“Within Swansea there is an established and growing mod scene, which has strong links to ska and skinhead culture. It’s argued that the definition of mod can be difficult to pin down, because “throughout the subculture’s original era, it was prone to continuous reinvention. The word mod was an umbrella term that covered several distinct sub-scenes and is difficult to define because the subculture started out as a ‘mysterious semi-secret world’, which the Who’s manager summarised as “clean living under difficult circumstances.
The Swansea Mods are a vibrant, stylish and friendly bunch of women and men from all backgrounds. The social scene involves meets, ride-outs, gigs and weekenders – it feels like I’ve only dipped my toe in so far and am looking forward to continuing the series in the future.”
So firstly, you work as a geologist. Is this something you always wanted to pursue?
Geology was pretty much the only subject I enjoyed in comprehensive school, mainly due to a good teacher and classmates. It dawned on me during my second year in university that there could be a career in it and I’ve been very lucky to have been working as an Engineering Geologist for more than 15 years.
I’m a partner in an engineering consultancy in Cardiff called Earth Science Partnership and find that photography engages a creative side of my brain that I don’t get to use every day.
You stated in a previous interview that photography is a hobby. Do you think your day to day job inspires your practice as a photographer?
My job has definitely helped along the way – geology is an observational science and accurate recording is a core skill. Photography became more serious for me once our first child was born and I realised that candid photos always looked better to me than posed ones. Most of my friends and family would confirm that i’ve always been ‘gadgety’ and I came to understand the principles of exposure pretty quickly.
I could definitely see the potential for a long-term project, combining your day to day job and a photography project. Is this anything you’ve ever thought about?
I haven’t actually thought about this too much, but being linked to civil engineering and construction there are some unusual characters and personalities I could document. I did once experiment with a series of infrared images of the coastline around Gower which is near where I grew up, but then got a rangefinder, started making photos of people and haven’t been back to it.
Your Swansea mod series is a really well-worked project. How did it come about?
Thanks! I’d been aware of the mod and scooter scene in Swansea for a while, but never really had a way of making contalookouts on the look out for a ‘project’ (not really knowing where to start), then one day I was driving through Swansea on the way home from work and stumbled upon a large group of scooterists – it turned out they met at the same place at the same time every week; now this was a really good bit of luck for me because I could just meet up with them once a week and did so for nearly two months every Thursday evening (and other pre-arranged times) until the nights drew in last Autumn.
Was there anything you’d ever seen previously that influenced the way in which you went about shooting this project?
I’d been experimenting with square crops for a few portraits and decided to take a leap and bought an old Hasselblad 503cx, film processing kit/chemicals and scanner. The mods series is, I’d say, about 95% shot on Kodak Portra 400, manually metered, developed (in the kitchen!) and scanned myself. In terms of the style, I think this was largely dictated by the square format and available light (so shot mostly at wide apertures). I really liked the colours using Kodak Portra and have carried this into my digital photography. Because of the huge time involved in taking photos, processing and scanning film I’ve actually switched back to fully digital using a rangefinder and a medium format camera. I’ve thought about doing something big like an equivalent of August Sander’s portraits of German society in the early 20th Century, but in the UK; however, this may have to wait until I retire!
So you actually started out documenting the streets. Did you feel you feel this boosted your confidence when asking people for a portrait in the street?
Definitely! However, candid and close up street photography has always left me feeling a bit empty and like I’ve stolen something. Although it’s much harder to ask someone for their photograph, I find it much more rewarding. I do still like street photography and carry my rangefinder nearly everywhere, but think my approach is more David Hurn than Bruce Gilden these days if you get what I mean (not saying my photos are a patch on those guys though!).
Has your Swansea Mods series inspired any more documentary style projects? If so, what’s next?
The Swansea Mods definitely opened my eyes to ‘projects’ and I’ve had some great encouragement from the chaps at Ffoton Wales.
I’ve been progressing a couple of other series’ since the mods – the first a project called ‘Reverse Osmosis’ documenting what I see as the influences of American culture in Wales and the second is a project on the surfers of Aberavon. I’ll add to these as time and circumstances allow (if anyone’s having a baby shower in Wales soon then let me know, ha!).
Over the last week or so I have begun research into a larger project that may involve a bit of travel around Wales through the summer – this is as yet untitled and theoretical until I begin making some photographs later this week!