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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

Work / Photography

Gina Tonic on being big, Welsh and growing up in an ex-mining town in The Valleys

Photographer Megan Winstone first became interested in photography through punk culture. Obsessed with the likes of Vivienne Westwood and the 1977 King’s Road happenings from a young age, as well as a fascination with feminist theory developed later in life, Megan’s practice has always challenged societal norms. “I’m a big girl diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and hated the negative body imagery in the majority of culture,” she explains.

The focal point of her recent work however, is the photographer’s Welsh heritage and the communities that inhabit it. Previously, she’s captured thriving communities in the South Wales Valleys, as well as the varying stages of womanhood in a project titled Fenyw. But most recently, Megan turned her camera on the empowering writer Gina Tonic; a fellow Welsh creative who accessibly discusses the ordeals of being fat in the media, tackling issues of fatphobia and other plus size woes from fashion styling to eating in public.

“I’ve followed Gina for a while on Instagram and regularly read her work on Dazed, Refinery 29, Vice and so on," Megan tells It’s Nice That. “I was elated when I found out that Gina grew up in the town next to where I grew up, so we messaged each other and talked about doing a shoot – a love letter to The Valleys.” Working alongside Megan’s long-term collaborator Charlotte Wilcock who art directed the project, the team of creatives devised a photographic narrative documenting Gina and her relationship with her native community of Abercynon.

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

“Mountain Ash stopped being a mining town before I was born,” explains Gina. “But I grew up watching the ravages of Thatcher’s Britain continue to play out through the ‘90s and ‘00s.” Though she lives out of Wales at the moment, Gina’s time away from The Valleys offers up a refreshing retrospect of her community. Despite the fact the government “ripped every kind of funding and opportunity” from the mining towns and villages, the community has remained resilient and strong, which only adds to the magic of the place.

“Too many poverty porn documentaries focus on the negatives of growing up in poor places like Fernhill and Merthyr Tydfil,” says Gina. “But there’s a spirit behind us all in that mountain air that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.” With mutual experiences in terms of size and heritage, both Gina and Megan bonded over their post-industry upbringings in their respective ex-mining towns.

“But contrary to how our communities have been portrayed previously, our communities are thriving in other ways!” adds Megan. Though there are few jobs, and many people have to leave the area to find work, the sense of community amongst the Welsh inhabitants continues to define their caring mentality. “These communities have something that no large city has!” adds the photographer. “Everyone knows each other and looks out for one another. Small family businesses act as hubs for the towns and conversations at the chip shop are ones of genuine love and care.”

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley

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Megan Winstone, Charlotte Wilcock: Gina Tonic, Lily of The Valley