It’s amazing where life takes you isn’t it? This is part 4 of my journey around the UK documenting the work of our heritage crafts for my book which is due out in 2014. If you interested in finding out a wee bit more about the craftworkers here in the UK who are actually earning a living out of their skill then please do follow the blog, would love your feedback too.
So, this time, I find myself driving through some unpronounceable places in Wales. The scenery however is jaw-droppingly stunning, caerulean skies are scored with filmic clouds and the fields seem to breathe out gentle rainbows of butterflies and bees. I took my ploughmans lunch and olives al fresco in a little park in Llandrindod Wells, where I am also staying (not in the park itself, I hasten to add, as there was a constant drip feed of high pitched kids playing on the bandstand!).
A walk around the town in the sun proved fruitful as I chanced upon a Signal Box Museum. How many of you have ever been inside a Signal Box? There was a lovely gentleman there, Bryan Whittal who explained the order the levers are pulled. Some signal men operated 3 or 4 boxes, running up and down between them. 12 hour days, four days in a row. There was a little diagram above the levers to show which “line” each lever moved. There was a big brown lever which controlled the gates for the cars. Most days there would have been freight trains, quarry trucks (especially here in Wales), as well as passenger trains travelling up and down the lines. This particular Signal Box itself was bought by the town council to preserve the history and heritage of that line, and was moved from its original position and rebuilt on the platform a few hundred metres down the line. It is now opened by knowledgeable volunteers on Fridays and Saturdays (11am – 3pm). Apparently there are only 600 of these left. There is a book Bryan said he picked up, which is an Atlas and Directory of Signal Boxes. I want one. Something in me must be slightly either OCD or just trainspotterish (maybe it’s because my grand-dad drove the Flying Scotsman), but I have a craving for coordinating a photographic documentation of them all before they either disappear or fall in total disrepair.
Before I came to Wales, I spent a couple of days with PENHA at their annual retreat, which was held in “Anybodys Barn”, in the Malverns, hosted by the delightful cooperative of Birchwood Hall. PENHA work with nomadic communities in the Horn of Africa, and I was leading a session on fundraising and marketing.
Things are moving forward at quite a pace for them, next year they will have been making a difference to lives of the pastoralists in Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somaliland, Djibouti, Kenya, Sudan for over 25 years, putting the situation of the nomadic people on governmental agendas and improving lives at a grass root level. I’m hoping to head out to Uganda and Ethiopia later this year to help document some of the day-today living, the musicians, creatives and women out there (watch this space).
So why was I all the way over in welsh Wales? I was photographing Stained Glass Artist Simon Howard at his studio in Llandeilo, just to the west of the Brecon Beacons. He gave me a tip to drive via Newbridge-on-Wye which was definitely a brilliant suggestion. It was such a beautiful drive.
It was a thought provoking experience sharing the studio space with Simon; there is a modest quietness about him that I felt immediately comfortable around. I try not to impose myself when I’m shooting for this book, I kind of lurk like a fly and hover, watching and capturing the skill and dexterity, the light and the creativity as best I can. It soon became clear from what he was telling me, that he has a wealth of experience and a knowledge of the art of Stained Glass that makes his artistry incredibly sought after. I’m dying to show you the photos of the whole process! Soon!!
I then drove on to Stourbridge to shoot Catriona Mackenzie… and that’s a whole new ball game!!! See Part 5 for that one!