Saturday, 4 June 2011

Lost in Translation - the photographs of Geoff Charles

Over the past few months myself and Russell Roberts, Reader in Photography at UWN and former Head of Photography at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, have been collaborating on a curatorial project on the photographic work of Geoff Charles. Commissioned by the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and National Eisteddfod of Wales we are assembling a mixed media installation of photographs, slide show projections and film that opens up a new understanding of the imagery of Geoff Charles in relation to both cultural and photographic art contexts. The exhibition will be displayed at this August at the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham.

Geoff Charles was a press photographer whose career spanned five decades, his images record the lives and moments of ordinary people in Wales. He worked for a number of magazines and newspapers including; The Wrexham Star, Montgomeryshire Express, Y Cymro and Farmers Weekly. Working as a press photographer allowed him access to photograph a wide range of daily Welsh experiences.  As a body of work; which the National Library of Wales holds his archive of around 120,000 negatives, his images are mostly typical generic press images. But within this vast archive are a number of fresh and starling imagery which are astonishing !

His best known iconic image is that of Carneddog and his wife leaving home in the Carneddau Mountains for the last time (1945). Geoff Charles' work has been exhibited before and a number of volumes of his work is published by Y Lolfa. These contexts have located his work within cultural nostalgia. Our roles as curators is to draw out new and alternative possibilities of interpreting this archive and to enjoy the sheer visual verve of his best imagery which defies an easy cultural reading.

Our working title Lost in Translation, refers to the fact that when Charles' photographs are published in newspapers and books, their visual quality are ill served and diminished through cropping, montage and through poor reproduction quality.

Some of Charles' best known imagery records the events leading to the drowning of Capel Celyn and Tryweryn Valley in 1963. We have also come across a film made by Geoff Charles' son, who as a schoolboy made a film about these events. It seems that father and son worked side by side, recording through photography and 16 mm film one of the most culturally significant events in late 20th century Welsh history. We will be showing an edit of this film inter-spread with Charles' photographs.

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