James Morris: A Landscape of Wales
Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno
Until 7th May 2011

In a recent discussion at the Mostyn Gallery, James Morris described the motivations behind his project ‘A Landscape of Wales’, a touring exhibition and book published 2010 (Dewi Lewis). Although he was educated in London, and has, until recently, worked there, Morris’s family roots are in south Wales, and he has grown up with a strong connection to his Welsh identity. He has now moved back to Wales and this project records his odyssey as he acquainted himself with the country.

The themes that he attempts to explore are tied to Welsh identity. Morris’s project unintentionally complements the work of Simon Roberts, who underwent a similar odyssey to photograph the English for his exhibition and book ‘We English’ (Chris Boot), but whereas Roberts concentrated upon leisure, Morris considers industry. The exhibition covers the main three gallery spaces on the ground floor of the Mostyn and includes over thirty large colour C type prints. Morris works with a 5x4 camera, so his landscapes are crammed with details.

The photographs survey how the land has been used, especially in relation to the industrial Wales of mining and mineral extraction. This heroic industrial period has now past, leaving behind a post industrial landscape of empty quarries, mines and desolate housing estates. His images concentrate upon man’s impact on the landscape - what might be seen to be the blots on the landscape. Morris’s work follows in the New Topographic tradition of Robert Adams and Stephen Shore. A cold grey light pervades the images. Most of the images are empty of people or the people are diminutive in the large landscape image.

In direct sightline on entering the first gallery space is a photograph of the ‘Smallest House in Britain’. This image of the cheerful, bright red tourist attraction in Conway contrasts with the photographs of the bleak housing estates that are on either side of the image. Many of the photographs in the exhibition show the housing estates of Wales. As Morris pointed out, these are the unbeautiful places where the incomers do not go. These melancholy environments are dominated by small grey houses cluttered together on the hillsides where industry once provided them with work and a purpose.

It is the tourist industry that Morris points his camera at to provide a contrast with the rundown industrial landscape. In his photographs of tourist locations he works at street level to photograph his subjects. He is in the crowd and now the people are big and the landscape diminishes. This is the Wales of the present and it is clear that Morris has many questions to ask about this development.

Morris studied Medieval and Modern History at University College, London and then worked as an architectural photographer. Morris’ background in history and architectural photography has surely informed this project. This exhibition provides an opportunity to see an interesting contribution to the depiction of the Welsh landscape and to contemporary British landscape photography.

Stephen Clarke

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