The Kickplate Gallery

Charl Williams | Ann & Mel Williams | Pete Adamson | Ken Iremonger | Ladhams family | Martha Lowman and an Anonymous Photographer

The Kickplate Gallery in Abertillery opened with the purpose to bring European photography to the Welsh valleys. The gallery has shown a variety of international work from photographers across the World, but for Lost and Found they have looked closer to home to find contributors. The gallery sent out a call for analogue photographs submitted by the members of the local community, including the Abertillery, Six Bells and Brynmawr area. Eschewing stereotypical images of valleys life, the history of the area is shown through the local people and their stories.

In a time when most images do not leave our computer screens, the analogue print has lost its physical presence within the family album or on the wall. The images in Lost and Found reveal the longevity of the photographic print, images from many generations sit next to each other, black and white prints from the 50s merge with images bearing that odd hue that is familiar with photographs of the 1970s. Styles, haircuts and attitudes may change but the use of photographic imagery still pervades. Photographs of home life, holiday snaps and celebrations are omnipresent, a popular subject throughout time. Formal portraits are next to informal snapshots from a fancy dress party, images from protests are juxtaposed with the family on the beach. and all are given an equal space.

The exhibition asks questions about identity and how people choose to represent themselves. Asking the local community to send in images enters them into a collaborative partnership, not only with the gallery but also with their own personal history. Photographs are a way of forming identity that is furthered when those images are edited and made public. Photography is a way of projecting how we want ourselves to be seen, these documents stand in for us and present an ideal version of ourselves to the world. We are presented with a gamut of imagery, from the idealised family portrait to the proud homestead, from the passport image to the constructed landscape. The variety of images sent in present a wide and varied family history, each with their own defining markers. Through the images we can build stories and relationships, attempting to piece together the family history.

The area’s local history is represented through the people who lived there. As you enter Abertillery, a large sculpture of a miner looms over the valley. At times it feels like all of the South Wales valleys are under a cloud of their former mining communities and this social history is synonymous with the area. Lost and Found gives a voice back to the community to present their own personal accounts of life in Abertillery and the local area.

Often art is thought of as a metropolitan activity, confined to city and urban areas, but the project questions that audience and brings it into the lives and community of those who think art is not for them. The images on the walls show an engagement between the gallery and the communities, giving them something back. The gallery becomes a space for discussion, reliving memories and telling past stories. Through creating this space, it keeps the tradition alive, not just of the history but also the analogue printing processes that are slowly diminishing. The strength of Lost and Found lies not only in the work on the walls, but the way in which it forms a space for the community to interact, with their history and with the world in a wider photographic discourse.