The landscape of a place is comprised of many elements. It encompasses the physical aspects of geophysically established landforms; hills, lakes, rivers and mountains.
These physical and historical landscapes, formed over millennia, are combined with the relatively recent touch and overlay of human presence and intervention, reflecting a living synthesis of people and place that is vital to local and national identity.
At its core, a landscape is what differentiates one place from another; towns five miles apart may contain different accents, opinions, political assertions and ideologies, many of which are forged through the environment in which they live. As a living organism, it is constantly changing and shifting, both naturally and via our own human thumbprint. The character, aesthetic values and worth of a landscape defines the image and livelihoods of those who inhabit it.
For many years, South Wales sat idly and unassuming to much of the world. A land of song, poetry, language and legend, dozed dormant in its wealth of rivers, countryside, coastline and mountains. It was in the 19th Century that the region lay claim to a new kind of wealth – fuel. In the industrial revolution which followed, the landscape of South Wales changed forever; populations grew, towns were built, old villages expanded – thousands of immigrants entered and settled, changing the face and sound of the communities – accents skewed and languages lost. The exploitation of the land brought fame and fortune to the area, but it was not to last. Through depressions, world wars, political upheaval and globalisation, the industry all but died in January 2008, when the last traditional deep shaft mine was forced to close.
Monuments to Wales’ industrial legacy now lay as resting relics; quarries, factories and mines rust alongside castles and remnants from an alternate history of the land’s turbulent past. Train lines lay still and silent. The legacies and memories of Wales also lie on paper, through spoken word and song. In times of despondency throughout the world, it is often writers and poets who truly speak the thoughts of the many. Wales was and is no different; poets such as Idris Davies and R.S. Thomas wrote extensively about welsh life in the coal mines and farmlands, often citing the struggles and hypocrisies that those livelihoods offered. The 1941 film How Green Was My Valley, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, depicted a fictional welsh mining town in nineteenth century, and the tumultuous life the coalfields offered the people who lived there. Many writers, poets and films have followed, each offering their own personal outlook, some romanticising, some gloomy, about what it is and was like to live in the area. Although unique, they all share one commonality; they address the landscape, both natural and manmade which surrounds us, and the way in which it has affects its inhabitants.
Contrary to these films and writing examples, there are many more romanticised works depicting welsh life; longing memoirs to the rolling hills of the land, the softness of the accent or the simplicity and kindness of the core values of the Welsh, creating a culture which often blurs the realities of communities which are still recovering from decades of turbulent changes, which saw land lost, jobs disappear and a language which has all but died. The camera, which can idealise a culture in a similar manner is no different. Since first picking up a camera, myself, like many others, have chosen to point our lens at the more aesthetically pleasing landscapes around us, choosing to avoid the potentially jarring image of an ugly building or other human-made smudge on the environment. It is all too easy to pretend that these buildings, factories and quarries are invisible alongside untouched coastlines and hilly walks. But if we were to start confronting them in our imagery, would we somehow be able to identify more of ourselves through them?
This film explores the changing landscape, people and environment of a region, which for some was blessed by lying on a bed of riches, but for many, was cursed. By exploring old literature and poetry on the area, both pre-and post-industrial, the journey follows derelict train lines, docks and quarries, once the centre of worldwide industry, through the towns and villages which exist as a result of them; a journey which sees a culture misrepresented through film, television and music, a culture which has been romanticised and appropriated, and one which actually may have faded along with a previously greener landscape.
Be it in South Wales, the UK or beyond, we often long for a memory of ‘home’, a memory which blurs the grey and mute tones, and instead highlights the vividness of a more pleasant image. The desire to recollect the romanticised image of a place or feeling is a natural one, and the ever-changing global climate and environment, this nostalgia is becoming blurred and inconsistent. This feeling of longingness and wistfulness to remember a country of old, of which some find it difficult to obtain, as it perhaps never actually existed, can be placed on a singular, untranslatable welsh word – hiraeth.
A land of song, poetry, language and legend, dozed dormant in its wealth of rivers, countryside, coastline and mountains.
We are of this land.
A land of quarries and factories, mountains and rivers, railways and power stations.
We journey to seek the places of which we remember, but cannot return.
Memories we hold, through stories and myth, of which we strive to replay.
Through blinkered eyes, we see romanticised landscapes.
A wilderness of green and blue hues.
Our search for a home to which we cannot return, a home which maybe never was;
The nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of our past.
The tracks of old lay as reminders to fallen promises, to an industry which breathed fleeting fires into new towns, villages and cities.
The silent rumble of the past.
Echoes of old histories.
Shadows of beaten, rusting relics and castles.
A land built on centuries of myth and legend
one slain through the thirst for wealth and riches,
One which through smoke, fire and heart transformed a landscape and a culture, through roads, valleys, trainlines and rivers, mines, quarries, through digging, drilling and building, through times that left us gasping for air.
I am of this land.
My reflection hides in these places, in tongue-twisting words of too many consonants, of the Thomas’ and the Llewellyns, of the voices of our past; it lays in the tin-tainted rivers and path-beaten walks, in the grey skies, the lonely pit mines, and silent rumble of railway lines.