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

11 Jan 2023 5 minute read
Gurnos boys, Merthyr Rockabillies, Gurnos girls (Credit: Walter Waygood)

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

The photographer who is seen 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,” he said. “I was working with a younger generation.

“I want to instill 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.”

VIEW IMAGES FROM WALTER WAYGOOD’S EIGHTIES COLLECTION

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Back then he 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 Srike next 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.”

Miners

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.

These include, in his own words…

“Working on the Family of Merthyr documentary and planning a second book and exhibition in the future.

“Working on a book and exhibition of the Family of Santa Claus. The Santa work will also be included in Phaiden publisher book on Christmas which will be released later in the year.

“Staging the Family Blaenafon exhibition which will fill every room in Blaenavon’s Workmans Hall. This will take place around May- September. The exhibition will be opened by Blaenavon’s former rugby internationals Terry Cobner and John Perkins who recently opened an exhibition at Torfaen Museum.

“Recently the National Library of Wales purchased a set of prints from the Miners & Factory Girls documentary to be added to their archive. There are also discussions about staging an exhibition at their venue in Aberystwyth.

“Working on a lovely documentary Beautiful Architecture of the South Wales Coalfield with Miners’ Memoirs.”

To find out more about Walter’s photography and his many exhibitions visit: walterwaygood.com

MERTHYR SKINHEADS 1983 (Credit: Walter Waygood)

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Andrew
Andrew
20 days ago

No more heroes anymore……

Stephen Mahoney
Stephen Mahoney
19 days ago

One of them pictured there sold more power tools to Merthyr builders than b&q.

Andrew
Andrew
18 days ago

Merthyr,s Del Boy back then, keeping the cogs of small business turning during the Thatcher years.

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