Iconic Photo That Helped Shape World Image of Wales Is Up for Auction; Photo Journalist's Picture Is One of Most Important of 20th Century

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

Iconic Photo That Helped Shape World Image of Wales Is Up for Auction; Photo Journalist's Picture Is One of Most Important of 20th Century


Byline: Western Mail reporter

IT was to become an iconic image of post-war Wales that captured the realities of Valleys life in three soot-begrimed miners' faces.

And now William Eugene Smith's famous image - which, along with John Ford's film How Green Was My Valley, shaped perceptions and misconceptions about Wales around the world - is going up for auction in New York.

The picture, Three Generations of Welsh Miners, by an American photographer described as being among the most important of the 20th century, appeared in Life magazine and is being sold by Sotheby's.

It was shot in 1950 after Smith was sent to South Wales by the magazine to cover Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee's election campaign.

With little evidence of electioneering, Smith wrote that he decided "to try photographic symbolism of Labour Party claims and promises and through these show the basis of their strength".

Freelance photographer Gerallt Llewelyn said the picture, expected to fetch between $7,000 and $10,000, would now be regarded as depicting a very outdated image of Wales, although it reflected the realities of the time.

Smith, a left-wing photo journalist who worked for Newsweek, the New York Times and the internationally renowned picture agency Magnum, prided himself on focusing on the grim realities of poverty and struggle.

Out of this desire came the quotation that would become his epithet: "With considerable soul searching that to the utmost of my ability, I have let truth be the prejudice."

Mr Llewelyn, 61, a cousin of arguably Wales' greatest-ever photographer, Philip Jones Griffiths, said that at the time Smith struggled to get his work published in a United States gripped by Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunts against communists.

Time's then owners were Republicans who despised the radicalism that underpinned Smith's work and only a limited number of the images he shot on his UK assignment were published.

Mr Llewelyn, from Caernarfon, said: "This was the old image of Wales - coal mining, sheep and choirs singing.

"Now it's a load of garbage, but it was an image of the time. In that area of South Wales in the 1950s an awful lot of people were working in mining because it was very much the era of heavy industry. …

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Iconic Photo That Helped Shape World Image of Wales Is Up for Auction; Photo Journalist's Picture Is One of Most Important of 20th Century
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