Guardian

I visited Six Bells this afternoon near Abertillery in South Wales.

The reason I went to Six Bells was to photograph Guardian. The incredible giant sculpture of a miner which looks towards the former colliery town with outstretched arms “a Welsh answer to Antony Gormley‘s Angel of the North.”

What is the significance of the sculpture? On June 28 1960, an underground explosion killed 45 miners at the Six Bells colliery. For the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 2010, the sculpture designed and created by artist Sebastien Boyesen, was unveiled on the site where the pit used to be.

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This was my first visit to see Guardian. The landscaped park where he stands was quiet and I found the experience very moving. Information is displayed which tells the story of that terrible day in 1960 and the statue is engraved with the names of those that lost their lives.

Mining and Wales go hand in hand. Throughout the South Wales Coalfield reminders of the mining heritage are still clear to see. Pit head wheels act as markers as to where the mines once were. Growing up in a valleys town everyone had relatives or friends who had worked in a pit.

Everyone in Wales grows up knowing about the terrible tragedies. The Aberfan disaster in 1966, killed 144, 116 children and 28 adults. The true events of what had caused the disaster were shamefully covered up by the then government and only exposed years later. The Hillsborough of its day.

The Senghenydd disaster in 1913 near Caerphilly, killed 439 workers and one rescuer, and remains the worst mining disaster in British history.

Everyone knows about the struggles too, the miners strikes of the 1980s and the decline of the coal industry that followed.

The working pits are all gone now but some remain as educational facilities. In the UNESCO world heritage town of Blaenavon, is the Big Pit National Coal museum. Here you can tour the mine, going underground just like the miners did. You can see how cramped the mining conditions were, feel the heat of working underground, and see the underground stables where the pit ponies were kept. You can even turn your hat light off and experience the dark like you’ve never experienced it before. To say it is an eye opener is an understatement.

Mining has shaped the land and the people of South Wales. Communities still feel the strong bond and spirit that was built with the pits.

For me the reminders of the pits dotted around the valleys are vitally important to preserving our history and educating people. As a photographer they provide emotions which I try to capture in my images.

The struggles and loss which continue today, of the people who worked and lived in these communities, always needs to be told.

From the final sentence on the Guardian memorial:

“for coal mining communities everywhere.”

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Marloes Sands

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you’ll know that I recently visited Marloes Sands in Pembrokeshire for the first time.

Marloes Sands has been on my radar for years. I’ve even parked at the car park before, but never made it to the beach due to the weather closing in.

It’s regularly listed as one of the best beaches in Pembrokeshire so this time it was all systems go.

Late January so the sky had that grey look to it. The forecast said that the weather would break for a few hours.

Having parked at the National Trust car park, the beach is a 0.5 miles walk away. The walk is fairly easy, a downhill stroll. My two year old son had no problem on the early section of the path even if he was distracted by enjoying muddy puddles in his RNLI wellies and kicking sticks.

Some of the views from the path to the beach are breathtaking, the winding path really draws you in which is why I love the feature image I’ve used on this post so much.

Mid way into our walk and my son Noah fell over, running as he spotted the beach. Hands down to save himself, but a bump on the face. Panic stations! a quick count and all his teeth are still there. Phew! I always carry a first aid kit with me, so out came the antiseptic and the tears eventually stopped after a few cuddles off mum and dad. Like me Noah loves the sand and the sea so the promise of a big beach to play on soon had him smiling.

As we made it on to the beach it was clear that there was not another person in sight. Heaven! There had been a few cars in the car park but they must have been enjoying the Wales Coast Path.

First impressions this place is epic. The rocks are staggering. Holes are carved right through the stone and the layers in the rock stand out line by line. The beach is huge with lots of sand. one to remember for the summer.

Instantly 4 Choughs fly over us, a rare sight on our coast but Pembrokeshire is a stronghold for them. The cliffs and rocks here make it the perfect habit.

Sea life is abundant here mussels, limpets, barnacles, gulls.

There is just so much to photograph. Rock formations, amazing pebbles, golden sand that goes on and on and not a single foot print in sight.

The sea was whipping up a little so the waves were creating a mist along the coast line with spray, adding a mystical atmosphere to the shots looking across the beach.

