My images of North Wales are those of an outsider. They don’t claim to ‘capture’ the place, or even describe it. Instead they may be seen as small poems, aiming to capture a mood or an atmosphere. North Wales is a strange and beautiful land, but I find myself confounded in trying to describe what it is today. It feels like a place that once had a strong identity – an identity now diminished along with the slate and farming industries.
What I see today is a place in transition. But transiting to where, I wonder? Wales has one foot firmly in the past, while the other foot hovers in mid-air, unsure where to land.
There are conundrums and juxtapositions everywhere. Nowhere is this more apparent that in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Here the slate mine is open for business. But instead of producing slate, it offers tourists the ‘experience’ of slate mining, by riding a tiny train that clatters through the dank and claustrophobic tunnels, once used by working men, many of whom died of silicosis.
Sons of miners work here now as guides, dressed in vintage bowler hats and overalls, while overhead zip-wires hum as shrieking visitors fly overhead, having paid £50 for the thrill of flying between discarded slate mountains.
The town post office and bakery look unchanged, like fading snapshots from the 1950’s. But down the road an internet café offers cappuccino’s and free wi-fi.
There is a newly paved square with an old iron locomotive engine, salvaged and now brightly repainted like a child’s toy. A former miner sits on a bench in the autumn sunshine. He seems lost in thought, but perhaps he’s just thinking about where to have lunch… the bakery or the wi-fi café? The past or the future. Neither feels quite right… neither feels like the present.