Discovering Photographic Treasures at the National Library of Wales

12 October 2016

SIG: Historical

Members of the RPS Historical Group visited the National Library of Wales at the end of September.

The visit was led by Will Troughton the chief archivist and his colleague. They were very informative and welcoming and made our day most rewarding.

We were shown the archives and the temperature controlled stacks where material relating to Wales and Welsh photographers is stored.

Here we saw three of the iconic photographs from the Vietnam War taken by Philip Jones Griffiths: the heavily bandaged unknown civilian, an American soldier with a young boy, and a woman clutching her belongings concentrating on hurrying away in the opposite direction from the fighting.

In a seminar room they had laid out a series of boxes and albums for us to look at. Including albums of Francis Frith’s work. The Library has 35,000 images. John Thomas made it his work to record Welsh life and people not just scenic views of Wales that make mainly up the Frith archive. His portraits of working people are sensitive and beautiful and incredibly valuable in documenting a past way of life. One photograph that I found fascinating was of the official mines rescue men dressed in helmets similar to deep sea divers, very necessary in mines where there was the presence of gas.

I had been looking forward to seeing the work of John Dillwyn Llewellyn and the Reverend Calvert Jones. It was very interesting to find out that Dillwyn Llewellyn’s sister Anna was the first female photographer in Wales. She was a cousin of Fox Talbot. So there were many beneficial links. There were photographs of both these people and it was good to put a face to a well-known name.

Another excellent photographer, of whom I was previously unaware, was Geoff Charles. He worked for many of the local newspapers in North Wales for over fifty years, recording everyday life and sometimes dramatic scenes such as a crashed wartime plane. His images went far beyond mere records.

It was a most enjoyable day and we were all left wondering, how on the earth the two Archivists managed to cope with this important large collection.