Robert Law’s latest series provides a look at a paradoxical town in north Wales
Holyhead - Sea Change? combines portrait and landscape photography to tell the story of a town experiencing an uncertain future.
- Charlie Filmer-Court
- 22 January 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Creative inspiration can be difficult for a photographer in an extremely photogenic place. The effort to come up with something new or a different viewpoint on your surroundings is not easy when many other people are trying to do the exact same thing.
Documentary photographer Robert Law has this predicament in the beautiful landscapes of North Wales: “I’m drawn to the more minimal in my photography. I always joke that I’m too stupid to do ‘complicated!’," he explains. “But living in a very photographed part of North Wales, with an overwhelming onslaught of landscapes, observing the overlooked and distilling these subjects down is important to me not only aesthetically, but also in providing an honest narrative.”
Robert’s latest series Holyhead - Sea Change? successfully achieves this, documenting the North Wales seaport town of Holyhead, “as part of a project that examines an overlooked community that continues to be economically challenged," Robert tells us. “In common with many other coastal communities in the UK, Holyhead voted to leave the European Union. Although being in receipt of EU grants and being a major gateway to the Republic of Ireland, maybe by taking an honest look at the town we can start to decode this paradox?”
There are a variety of types of photographs in the series, something Robert hoped would provide a different outlook for the project as he combines landscapes and portraits to great effect. Overall, this mixture gives a well-rounded view of the town. For instance there is the feint image of a distant cruise ship out at sea that almost symbolises the fact that Holyhead’s links to Ireland are drifting away. Conversely there are also images telling personal stories, giving far more anecdotal insights into the day to day aspects of life here.
“The portraits include just enough environment to provide a context,” he explains. “It’s something quite deliberate. I’d hope that the viewer would recognise both the landscapes and portraits as having been shot with ‘my way of seeing.’”
The photographer describes this approach to the medium as leaning "toward the minimal and new topographic," he tells us. “As I mentioned, this is to produce an honest narrative, but is also influenced by the preponderance of easily-consumed, transient, fussy photography we see from the region online and in print. For the same reasons, the colour palette of the images is generally muted to not distract too much from the narrative."
Robert is not a photographer by trade, working instead in the creative industry, and most recently television production. Photography is instead something that he has pursued as a hobby, which if anything allows him more freedom on his projects and to pay less attention to commercial interests. “I’ve been active in photography since being a teenager with my own darkroom, but only taken a step up to more serious photography in the last few years,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to have a colleague with an honours degree in photojournalism. He’s been mentoring me for at least five years. It’s been equivalent to having a personal tutor and I owe everything to him, no less.”
When creating this series Robert managed to approach Holyhead almost as an outsider, despite it being somewhere he knows well. This was primarily due to the fact that when he was younger Holyhead was “a tough seaport” and quite “scary” to walk around. “I sometimes struggle with documenting familiar surroundings. I tend to come alive when exploring new areas for the first time, becoming excited when new scenes and subjects reveal themselves: getting into a productive rhythm of capturing the essence of a place,” he explains. “Because of my earlier detachment from Holyhead, I now have a rich source of material only 30 minutes from my doorstep! The current political scene regarding Brexit runs concurrently with my project, adding a real contemporary focus on the work.
Robert also recently created The North Wales Project to help showcase the many photographs taken of the region, in the region. As a result the series was recently exhibited as part of the project in Colwyn Bay. As well as success as a whole, one of Robert’s portraits was also selected for the 2019 Portrait of Britain awards.
“The portrait I took was of one lovely young man, Ben Scott. I asked him about his wrap-round sunglasses and he explained that he was autistic and they helped him by preventing a ‘visual overload'. I told him about my project and asked for a portrait and he was happy to oblige. Consequently the portrait was published in Portrait of Britain 2019. I’d kept in touch with Ben and he was thrilled about this development, so I ordered a copy of the book and presented it in person. He was delighted,” says Robert. “We’re still in touch and I update him when the portrait is being exhibited or published.”
GalleryRobert Law: Holyhead - Sea Change?
Robert Law: Holyhead - Sea Change?
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.