Photographers of Wales

Learn more about photographers in Wales spanning over two centuries

Evacuees from Birkenhead arriving in Newtown, Montgomeryshire (09-Sep-39) by Geoff Charles (1909-2002)The National Library of Wales

Since its foundation in 1907, the National Library of Wales has collected photographs documenting all aspects of Welsh life. It is the largest and richest collection of photographs of Welsh interest in existence dating from the earliest days of photography to the present.

Margam Castle Daguerreotype (1841-03-09) by Jones, Calvert RichardThe National Library of Wales

Reverend Calvert Richard Jones (1804-1877)

The earliest Welsh example that can be accurately dated is a fine whole-plate daguerreotype of Margam Castle taken by the Reverend Calvert Richard Jones on 9 March 1841. Daguerre’s process produced a positive image on a silvered metal plate.

This is the only daguerreotype by Calvert Jones known to have survived, and shows the home of his friend Christopher Price Mansel Talbot.

Mary Dillwyn (self-portrait) (1853) by Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906)The National Library of Wales

Mary Dillwyn (1816–1906)

During the 1840s and 1850s, the Dillwyn- Llewelyn family of Penllergaer, Swansea led the world in pioneering photography.

With photography running in the family, Mary Dillwyn is considered the earliest female photographer in Wales.

Boy with dog & dogcart (c. 1853) by Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906)The National Library of Wales

Included in her album, held at the National Library of Wales, are photographs of family and friends, with an especially charming photograph of a young boy with his dog.

Frances Denman, Dulcie Eden & Mary Dillwyn (c. 1853) by Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906)The National Library of Wales

The most striking of these images is one of Mary Dillwyn with her two friends, ladies Frances Denman and Dulcie Eden posing in their large, graceful dresses.

The image appears so natural that the spectator feels that they too are part of the photograph and demonstrates that Mary was eager to portray herself with her friends.

Her photography provides an insight into to domestic lives and children in 19th century Wales.

A cottage (c. 1885) by John Thomas (1838-1905)The National Library of Wales

John Thomas (1838-1905)

One of the best known Welsh Victorian photographers was John Thomas. Born in Cellan, Cardiganshire, he established his ‘Cambrian Gallery’ in Liverpool and travelled throughout Wales to take photographs.

Tailor, Bryn-du, Anglesey (circa 1875) by Thomas, JohnThe National Library of Wales

He saw the value in recording the mundane aspects of life in rural Mid and North Wales during the last four decades of the nineteenth century.

Morris 'Baboon', Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (c. 1885) by John Thomas (1838-1905)The National Library of Wales

People going about their everyday lives, the grime, grind and monotony of working on farms or in factories were to him significant enough to record for posterity, often enough without thought of monetary gain.

The church, Tywyn (c. 1885) by John Thomas (1838-1905)The National Library of Wales

He was also aware of the importance of religion in everyday life and the influence of those who held sway in the chapel pulpits three times every Sunday.

It was from the pulpit that the working classes obtained their information about the outside world and formulated their political and religious views.

Revd Michael D Jones (1885) by John Thomas (1838-1905)The National Library of Wales

John Thomas was astute enough to capture these pulpit celebrities to sell as cartes de visite at fairs and markets alongside his portraits of the poets, writers and musicians ignored by most other photographers.

Morass workers, Aberffraw (c. 1885) by John Thomas (1838-1905)The National Library of Wales

His photographs combine landscape, architecture and portrait photography to produce an overwhelming wealth of detail. His many travels around Wales produced a sympathetic yet clinical enough body of work containing many moral and social implications for those prepared to look.

D. C. Harries and sons with cameras (c. 1900) by Harries, D. C.The National Library of Wales

D C Harries (1866-1940)

D C Harries was a Welsh photographer who primarily operated from his studios in Ammanford and Llandeilo, South Wales from the beginning of the 20th century until his death in 1940.

Lance Corporal and three Privates (1914/1918) by D C Harries (1866-1940)The National Library of Wales

His extensive collection of glass negatives donated to The National Library of Wales included 800 studio portraits of individuals and groups who served in the Armed Forces during the First World War.

Young soldier, Welsh Regiment (1914) by D C Harries (1866-1940)The National Library of Wales

Unfortunately, no corresponding details of the identity of these men were kept and to this day, the majority of them remain unknown.

Clun Valley motor car & garage (circa 1910s) by Abery, Percy BenzieThe National Library of Wales

Percy Benzie Abery (1877-1948)

During the first half of the 20th century, P B Abery originally from Kent, magnificently captured a way of life throughout mid Wales and the border counties. His wonderful collection of photographs illustrates the towns, villages, social life, people and landscape of the county.

Man with pony (1945) by Percy Benzie Abery (1877-1948)The National Library of Wales

For P B Abery photography was both work and his hobby. He was a patient man who would happily wait for hours for the correct light or cloud effect for the landscape shot he desired.

Motorcycle racing in Rhayader on the old road to Aberystwyth (c. 1910s) by Percy Benzie Abery (1877-1948)The National Library of Wales

During the summer, P B Abery would make his living by taking photographs of the people who came to visit the countryside. The photographs would be displayed outside the shop the next morning, where crowds of people would gather to look for pictures of themselves.

Coach accident (c.1940s) by Percy Benzie Abery (1877-1948)The National Library of Wales

Apart from photographing groups of visitors Abery was always quickly on the scene to photograph any newsworthy event, prints of which were sent off with great haste to the daily papers in London.

Before his death in 1948 Percy Benzie Abery selected 1580 of his glass negatives and gifted them to the National Library of Wales

Geoff Charles (self-portrait) (1945) by Geoff Charles (1909-2002)The National Library of Wales

Geoff Charles (1909-2002)

Geoff Charles was a newspaper photographer who dedicated 50 years of his life to portraying Wales through the lens of his camera.

A postman on horseback (1955) by Geoff Charles (1909-2002)The National Library of Wales

Between 1930s and 1970s his work recorded far more than events and personalities; piece by piece, photo by photo a vanished way of life is revealed: the postman delivering letters on horseback or the arrival of electricity in remote villages.

Protest in Liverpool attempting to stop the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley (1956-11-21) by Geoff Charles (1909-2002)The National Library of Wales

He took photographs which reflect all aspects of life including the protest that the residents of Tryweryn took to Liverpool in opposition to the drowning of the valley to supply water to Liverpool.

Tryweryn locals, the last sale at Gwerngenau Farm (1957) by Geoff Charles, (1909-2002)The National Library of Wales

The village drowned, but not before Geoff Charles photographed many images that recorded a way of life and a community which disappeared simultaneously.

Forlorn views of the Tryweryn Valley (1963) by Geoff Charles (1909-2002)The National Library of Wales

Whilst life in the Tryweryn valley was no different from that in many other parts of Wales, the threat to its existence ensured that every detail of life was meticulously recorded.

Wedding at Whitchurch, Salop (01-May-50) by Geoff Charles (1909-2002)The National Library of Wales

With 120,000 of his valuable negatives among the collections held at The National Library of Wales, his archive continues to this day to inspire and teach us about Wales through the years.

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