Photographer I.C. Rapoport shares this story behind this image of John Collins in the Aberfan: The Days After exhibition here at The National Library of Wales.
“This is JOHN COLLINS. He was perhaps the most tragic figure of the Aberfan Disaster – not to take away from all those who mourned the losses of their children – sometimes two children. But John Collins situation was so much more poignantly tragic. His home was next to the Pant Glas Junior School and was completely demolished. Where once the house stood on Moy Road, fifteen feet of thick earth and slurry, rock and muck slowly oozed down the hill after the demolition was complete. John’s wife and young son, Peter, were in the home and were killed almost instantly. His older son, attending the nearby Senior School was caught in the avalanche trying to run home to warn his mam. So John Collins lost everything. Home, belongings, family. Nothing remained.
Here he is pictured in the parlor of his Dad’s house in Aberfan wearing a donated suit, the only belongings he had at the time. That and his automobile. Nothing of his life prior to the disaster was left. Not a photo, not spoon or cup. Nothing.
When I sat across from him as the LIFE magazine writer briefly interviewed him I couldn’t bear to shoot the photos as he broke down and wept.
At the urgings of the writer, motioning for me to ‘shoot’ I asked John if he’d mind if I snapped a photo or two of him. “Go on, man,” he said. “It’s your job.” And so I shot several photos, quietly and respectfully.
However, what neither John nor I knew at the time, his releasing me to take his picture would play a part in changing his whole life for the better. For, my photo of him ran in the Aberfan aftermath story and an American woman saw it and was so moved by the photo and his story that she contacted him, met him, and a romance blossomed and they married. He had a new wife, a new life. Of course I was completely unaware of all this as they years passed and then in 2010 I received an email out of the blue from one Bernice Collins who informed me that she was John Collins daughter from this second marriage and told me that it was my photo of her dad that changed his life. John passed away some time ago, but I was thrilled to hear that my work had such an impact on one man.
Ironically she said she met and married a man whose two given names were Raymond Peter – both the names of John’s lost children.”
I. C. Rapoport’s moving images of the Aberfan disaster will be presented in the Aberfan: The Days After exhibition at The National Library of Wales until 14 January 2017.
Bethan Rees ~ Digital Access
Half a century after the tragic Aberfan disaster two exhibitions are held at The National Library of Wales to commemorate those who lost their lives in one of the worst mining disasters in Wales during the 20th century.
Here’s a video which was broadcast live on Periscope, on 17 October 2016, which gives us an insight into what’s available in our ‘Aberfan: Black October‘ exhibition.
The second exhibition, ‘Aberfan: The Days After’ is a collection of photographs by I. C. Rapoport. These black and white photographs, poignantly illustrate the thoughts and feelings of the community in the days following the tragedy.
Both exhibitions will be shown in the Library until 14 January 2017.
To view more live broadcasts from the Library follow us on:
Bethan Rees ~ Digital Access
The Library’s magnificent, some say ‘block-busting’ Christopher Williams exhibition will open on 7 July and will be opened officially by the former MP, Kim Howells, on 14 July.
I guess, like many, I was more familiar with one of Christopher Williams’s paintings than I was of him.
The painting is Cymru’n Deffro (Wales Awakes). It’s of a beautiful woman rising, phoenix-like from the darkness into the light. Not a new metaphor. But it’s done its job because I’ve seen it used several times for the very purpose Williams give to it – a short hand, uplifting visual expression of the rise in Welsh national consciousness and confidence.
Christopher Williams and 'Cymru'n Deffro'
In his book, Gwenllian, Peter Lord places a sketch of Cymru’n Deffro, on the cover, fully aware of the instant visual hit such a striking image would instil in the public. And in many ways, Williams is the ideal man to place at the forefront of Peter Lord’s book. After all, Christopher Williams failed to gain wide acclaim from many in the art establishment in Wales – the establishment Lord criticised for having an aesthetic which was divorced from the population it was meant to serve.
As Prof Robert Meyrick, the exhibition’s curator noted, a former National Museum of Wales’s director, Cyril Fox deemed Williams’s painting lacking in ‘sufficient artistic importance to warrant the occupation of space,’ while the Museum’s Keeper of Art, John Steegman, thought them ‘empty’ and ‘deplorably bad’ – no matter how greatly they were ‘admired by the uncritical in south Wales’.
In his seminal 1992 pamphlet, The Aesthetics of Relevance, Lord maps out the intellectual and aesthetic obstacles put in place of exhibiting Welsh art. He criticises the art establishment in Wales of failing to appreciate and celebrate art from Wales which was of Wales and spoke to Wales, preferring instead to attack it or belittle it for not being of sufficient aesthetic quality.
Although Lord is appreciative of the work the National Library and National Eisteddfod has done over the decades in collecting and exhibiting Welsh art, he is critical of the broader art establishment in our country.
It’s only fitting then that one of those artists who suffered from the kind of lack of Welsh aesthetic which Lord campaigned against is given pride of place at the National Library. It’s equally fitting that the National Library, itself a magnificent manifestation in Portland stone and granite, is a tangible example of the kind of patriotic Welsh can-do attitude which was the epoch to the Cymru’n Deffro painting and a fulfillment of that desire.
In a way, the Christopher Williams Retrospective exhibition will be a homecoming for one of our lost sons.