James Morris

A Landscape of Wales: Press Reviews

A landscape of Wales : selected press reviews


A Landscape of Wales

TheArtsDesk.com      Jasper Rees     11 May 2010

The Welsh landscape promoted by the tourist board is a known entity. Postcard photographers patrol its contours waiting for the rains to desist and the sun to peer out so that they can snap splendid estuaries, meadowed shores patrolled by a lone diesel train, elegant county towns hibernating in the fold of a loafy hill, aqueducts and crumbling abbeys, beetling peaks and labyrinthine ravines. These photographs by James Morris, from a new exhibition and book, find another, sterner Wales imposed on the old familiar template.

The post-industrial Wales depicted here doesn’t always win admirers. Abandoned slate quarries, the scarred coalfield, caravan parks and terraced streets are all emblems of a Wales which saw the wealth, hewn out of the rock by its labourers, migrate elsewhere. And then there are the valleys dammed and flooded to keep the cities of Birmingham and Liverpool in hot bath water. And yet, while Morris’s collection is of polemical landscapes, they have their own frowning beauty.


How Grey Was My Valley

A Landscape of Wales (Dewi Lewis Publishing)

Source no. 63, Summer 2010 by Jesse Alexander

A Landscape of Wales is a handsome publication, containing dozens of sumptuous large format landscapes, made throughout the nation of James Morris’s birthplace.

Morris’s subject matter ranges from sublime, post-industrial landscapes – the title image could be mistaken for a still of Mordor from the Lord of the Rings – to the banal; such as a view offices and the Dragon Hotel in Swansea.

Grey is a predominant tone throughout this colour publication: the greys of the disused slate quarries; grey stones of great castles; grey asphalt of market towns and housing developments; grey concrete urban infrastructure and of course, the unforgiving greys of the rain-filled skies that brood above these diverse landscapes. Although this may seem like an uninspired observation, it really quite a striking feature of this work.

Like Simon Roberts, whose book We English makes an appropriate contrast to this work, Morris has also veered towards tourist destinations. These images contain the majority of the human figures in the book, which are crammed into the frame, swamping the views. These images are underscored by R. S. Thomas’s bleak, polemic epigraph Reservoirs, at the beginning of the book, lamenting the demise of Welsh culture to the hands of the English. Don’t let this put you off.


Beauty of the broken

Ruins of Detroit and A Landscape of Wales are two new photographic books which capture the terrible poetry of urban decay.

Lucy Davies – Daily Telegraph – Jun 2010

Beauty of the broken

Ruins of Detroit and A Landscape of Wales are two new photographic books which capture the terrible poetry of urban decay.

A strange beauty is born of disintegration. Population haemorrhage, dry fiscal pockets and defunct industry leave their scars as weathered spaces where vines and leaves mingle with shattered plaster, tumbledown stone and rusted, curlicue iron; the body of the building eating itself from the inside out.

Two recently published photography books chronicle this phenomenon, from opposite sides of the Atlantic. James Morris, a native Welshman, travelled the length and breadth of his homeland with a plate camera, capturing the country’s landscape under misting grey skies. A commission from the Welsh Arts Council, he was nevertheless strident in his pursuit of the Wales where people actually live, rather than the undulating valleys full of warm-timbred tenors and birds wheeling over sheep-stippled cliff tops. Several have been the photographers attracted to these picture perfect scenes. Few, however, have dared tread Morris’ path. His weather-bitten, scowling towns are monotone and joyless. Elevated sections of motorway run carelessly through fields; slicks of mud cover Barry docks; forests are shown clear-felled, the land blemished and washed-out.

The most poignant show derelict slate quarries and ruined collieries, inviting the reader to speculate on what came before and what will come after. They stand for the people who saw the treasure hacked from their landscape, the profit sold elsewhere. A reservoir may reflect the sky in its silver grey water, but hiding beneath are flooded homes and farmland. “Some of these places” says Morris “are very difficult for many people because of what they represent. He quotes the poet Robert Williams Parry “Y mae lleisiau a drychiolaethau ar hyd lie (There are voices and phantoms throughout the place)”.

This idea, that ruins are small pieces of history in suspension, where time teeters on an edge, is taken to soaring strength in Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s study of Detroit, a city poised in transition from galactic metropolis to dust and prairie. This modern day Pompeii still carries the imprint of the citizens who once learnt and married and worked and died there. All the archetypal signs of the American dream – movie theatres, dance halls, a grandiose train station, libraries, schools, housing projects – lie abandoned in the wake of the collapse of the motor industry, some 50 years ago.

