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Pembrokeshire by David Wilson

Read the review of my book ‘Pembrokeshire’ by photographer and film maker Darryl Corner in the Western Mail of 31st July 2009:

Pembrokeshire: A landscape in pictures

HAVING looked at a lot of photography in galleries, on-line and in print, I’m fast coming to the conclusion that books are the natural home for photographs.

The scale is intimate, you can get up as close as you want to, and you can come back to an image many times. Books allow images to be paired or sequenced in ways that can reveal, if not a narrative, then certainly a sense of progression.

The quality of reproduction with modern printing is exceptional and certainly in the case of this book, gets as close to silver prints as mass production allows. That’s no surprise as publisher Graffeg has a reputation for high quality photography-based books and technically this one is a cracker.

David Wilson, a native of Pembrokeshire, has been shooting the landscape since he was 17. His connection and respect for the land around him is very apparent.

These are no snapshots. Acquiring this kind of imagery requires commitment. Long slogs through the countryside, backpacks full of gear, hours of waiting for the light to come just right. Wilson perfectly fits the romantic stereotype of dedicated landscapist and that romanticism runs through this collection of 50 striking, sometimes stunning, monochrome images.

In the past 30 years, colour has become the choice for artist/photographers. Black and white is often dismissed these days as a throwback. Digital and colour are now the photographic default.

So, choosing to work in black and white could now be seen as a positive decision, an attempt to step away from the mainstream.

He’s adopted a high-contrast style and he’s not afraid to push resulting in hefty grain; it’s a style more likely to be seen in photojournalism, but perhaps in the Welsh landscape, that chunky grain equates to rain. It suits subjects, mood and location surprisingly well.

The results are certainly dramatic. Wilson’s high-contrast punch owes more to Brandt, with perhaps even a nod to Ray Moore, than to the epic American Pictorialists.

Technically, they can’t be faulted. It’s a master class in the craft of image making even if some of the burnt-in skies are trying a bit hard to be mean and magnificent.

People are largely absent, but the evidence of their connection with the land is shown in abandoned boats and dilapidated cottages.

As such, the work is unashamedly romantic. Wilson’s boats, harbours and stormy skies are certainly classically picturesque.

More successful, for me, are images like Newgale, stripped of the human detritus, revealing just a stormy sky and rolling sea, light captured and then worked in the printing to produce something elemental.

Whilst the punched-up high contrast pictures may be the crowd pleasers at first viewing, it’s the more low-key images that I keep coming back to like a view of Treleddyd Fawr Common near St Davids. It’s a simple picture of a wet road, a row of telegraph poles and an overcast sky, heavy with rain. It’s deeply evocative but its drama is understated.

Many copies of this book will be bought as a gift for aspiring snappers who will either be completely inspired or a little disenchanted by Wilson’s competence.

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