In 1965, on the heels of an assignment to photograph castles in the bucolic Welsh countryside, Bruce Davidson spent ten days in the mining communities of the Ebbw Valley in South Wales. He came away with a sequence of photographs that depicts the region in steep industrial decline. Though the scarred landscape, broken by mine shafts and smoke stacks, provided an important setting for the photographs, Davidson’s primary concern was mining’s human toll. He often focused on the miners’ weathered faces, caked in soot, and bearing the signs of arduous labor. Yet Davidson’s portrayal of the miners is not dispassionate. He sought to capture what he called the “lyrical beauty” of a community that was materially austere but socially rich and proud of its work.
The series marked a significant development in Davidson’s approach: it was the first time he intervened to pose his subjects. His experience in Wales revealed that by collaborating with those on the other side of his camera, rather than simply observing, he could engage a deeper sense of the poetic truths of their lives. Working in this way, Davidson recounted not only the Welsh miners’ daily routine, but also their escape from its drudgery, showing moments tinged with promise (a wedding ceremony), mystery (a girl singing in a graveyard), and fantasy (a seemingly mythical horse).