Amgueddfa Blog: Museums, Exhibitions and Events

Retired gentleman at the MG Car owners Ball 1967 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
Retired gentleman at the MG Car owners Ball, 1967. G.B. SCOTLAND, Edinburgh. © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is the recipient of an exceptional gift from Magnum photographer David Hurn. Of Welsh descent, Hurn lives and works in Wales and is one of Britain’s most influential documentary photographers. Now, his home country will benefit from his collection of photographs.

David Hurn’s gift is made up of two collections: approximately 1500 of his own photographs that span his sixty-year career as a documentary photographer; and approximately 700 photographs from his private collection which he has compiled throughout the course of his career. Speaking of his gift, Hurn notes, 

“My earliest visual/cultural memories are visiting the museum when I must have been four or five. I remember the naughty statue - Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ - and cases full of stuff that people had donated. Well now I have the chance to repay, something of mine will be there forever, I feel very privileged.”

A definitive edit of a life's work

Over the last two years, Hurn has been selecting photographs from his archive to create a definitive edit of his life’s work.

The collection of approximately 1500 new prints includes work made in Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Arizona, California and New York. It includes some of Hurn’s most celebrated photographs, such as Queen Charlotte’s BallBarbarella and Grosvenor Square.

However, it is his carefully observed photographs of his home country of Wales that are the focus of the collection. Following his generous gift, National Museum Wales is now the institution with the largest holdings of Hurn’s work worldwide.

The Promenade at Tenby 1974 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
G.B. WALES. Tenby. The promenade at the elegant seaside town of Tenby, South Wales. 1974 © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

A Collection of Swaps

In addition to his own photographs, the Museum is also acquiring approximately 700 photographs from Hurn’s private collection, which he has amassed over the past sixty years.

Throughout the course of his career, Hurn has swapped photographs with fellow photographers, including many of his Magnum colleagues.

In doing so, he has assembled a significant and diverse collection, which includes leading 20th and 21st century photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold, Sergio Larrain, Bill Brandt, Martine Franck, Bruce Davidson and Martin Parr, through to emerging photographers such as Bieke Depoorter, Clementine Schneidermann and Diana Markosian.

A selection of works from Hurn’s private collection will be on display for the first time at National Museum Cardiff from 30th September 2017, in Swaps: Photographs from the David Hurn Collection of Photography, an exhibition that launches the Museum’s new gallery dedicated to photography. 

Photography Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

National Museum Wales’ existing photography collections are uniquely inter-disciplinary and span subjects including Art, Social and Industrial History and the Natural Sciences.

Importantly it includes some of the earliest photographs taken in Wales by pioneering photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his family. The addition of Hurn’s exceptional donation will transform the Museum’s photography collections and raise the profile of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales as an important centre for photography in the UK. 

Sun City Outdoor group fitness in Sun City Arizona 1980 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
USA. Arizona. Sun City. Outdoor group fitness early in the morning in the retirement Sun City. Ages range from 60 to a 94 year old who had run a 50 secs hundred meters in the Senior Olympics. The sense of fun and community was very infectious. 1980 © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

The exhibition at National Museum Cardiff follows an earlier presentation of Hurn’s collection at Photo London, the international photography event held annually at Somerset House in London. Curated by Martin Parr and David Hurn, the Photo London exhibition, David Hurn’s Swaps marks the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos.

 

This is the second post on the Cymru Yfory exhibition, the first can be read here.

The range and imagination of the stands on display at this 1969 exhibition were vast, they included ideas and plans for the Cardiff of the future, for the valleys, for the Severn Estuary and for housing and schools. Some were realistic but most were fantastical and frivolous – especially exhibits illustrating clothing, furniture and domestic habits of the future. A major contributor was General Industrial Plastics Limited, manufacturers and designers of plastic products who made the magnificent inflated ceiling display, pieces of air filled furniture and the plastic carrier bag provided with the official catalogue. Cardiff College of Art, the National Coal Board, the City of Cardiff, the General Post Office and British Rail also contributed stands.  

As part of the fun atmosphere, a spoof contributor named Kumro Kemicals Corporation was created. The catalogue states they were established in 1999 (bear in mind this event took place in 1969!) and that their products were “the result of the most intensive research programme ever undertaken by any corporation in the Western Hemisphere…” As part of their contribution, Kumro produced sealed envelopes bearing the following message, DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 1999 - and the Library still holds one of these that remains unopened!

When publishing images, copyright issues need to be considered and a number of these photographs are stamped on the reverse with either Hylton Warner & Co Ltd or Giovanni Gemin [Whitchurch Road, Cardiff]. Internet searches brought up a little information on Hylton Warner but nothing current and no information at all was found concerning Giovanni Gemin. Therefore, a notice was placed on the Photo Archive News website requesting communication from anyone who might be familiar with these two photographers. After some time, we were contacted by the son of Giovanni Gemin. Award-winning author Giancarlo Gemin was kind enough to grant permission to publish the photographs and also tell us the following about his father:

He was an industrial and commercial photographer based in Cardiff from 1961. He worked regularly for BBC Wales, and was one of the official photographers at the investiture of the Prince of Wales. He was awarded the Chartered Institute of Incorporated Photographers (AIIP) and an Associate of Master Photographers (AMPA).