The dramatic backdrop reminded me of a film set from Jurassic Park, thank goodness there was no T-Rex!

3 hours of photo taking elapsed very quickly. You can see the results here: Pembrokeshire

The walk back up to the car was slightly more challenging. Noah had now run around for ages so was starting to get tired, lots of carrying back to car! Fair to say I was gasping for a drink by the time we got to the car park.

A totally amazing place that we’ll definitely visit again this year. The Welsh coast at it’s epic best.

Note: Not sure why the National Trust toilets were closed at the Youth Hostal, but they are open at most other beaches like Broad Haven South. Worth remembering if you plan to  visit out of season.

Here we go

It starts

For as long as I remember I’ve loved the outdoors. As a child most weekends were spent exploring. My dad had a motto that if you took kids to shops on weekends it made them unhappy, as all they wanted was stuff they couldn’t have, so getting in to the wide outdoors was the perfect solution. Endless fun that didn’t make us grumpy and it didn’t cost anything either.

Most weekends found us either in the mountains of South Wales or having a bonfire on the beach and cooking a tin of beans.

As the grandson of a Cornish man on my mums side and Pembroke man on my dads side, I guess I was destined to love the sea and the coast. The sound of the waves breaking on the shore, even the sand blasting me in the face when the wind is blowing, I love it!

Photography

In 2007 I went to Canada to explore the wild outdoors with my trusty compact Casio camera, which was about 2 mega pixel and ancient by today’s standard. One day sailing between Prince Rupert and Vancouver Island on the BC Ferry, a bizarre incident took place where a British woman approached me as she had been told I was a professional from England. She asked to see my photos of Canada and asked if I would give a presentation of my images to the Women’s Institute in Kent. Ever seen a pro photographer use a compact camera? me neither! I don’t know who told her that but I owe you a thanks, I didn’t do the presentation but it did make me think maybe I should do more photography.

Fast Forward…I decide to buy a digital SLR. teaching myself shutter speeds, iso and composition.

Motorsport

By 2010 I was photographing motorsport events with my brother. We had both always loved motorbike racing, so why not, it was fun for us. Our images got noticed and in a short space of time we had just under 3000 followers on Facebook. We covered major events, the UK motorcycle show at the NEC, the Isle of Man TT. We met celebrities like Murray Walker and Guy Martin, we got given food, hospitality it was a blast.

It all cost serious money though, every weekend up and down the country non stop. Weirdness too, people copied our shots, copied our captions, followed us to stand in the same spot, copied everything. You couldn’t make it up! It was all a bit cut throat. It was one big learning curve.

My Ford Fiesta was soon starting to disintegrate and generally shedding parts in various places around the UK, just from the miles we were covering. The inside of the passenger door would fill up with water every time it rained and then freeze as a solid block of ice on cold days. This was a rock n roll lifestyle. When I was dating my wife, she would always ask what’s that water sloshing around in the door…my water feature!

Remember the motto from earlier…..why do something that costs you if you can do something better for free.

Landscape

So I started taking pictures of Wales instead and people seemed to like them.

Waterfalls, coast, wildlife and nature.

Then I started to use filters, getting creative and making different shots.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it” – Ansel Adams

Landscape is everywhere and it’s different everywhere. So many options of how you can take a photo. I became like the robot in Short Circuit…need more input, constantly reading and researching finding new places to go.

Why do I love it?

It means I’m out in the fresh air. My wife and our son who is 2 come with me.

In Wales, where I live I can be in the Brecon Beacons National Park in under an hour walking in the mountains or in an hour and a half walking on Rhossili Beach in the Gower, Newport Wetlands and marshes are 15 minutes away. All these places are different, have unique features. I could visit each one, every day for years and capture different things.

If it’s raining and I get drenched, so what it adds something to the photo.

And it’s not just Wales either it could be Cornwall, Yorkshire Dales, Lake District etc. the same applies.

This is why I love it.

Finally

I’ll end this post with one of my favourite quotes

There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams

Every photo I make has me in it, hopefully as you join me on this adventure you’ll find you in each photo too.

I’ll be posting about places I go, images I capture and all sorts, it’s going to be fun!