Bruce Davidson’s photographs capture intimate and fleeting moments in the lives of his subjects. His practice, which involves embedding himself in foreign communities, is known for having rejected traditional forms of photography of the 1950s and 60s. His photographs are bleak yet beautiful, the artist states ‘There was something beautiful about a life that was so horrible’. This quote particularly resonates with the images taken during his time spent in Wales in the 1960s.
Davidson first discovered the village Cwmcarn in 1956, after asking the Welsh Sargent he served under in the US Signal Corps, where he would send his worst enemy. Now known for its lush green landscape, the mining village in the Ebbw valley in South Wales had a reputation for social deprivation and for the noise and grime that came with heavy industry. Evidently intrigued by places that were understood to be hostile environments, Davidson sought to immerse himself within their communities in order to accurately capture them.
The series of photographs entitled Wales, 1965, presents both the work of the miners themselves and the domestic side of mining villages. The black and white images are haunting, from a marriage ceremony featuring a smokey village below, to a child standing alone in a graveyard. The photograph pictured above, of a young girl pushing her doll in a carriage, presents a moment of calm against a backdrop of smoke and fumes. The image captures Wales during a time period now marked by the Aberfan disaster which took place a year later, just under an hour away from Cwmcarn.
Davidson’s bleak yet beautiful images represent the complicated relationship between the community and the mines – while proving to be a danger for many living in the villages, their eventual closure resulted in thousands of redundancies and the loss of many community’s sole employment