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The wonderful photographs that capture growing up in Wales in the 1980s

31 May 2024 4 minute read
Gurnos boys, Merthyr Rockabillies, Gurnos girls (Credit: Walter Waygood)

When Walter Waygood started posting photographs on social media that he had taken in the 1980s the reaction was unprecedented.

The photographer who is viewed as one of Wales’ most renowned photographers has built a sizeable reputation for his documentary photography, revealing candid glimpses of the nation from yesteryear.

Back in the 1980s, Walter was working as an artist-in-residence at Pen-Y-Dre High School on the Gurnos Estate in Merthyr Tydfil.

It began a journey which would build up a wonderful archive of photographs of life on the Merthyr estate and further afield around the South Wales Valleys.

The pics he took form the basis of his Family of Merthyr collection – pictures taken around the valleys’ town in the ’80s and ’90s.

‘MERTHYR YOUTH’ Merthyr Tydfil 1983 (credit: Walter Waygood)

With the aim of documenting the changing face of society and culture in the area, his photographs are incredibly vivid and evocative of the time, opening windows to a Wales that was experiencing difficult times.

“Once I worked as as an artist-in-residence I then became a community artist around the South Wales Valleys using photography as an educational and social tool,” he said. “I was taking pics of the people I was working with as well as friends and family.”

‘MERTHYR YOUNG MUSICIANS’ Gurnos Housing Estate. 1984 (Credit: Walter Waygood)

As he continued, a natural archive of documentary photographs was being formed with an emphasis on youth culture.

“The beauty comes from the ordinary from the home environment, which I realised as a body of work was built up,” said the photographer. “I was working with a younger generation.

“I want to instil a pride in the area where I came from. Unless you worked down the mines, back then you moved away from where you were from.

“I wanted young people to realise ‘hang on, stay put, there’s a tremendous history in the area we’ve got. I wanted to show a pride and dignity in working class life.”


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Back then Walter had an intimate knowledge of youth tribes forged by his own experience.

“How did I get pride and identity? Well I was a skinhead back then,” he recalled. “There was a sense of belonging. Being a skinhead I was into reggae music. None of us were into the racialist side of it. It was all to do with youth culture and fashion.

“Merthyr was a hybrid of youth cultures. There were rockabillies, there were punk rockers, there were skinheads together. It was an exciting period.

“I loved the area I came from and I wanted to show that.”

He added: “The irony is that ambitions of the project have been built up through social media. The work has been opened up to a wider audience through the internet.”

‘MERTHYR SKINS & PUNK ROCKERS’ Merthyr Tydfil 1983 (Credit: Walter Waygood)

What is special about Walter’s work is that it has presented the photographer with a voyage of discovery of his own.

“Recent pictures that I’ve added to social media came as a result of a request to get together pictures in preparation for the anniversary of the Miners Strike this year,” he said. “I went through negatives and produced images for the first time since I pressed the shutter button of the camera 40 years ago.”

For the future, Walter has plenty to occupy him and the many collections of photographs that have formed the basis of several exhibitions that the photographer has staged over the years.

And there are more on the way…

To find out more about Walter’s photography and his many exhibitions visit: and check out his Facebook page

MERTHYR SKINHEADS 1983 (Credit: Walter Waygood)

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