[31Jul20, I&P p.14] EyV’s Assignment 1, Square Mile is mentioned and it is suggested that students might like to try it again. Well, it just so happens that I knew this was coming and have done so.
On my first Y Filltir Sgwar in July 2018 I wrote,
Although Welsh by birth, I did not regard myself as susceptible to Square Mile Syndrome, particularly as regards Wales, though I may have changed my mind while working on the assignment.EyV Assignment 1 July 2018
In November 2019 I wrote.
If I return to Newport it will be for my mother’s funeral (currently 99 and living, just about, in Stratford-on-Avon). And I’ll photograph my Square Mile: two houses, chapel, two (or three) schools, two pubs and my father’s grave.
My mother died in May and the funeral was in June, held under the Welsh covid limitations and so we had to drive to Wales and back on the same day. I had a couple of hours after arriving, before the ceremony to visit the scenes of my childhood and youth, some of which are not recognisable.
I was born and grew up in this house. My parents bought it after WW2 for £500. My mother lived there for 60 years until her mid-90s.
It has now been converted into flats. I was pleased to see that the name Baronia has been retained, at least for now. The name derives from the area of Nantwich, Cheshire where my father was born.
There happened to be a hearse passing when I took the photograph, not the one used for my mother’s funeral.
This is the house, about a mile away, where my maternal grandmother raised her family after husband died in 1924. She ran a grocery shop from the front room until the 1960s.
I think my earliest memories are of being in the shop.
I lived in the house myself in my 20s, after my grandmother had died and when I was working in Cardiff. I shared it with a lodger who eventually bought it.
formerly Durham Road School
Durham Road runs parallel to Caerleon Road, towards Duckpool Road. The site comprised comprised an Infants’ and a Junior school. My sister and I walked to school and went home for lunch, cooked by my grandmother. My mother returned to work when I went to School.
The site was bulldozed and derelict for quite a few years: I was surprised to see that it had become residential, Scholar’s Court, when I returned for the funeral.
I had two maiden aunts, sisters of my grandmother, who lived in Durham Road, Eva and Alice. All three lived until their 90s. Their generation included twelve siblings, half of whom migrated to Australia in the 1920s.
Hatherleigh, formerly St Julian’s Junior High School
The education system in Newport, in fact in the whole of Wales, turned Comprehensive in the year I would have gone to grammar school. Instead I spent two years in a Junior High School, Hatherleigh. It is now a housing estate.
St Julian’s High School
Previously separate Girls’ and Boys’ Grammar Schools this is on Heather Road, a few hundred yards from where I lived on Caerleon Road. The main buildings appear unchanged, but what were the girls’ playing fields have been built on. The Rugby field remains intact.
In my later years at St Julian’s, friends and I drank at the Centurion Inn, a little further up Heather Road. It served a large housing estate. It had closed for business before the fire.
Again, the building site was a surprise and I did not learn of the fire until today (1Aug20).
The Greyhound Inn is a couple of miles away, but quite close to the Hatherleigh site and adjacent to the cemetery where my father, and now my mother, are buried.
My school friends and I walked to the Greyhound after school choir and orchestra practices and concerts.
There was no opportunity on this occasion for a visit to the town centre and the site of the New Found Out where Tish Murtha photographed the regulars in the 1970s and my friends and I sampled the rough cider occasionally.
This is the current incarnation of the evangelical chapel I was taken to three times on Sunday as a child, until, as a teenager, I refused and cooked the Sunday Lunch instead.
My grandmother was converted to their religion in one of the waves of revivals that struck Wales in the early C20th.
Rockfield Street is parallel to Durham Road and the church a hundred yards or so from the site of Durham Road School.
The hearse left from here (services were not allowed under Welsh virus restrictions) and passed the Caerleon Road house on the way to the cemetery.
[5Aug] There was no conscious effort in this project to emulate or channel any photographer or genre. I had a number of specific targets to photograph in less than two hours and so the challenge was more logistical than æsthetic. It was also an essentially personal project and so no thought process or intention more complex than ‘identify the subjects and show what they now look like’ was necessary or desirable.
[1Aug20] I found processing and writing about the photographs today a little moving, more so than I expected.
It is noticeable how small the area and how few the sites one made use of in the 1950s and 60s. The differences between my parents’ social and working lives and mine are remarkable, and furthermore the difference between my educational life and my son’s. Having said that, both my parents were actively involved in the Second World War (my father was injured at Dunkirk) and so they both faced traumas and dangers far greater than I have ever known.
The interest of these images is entirely personal and biographical. To anyone other than myself (and, perhaps, my sister in some cases), they are photographs of random, mundane buildings.
And this is the most important point about all photographs: whatever the photographer’s intention, however involved the photographer is with the subject (and whether this is emotionally, personally, politically, economically, aesthetically or otherwise), it is the baggage that the viewer brings to the interpretation of the image that determines their reaction and the photographer’s own baggage is, in all likelihood, of little interest to the viewer.
[18Aug] In early drafts of this page I carried on at some length discussing the personal interpretation of images and the relationship between the photographer and the viewer. On second thoughts, I will save that discussion for another time.