Today, large sections of the city have reverted to nature as the stones of the houses return to the earth. Flocks of pheasants and packs of deer keep company with scavengers, who pillage the buildings for scrap metal “They would work alongside us” says Meffre “swinging their axes into the corpses of these buildings for the few remaining pieces of metal left. We would say hello, sometimes we might have a little talk.”

For five years Marchand and Meffre foraged for beauty among the spoils. Their photographs show rotting hulks of buildings standing as depraved ghosts on melancholy boulevards. Light shafts through windows and doors, igniting rooms with the weak, hued flush of winter. Snow drifts silently through one; rain drizzles through another.

Among the dirt lie relics of the past, embalmed in dust and cobweb – a sodden chasuble, mouldering books, anatomical models, dresses in a closet, a typewriter, a doorbell inscribed “Bless this our home”, jumbled piano keys, their strings flayed wild as lightning. One of the most unsettling discarded evidence in the cellar of a police station, the names of murder victims inked on labels attached to blood samples and pieces of cloth – Vickie Truelove, Valerie Chalk, Debbie Ann Friday.

“Seeing these once sturdy buildings crumbling around us made us wonder about the permanence of everything” says Meffre. “Ruins epitomise our human ability to create and self destruct at the same time; the way in which we are trying to achieve immortality by believing, creating, possessing and consuming. The waste of it choked us”


A Landscape of Wales

Western Mail, 29. May. 2010

A startling, eye catching and powerful book that needs a table to be handled comfortably.

Published with the support of the Welsh Books Council and Aberystwyth Arts Centre, this is a evocation of modern Wales by an acclaimed photographer from Griffithstown.

These images speak for themselves.    They tell their own stories and like all excellent art, they reward repeated visits.  There’s no hype or cliche.  This is Wales as you may not have noticed it before, a beloved country, sometimes stripped down and laid bare.

An introductory essay, Shadowless light, by the travel writer, rock climber and one time shepherd Jim Perrin, opens the book alongside the famous Reservoirs poem by RS Thomas.

Perrin’s essay calls on John Berger, perhaps the greatest living interpreter of visual art, Susan Sontag, Michael Foucault, Patrick kavanagh, DH Lawrence, Robert Williams Parry and George Ewart Evans to provide the context for Morris’s images.

Like the photos, the essay is partly an evocative love letter to Wales and partly an anguished protest at the way it is exploited and despoiled.  It echoes the lament of Reservoirs while pointing a finger at those from government, industry and developers that still exploit and degrade the country in ignorance and greed – the bland uniformity of housing, supermarkets and shopping centres, clear-felled forestry, and the scam and fraud of wind turbines cynically generating cash while destroying the natural landscape.

As he remarks the book is a “radical and necessary enterprise’ that records a landscape not in familiar cliched images “but in terms of our brutal unawareness of and disregard for it and its indigenous culture”.


A Landscape Of Wales

Morning Star   Gwyn Griffiths   28. December.s 2010

This is no touristy view of stunning landscapes.

This is Wales – post-industrial, Tesco-dotted, with grimy backstreets and down-market tourism. Even a pretty landscape such as the Craig Goch reservoir in the Elan Valley has a grim and spare poem opposite by RS Thomas, telling us why he avoids such places.

There is a barbed wire fence, a rusting road sign and shiny wet road. Had the photographer moved a little to the left it would have been a picture suitable for a tourist board brochure. But this is photographer making a statement.

The bleak, silent landscapes of the quarries of Dinorwig and Blaenau Ffestiniog are favoured by Morris, beautiful mountains violently cut into giant steps by hard men.

Pontrhydfendigaid, an attractive village with its ruins of an ancient abbey, is seen as a street of gaunt houses fading in a mist.

This is a book with the surprises of good poetry. Cwmparc, Rhondda appears in unexpected beauty while opposite we find the ultimate barren landscape of the lead mines of Cwm Ystwyth. Unexpected, as is a breathtakingly ugly view of Ceredigion.

Betws y Coed loses all attraction when packed with visitors. Likewise Conwy Castle. Yet the inside of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is shown off in its colourful geometric forms.

Colour-splashed Llandudno is sad with old people, sometimes unaware, sometimes looking suspiciously out of the frame.

Then there are car parks. In the heart of the Brecon Beacons, the car park takes centre place with a clutch of cars and an ice-cream van. The majesty of Snowdonia is reduced to a car-park in Llanberis Pass against a backdrop of uninviting hills.

It is a melancholy Wales.

But there is still beauty, enhanced by Jim Perrin’s richly authoritative introduction.

This site relies on javascript to display correctly - please enable javascript