Socialist Worker

Hiraeth documents the beauty and ugliness of South Wales’ industrial past

Photographer Ceres spoke to Alistair Farrow about the influences behind his new book Hiraeth

Issue No. 2569

Some of the sites featured in the book

Some of the sites featured in the book (Pic: Fluorescent Smogg)


What was the purpose of the book?

Hiraeth is a Welsh word that doesn’t directly translate into English, but it basically means a homesickness for Wales, its landscape and the past.

The book is a pictorial journey on my take of that word. It concentrates on the abandoned mines, quarries and train tunnels that litter the landscape.

This is now a mostly hidden and forgotten world.

How did deindustrialisation in Wales influence the book?

I was given a book about Wales’ industrial past, and couldn’t believe how many amazing viaducts, bridges, canals, railways and buildings had already been demolished.

The profits from the Industrial Revolution didn’t stay here long so Wales is a pretty poor place.

There wasn’t much interest at the time to look after this type of heritage, and they’ve either been left to rot or flattened.

For instance, Wales was one of the largest exporters of coal, slate and other minerals in the world and Cardiff docks was the busiest port in the world, but there’s not much left to see.

This is probably why I like documenting what’s left, whether it’s some of the last remaining pit heads or burnt out cars left by joyriders in an abandoned train tunnel.

Your background is in graffiti. Is this a shift in your artistic direction?

It’s definitely a shift in direction. But there were parallels between the act of breaking into a train depot and getting into some of the places featured in the book.

So the process itself wasn’t as different as you’d think.

After deindustrialisation there’s been a return to a more romantic idea of Wales. Is the book an attempt to counter that?

In a way, yes, but I’ve definitely been guilty of the same.

My family on both sides worked in slate quarries or coal mines, which is one of the reasons I became interested in them.

But the reality of working underground everyday with a pick and shovel for next to no money is anything but romantic.

There’s nothing romantic about my great grandfather losing part of his foot in a quarry accident.

He still had to find work clearing the roads of fallen rocks to feed his family.

I find a lot of these post-industrial landscapes beautiful, but then there’s also something so ugly, wasteful and horrific about them.

It’s all the lives lost mining them, the huge sums of money made on the back of their hard work, and the lack of regard for nature.

Hopefully this book shows both the beauty and the ugliness of these places.

Hiraeth by Ceres
£25, published by Fluorescent Smogg
Available from fluorescentsmogg.com

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