Photographer I.C. Rapoport shares this story behind this image of Ronnie Davies in the Aberfan: The Days After exhibition here at The National Library of Wales.
“This is RONNIE DAVIES. I met Ronnie while wandering the streets of Aberfan a month or so after the disaster. He was walking his dog, alone and I stopped him to have a chat. He told me that his brother died in the Junior School. He had just began going to the Senior School down the street and though it suffered damage, no one was killed in that school – only some, like John Collins’ boy Raymond, were killed for being outside on the street or on retaining walls. Ronnie tearfully told me how much he missed his little brother – a brother he loved and cared for and ‘protected’. But he couldn’t save him from the big slide. The young boy was crushed in his classroom. Ronnie asked me why his brother died and he lived. He was confused about it and suffered terribly from survivor’s guilt. All I could say at the time was perhaps God had a plan for Ronnie Davies, that he’d been spared to carry on and do good things. Be a good man. Make his brother proud.
Forty years later, just after the exhibition at the Library, I was made part of a video: The American Photographer Returns to Aberfan. I was to reconnect with some of the children I photographed who were now around 50 years old. Ronnie Davies was one of [the] men I met. When I entered their home, his wife approached me and gave me a hug. I was a bit startled by that, not knowing her but she immediately told me that Ronnie had spoken of me all through the years and was so looking forward to meeting me again. He never spoke of the day the disaster happened but I had made such an impression on him. When he stepped forward he was a bit shy but warmed to me and asked me if I recalled what I had said to him that day I took his photo? I couldn’t recall and he reminded me of those words written above. That he should be a good man and make his brother proud and he said that he was a good man. And his wife said, from the kitchen, “He is a very good man.”
Then Ronnie left the front room and disappeared to the rear of the home and when he emerged he was carrying a table game. A game that I had given him on Christmas Day, my very last day in Aberfan. He kept it all those years in perfect condition, a symbol of the encouragement I had given him and the hope to carry on.
I saw him again last month at the Redhouse in Merthyr at the launch of my digital exhibit. It was a warm reunion and a tearful one, for both of us. Fifty years had passed. My story had an impact on so many residents of Aberfan who now call me a “son of Aberfan” and thank me for doing what I did to show the recovery of a broken village. But what I did not realize [was] how much of an impact the villagers had on me.”
Aberfan: The Days After exhibition, containing I. C. Rapoport’s photographs, is on display at The National Library of Wales until 14 January 2017.
Bethan Rees ~ Digtial Access
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
Explore thousands of images from the archives on Flickr Commons
Users of the National Library of Wales website can explore many thousands of digital images from the library’s vast collections.
However, we also believe in sharing our digital content as widely as possible, and sharing our content with the popular Flickr community gives us a great opportunity to engage with new users and share the rich visual history of Wales.
Over the years the images we have shared with Flickr have been viewed millions of times, and there appear to be some clear favourites, like ‘Dog with a pipe’ which went viral, attracting more than 25,000 views.
Every month at least 20 new images are hand picked and uploaded to Flickr and this month we have kept it topical, uploading old photographs of Bonfire builders and fireworks displays.
New content is being added all the time so why not follow us on Flickr to see all our latest uploads?
Jason Evans, Digital Access