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Researchers say photographs could unlock people’s unspoken political views

27 May 2024 4 minute read
Marching in Merthyr: Clint Thomas

Top researchers from Aberystwyth University believe photographs may hold the key to unlocking people’s unspoken political views.

This comes as the Senedd in Cardiff Bay held the last in a series of photography exhibitions across Wales on Wednesday (22 May), called ‘Framing the Future: Photography from Wales, Scotland and Catalonia’ by the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society.

Integral to the Centre’s pioneering study on the sentiments and experiences that shape people’s perspectives on independence, the exhibition featured a collection of 46 photographs by 35 photographers across three nations.

“Difficult conversations”

The exhibition has also been hosted at Aberystwyth, Caenarfon, and Ynyshir, Rhondda and remains at the Civic Centre Lleialtat Santsenca in Barcelona until 31 May.

For exhibition curators and researchers Dr Elin Royles and Dr Anwen Elias, the hard work of analysing the data from photographers – and from the exhibition visitors – will now pull together their final findings on the power of photographs to start difficult political conversations, particularly around the constitution.

Annibyniaeth. Image: Richard Jones

Part of the Senedd exhibition included a discussion between the researchers, participating photographers, Richard Jones and Hayley Thomas, and award-winning journalist and author Will Hayward, who has previously written a book on independence, to discuss the power of creativity to tap into people’s political standpoints.


Dr Anwen Elias, a member of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, explained the team’s innovative approach: “Photography is a powerful tool in providing a more rounded understanding of what’s going on, and to help determine to what extent emotion dictates people’s standpoints on issues like independence.

“Most people don’t have these conversations and this offers up a really important opportunity to contribute to national conversations in all three nations.”

In response to a question regarding her involvement in conversations relating to how Wales is governed, photographer Hayley Thomas, from the Rhondda, said: “I would say, up to the point of the start of this project, I had none, [no involvement] quite honestly.

“It’s not something that has come up in the circles I move in. What I would say is, obviously, by being part of this project I definitely have spoken to a lot of people and those questions of heart or head, it is those questions that make you think ‘what if it was’, and then you have to start unpicking all of that.

“It has been a great thing for me: to start the discussion.”

“A journey”

Speaking at the Senedd, Photographer Neil McGuff from Aberystwyth commented on the methodology behind the research: “If you were to ask me a question about independence, I would answer you and you would all go away with hopefully the same conclusion.

“By presenting a picture, you will all go away with five different interpretations of that picture. So, you’ll have five different opinions, rather than one.

“And then you can actually make that six, as we put our own interpretation on there too. So, you end up with a much broader interpretation of a single question. […]

“It’s been really enjoyable and it’s a journey we’ve enjoyed very much.”

Findings to date indicate that photography very much creates a different and exciting way to continue the conversation about Wales’s constitutional future, which was a key recommendation in the final report of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales in January 2024.

The final research by Dr Anwen Elias and Dr Elin Royles will be out later this year, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the WISERD/ ESRC Civil Society Research Centre (Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data).

Learn more about the project here:

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6 days ago

Took a great pc of a Stonechat on the weekend. Is that a Tory or Labour?

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