In 2009, the Rhondda Cynon Taff local authority, in conjunction with the Arts Council of Wales, erected a new piece of public sculpture just outside Pontypridd. Christened Unity, the sculpture stands on land beside the Ynysangharad War Memorial Park, and is intended to bring new visitors into one of South Wales’ most exploited and neglected former mining towns. The sculpture represents three aspects of Pontypridd’s heritage: the town’s famous bridge, the mines that populated the town in the 1800’s and 1900’s, and the way that the British fleet relied on both coal and locally-manufactured chains.
Unity or Lunacy? You decide.
The sculpture is largely invisible to anyone travelling up the major road from Cardiff until you’ve passed the turn-off for Pontypridd, which limits its ability to draw passing tourists into the town. In common with both RCT and Cardiff’s local authority, there’s no memory of the Glamorganshire Canal incorporated into the sculpture – without the canal, the Chainworks would never have come to Pontypridd in 1816. And there’s no incorporation either of the Taff Vale Railway, still in operation today and visible from the site of the sculpture.
Time will tell whether this piece of public sculpture will be an asset or a communist-red (as opposed to white) elephant for the town, but it seems unlikely to become as iconic a piece as the Angel Of The North.
Thoughts On The Day
My earlier shot of Unity from up on the Common provoked a fair few comments on Flickr, and in the ensuing conversation I’d mentioned that I would try and wander over to the site and shoot it up close and personal.
There seems to be a trend in our cramped little country of Wales (well, in South Wales anyway) of spending public money to create iconic structures, but overlooking the importance that photography plays in turning a structure into something iconic (think of the Sydney Opera House), and Unity is the latest addition to this trend. This thing is simply a bitch to photograph.
I’m lucky enough to own a decent 10-20mm wide-angle lens, but even with that I was seriously struggling. The old adage about ultra-wide angle lenses is that a photographer should use them to make stronger pictures; they’re not for fitting everything in. Well, I tell you know – when it comes to shooting Unity, they’re most definitely for fitting everything in … if you don’t mind tramping through the muddy ground beside the sculpture or taking your chances and standing in the middle of Broadway (which is a bit too busy for that to be a sensible option). This thing is like a stealth fighter – light seems to just slide off it, making autofocus almost impossible.
It’s no accident that I only managed three usable photos out of the whole shoot 🙁
I have no idea how folks armed with point and shoot pocket cameras or (shudder) camera phones are going to photograph this puppy. A quick look through Google suggests that no-one is, despite the fact that it’s been in place over six months now. If I was an auditor measuring whether or not this investment of public funding was a success or a failure, I’d be wondering whether a piece of art no-one is photographing was a good way to spend public funds.
For myself, I think it’s great to see that RCT occasionally remembers that Pontypridd is supposed to be the county town, but it feels like this was built without anyone really thinking about how it would support desired outcomes. It’s on the wrong side of the roundabout to be visible to tourists travelling north to the Brecon Beacons (these are the folks whose money we want!) because the A470 is quite sunken at this particular stretch, and if you can see it travelling down from the north it doesn’t matter anyway, as there’s no southbound sliproad off into Pontypridd for passing cars to take. Visibility from the Taff Trail cycle network is poor too, but that doesn’t matter so much because that already takes cyclists into town.
So, at the time of writing, as a resident of Pontypridd myself, I’m left wondering how this 100,000 GBP sculpture that passing tourists can’t see and no-one is taking photographs of is going to help in the regeneration that Pontypridd so desperately needs after many years of neglect by RCT? If you have any answers, please leave them in the comments below.
The main work I did on these photos in Aperture was to bring out some of the detail in the shadow, balance out the ultra-strong red (which has a tendency to turn purple in direct sunlight) and add a vignette effect to draw the viewer’s gaze to the sculpture itself in the middle of the shot. I first experimented with the vignette effect on the first shot of Unity that I took earlier in the year, and with the positive feedback decided to use it on these shots too.
If you’re reading this in the RSS feed, my original blog post also includes a Google map showing where this photo was taken. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to get the map to appear yet in the RSS feed, so for now you’ll have to click through to my blog if you want to see the map. Sorry.