ex Labour) against a New Labour candidate and was one held for many years by Eneurin Bevin (the creator of the NHS). Wales has always been politically rebellious and has a long radical tradition. For the last 70 years the Labour party has dominated the scene, however Blair's "New Labour" is seen with suspicion by many inside and outside the party.
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Trotting Races

Trotting Races have become increasingly popular in rural Wales, Aberystwyth, Mid Wales.
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Cym-042      

Rocking Horse

A rocking horse on a Butetown housing estate playground, Cardiff.
Picture 188
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Queensferry

Abandoned fishing boat at Queensferry on the Dee, North Wales.
Picture 191
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E Type Jag

An E Type Jag in the Eppynt hills, Mid Wales.
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Cym-045      

Mountain Diptych

(Top) Tourists on the summit of Snowdon, (N. Wales) the highest peak in Wales. (Bottom) People enjoying the snow on the Brecon Beacons, South Wales.
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Cym-046      

Rugby Diptych

(Top) Celebrations begin in Cardiff’s Civic Park as Wales win the “2005 Rugby Grand Slam”. (Bottom) Fans celebrate a Welsh try in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. For many in Wales Rugby is a form of religion as football is in Italy.
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Cym-047      

Village Games Diptych

(Top) A local marathon race at Landdoged, Conwy Valley, North Wales (Bottom) Obstacle race during the summer fair in New Radnor, South East Wales.
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Cym-048      

Car Boot Diptych

(Top) Car boot sale at Plas Goch on the island of Anglesey. (Bottom) Tourist relaxes on a beach near Criceth. (Both in North Wales).
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Cym-049      

OAP Diptych

(Top) OAP on the seafront at Aberaeron. (Bottom) OAP couple on the sea front at Aberystwyth. (Both in Mid Wales).
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Cym-050      

Wood Triptych

Wood Triptych. (Left) Tide barriers at the Ogwen estuary, North Wales. (Centre) An oak Sapling grows on an old telephone pole, Penderyn, South Wales. (Right) Burnt tree, Llangorwen, Mid Wales.
Picture 216
Cym-051      

Rock Beach

Beach, South Wales.
Picture 217
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Tide barrier

Old tide barrier, Mid Wales.