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James Morris was born in Griffithstown, Wales, in 1963. Morris went to University College, London, to study medieval and modern history. Early in his career, he established himself as an architectural photographer and worked on commissions for architects, designers and publishers.
In the last decade, Morris’ work has addressed issues of urbanism and the impact of man’s intervention in the landscape. In 2003 Morris published Butabu, a documentation of the threatened landscape of West African vernacular architecture. Butabu was the product of four months Morris spent travelling around the deserts of West Africa, photographing hand-modelled and painted structures built from mud, in the manner traditional to the region.
In 2006 Morris was commissioned by the Welsh Arts Council to return to his birthplace and document the reality of life in Wales. He travelled around Wales with a plate camera, capturing post-industrial visions of the country with slate quarries, coalfields, caravan parks and terraced streets. The photographs relate to the history of Wales, looking back to the past of industry and forward to the future of the post-industrial landscape. Morris photographed the reservoirs of the valleys that are made sublime in their expansive spread beneath the grey skies, but that conceal villages and farms flooded to make way for the man-made water sources capable of supplying growing English cities. He also extensively photographed the area around Barry, the late nineteenth-century coal port. By 1913 Barry was the largest coal port in the world but Morris’ photographs show the effects of the decline of the industry on the landscape and community. In his introductory essay to the series, Jim Perrin describes the project’s aim to record the landscape “in terms of our brutal unawareness of and disregard for it and its indigenous culture”. Morris’ landscapes are scattered with supermarkets, electricity pylons and downtrodden tourist sites, blurring urban and rural delineations, but retain an essential beauty.
Morris’ photographs of Wales form an evocative love letter to the country but also protest against the pillaging of the land for natural resources. Speaking about the project, Morris said: “What I was interested in was capturing the built environment, not just the picturesque countryside but the buildings and architecture… Having been brought up in a Welsh family that didn’t live in Wales, we would always just go to the more idyllic places such as the Pembrokeshire coast and Snowdonia; we went to the kind of place where the tourist board would want you to go.” Dewi Lewis published the photographs in 2010 as A Landscape of Wales. The photographs are often compared to Simon Roberts’ project, We English, which considers the role of the English landscape in national identity.
Exhibitions and Awards
Morris’ work has been widely exhibited and he has received awards from the Design and Art Directors Guild, the Graham Foundation for Fine Arts, the European Union, the Art Council of Wales, and the Welsh Books Council. His photographs are held by significant collections including the British Council; the Museum of African Art, New York; Princeton University; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Aga Khan Foundation, London; the National Library of Wales; and the Welsh Assembly Government.