© Francesca Odell

The Valleys Project 1984-1990

The Valleys Project was established by Ffotogallery in 1984, and now forms the Valleys Archive, a collection of over 450 prints by 10 photographers, creating an extraordinary portrait of areas in South Wales during a time of social and industrial change.

Ffotogallery originally established the Valleys Project in 1984, as a unique undertaking to document what has to be one of the most beautiful yet industrialized landscapes of Northern Europe. During the five years of the project to 1990, it has drawn together the work of photographers resident in Wales and from further afield, to create a contemporary visual record and social commentary encompassing a broad geographical spread of the South Wales Valleys.

The first commissions initiated in 1985, enabled two well known UK photographers, Ron McCormick and Paul Reas to produce bodies of work which focussed on the changing topographic landscape and the partial introduction of new technology into a latter day industrial wasteland. During the same year, John Davies, an artist synonymous with landscape photography, was commissioned by Rhymney District Council to record the demise of the massive mining infrastructure, and its impact on the people and character of the Rhymney Valley.

© Paul Reas

Later in 1985, David Bailey visited the valleys to produce a portfolio of seductive black and white images which reflected an outsider’s detached sense of bewilderment when faced with the austere geographical and social conditions of this fascinating region. In 1986 the work of Mike Berry, Francesca Odell, Roger Tiley and Peter Fraser, each very distinctive picture makers, featured in an exhibition and accompanying publication. This particular project sought to deal directly with the communities of the Valleys, and in particular the resonance of the Miners’ Strike, although the inclusion of Peter Fraser within this context proved to be something of a departure, as his contribution, the first series in colour, contradicted mainstream documentary modes, by utilizing oblique photographic depictions.

© Mike Berry

Ffotogallery established even broader parameters for the Valleys Project, when the artist Wally Waygood, a local of Merthyr Tydfil, was commissioned in October 1989 to create a unique Billboard hoarding artwork on a site at Dowlais top, Merthyr. The 20’x10′ work, combining photographic image and text, explored the theme of the South Wales Valleys and the demise of its heavy industries a post-industrial society.

In 1990, the last contribution to the Valleys Project, William Tsui was awarded a major commission to document the Upper Afan Valley in general and the village of Aber/Blaengwynfi in particular, and its community as it stands today in the 1990’s.

© William Tsui

Many other satellite activities have sprung up as a result of these major photographic initiatives, which have embraced historical research and archival gathering, workshops with local community groups, and courses and classes in schools exploring regional heritage and identity. Photographs from the project have been shown in a wide variety of venues: schools, community centres, art galleries and museums.

Now that the Valleys Project is complete the collection forms an extraordinary portrait of areas in South Wales laden with history. All photographs made for the Valleys Project, over 450 in all, which forms part of Ffotogallery’s archive is available for loan and research to schools, colleges, community groups and gallery members.

For further information about the Valleys Archive, please download the PDF resource, which contains more information about the background of the project and the work of each artist.