As well as items of ephemera such as the official catalogue, carrier bag, stickers etc. we are fortunate to hold two volumes of comments books. These are a fascinating record of visitors’ thoughts and the majority are very positive but, not everyone appreciated looking to the future instead of a classical past and to end this post, here are just a few that have made us smile:

BW, Rhwibina - Awful

RM, Rhondda - Not as good as the British Museum

MB, Cheltenham - Baffled!

MD, Durham - I prefer the face of OLD WALES proud and noble not false and plastic

CS, Cardiff - Needs dusting

SL, Cardiff - Rubbish, waste of good museum space!

TO, County Cork – TRASH

The Investiture of the Prince of the Wales at Caernarfon Castle made 1969 a particularly exciting year in Wales. And an exhibition held at National Museum Cardiff reflected the patriotic fervour of the investiture with the wonder and excitement of the first humans on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission with Cymru Yfory – Wales Tomorrow. It was held in the Main Hall and was the museum’s official contribution towards the celebrations of Investiture Year.

As the forward in the catalogue put it:

If a National Museum chooses to open its doors to contributions from the designer’s studio, the market place, the planner’s office or the research laboratory, no precedent is necessary. The Victoria & Albert Museum did these things excitedly in 1946 in the exhibition, Britain can make it . We saw then, after many drab years, a splash of enterprise and colour and an unexpected promise for the future.

For its main contribution to the year of the Investiture and of Croeso ’69 [a year long campaign to promote Welsh tourism and business built around the Investiture], the NMW has chosen deliberately to look beyond its ordinary boundaries and also to look into the future.

It has invited contributions from organisations of all sorts and the brief has been simple: that the ideas presented should be imaginative and for the future. They are not promises; they may not even be pleasant, but at least they refer to aspects of a possible future…

The exhibition represented a major break with the traditions of the Museum, it was showing that it had an interest not only in the past, but in the life of the community in the present and the future. The whole of the Main Hall was used – isolated from the rest of the Museum by hanging drapes and a magnificent inflated plastic ceiling. For the first time professional designers were commissioned to design and plan the exhibition; Alan Taylor [Senior Designer, BBC Wales TV] and John Wright [Principal of Newport College of Art] co-ordinated the design of exhibits contributed by over twenty organisations. The results were spectacular, an immediate surprise to every visitor who had known the Main Hall as a dignified setting for classical sculpture.

 

 

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The Voices from the Archives series is based on recordings in the Oral History Archive at St Fagans National History Museum. Connected to the agricultural activities, demonstrations and displays at the Museum - they provide an insight into the lives and histories of farming people, the agricultural practices in the past, how they developed into contemporary agriculture.

Lambing in Pembrokeshire, 1984

March is lambing time at Llwyn-yr-eos Farm, the Museum’s working farm. Lambing in the past and present was described by Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire, south west Wales, in a recording made in 1984. Aged 79, he recalled lambing in an interview about his life in farming, but also described how it was being done on a farm in the area in the year of the interview. The following short clips are from the recording.

Pembrokeshire born and bred, Richard James had farmed at Lambston Sutton in the south west of the county. It stood between the large county town of Haverfordwest a few miles to the east, and the coastline of St Bride’s Bay to the west. The lowland coastal areas, warmer climate and lower rainfall made agriculture more diverse than in many other parts of Wales, with the keeping cattle and sheep and the growing of early potatoes and cereal crops. The coastal areas could be exposed to the winds and rain from the Atlantic Ocean though, and weather conditions could strongly influence lambing, to which Richard James refers in the first clip:

 

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire

 

When lambing was to take place was decided by when the ewes were put to the rams. Up until then the rams on the farm had to be kept separate from the sheep. It was always a concern that rams might break through a poor fence or hedge and cause lambing to start at the wrong time. Also, a ram of poorer quality or a different breed from another flock could also result in poorer quality lambs and reduced income. After mating, a ewe is pregnant for between 142 and 152 days, approximately five months or slightly shorter.

In this clip, Richard James describes at what time of year lambing took place on a local farm, and how it was being done by a farmer using a former aircraft hangar.

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire

The final clip is about working the day and night shifts:

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire

 

This year, Oakdale Workmen’s Institute – or the ’Stute as it was known locally – is celebrating its centenary. Built during the First World War, it was at the very heart of community life in Oakdale until the late 1980s when it was moved to the Museum. To mark this important milestone, we recently launched the #Oakdale100 project with the aim of re-interpreting the building and making it alive again with community voices.

As part of the project, we’ve been revisiting our archives – digging out photographs, oral history interviews and objects associated with the building. I’ve been looking specifically at the photographic collection – digitising hundreds of images, with colleagues from the Photography Department, which we previously only held in negative format. The photos document the wide range of events and activies which took place in the Institute – from the visit of Prince Albert in 1920 to amateur dramatics in the 1950s. They also capture the architecture of the building and the fixtures and fittings of each room. My personal favourite is the photo of the library, showing a young boy browsing the shelves.

As well as digitising the material we already have in the collection, we’ve also been busy making connections with the Oakdale community of today. Last year, we held a drop-in workshop in the village, encouraging local people to share their stories and scan their images for the Museum’s archive and People’s Collection Wales.

We also recently set-up a Facebook page for the project and what a response we’ve had! We’ve been inundated with anecdotes and memories, comments and photographs. It’s certainly a powerful tool for re-engaging with the community.

If you have any stories or photographs associated with Oakdale Institute, please get in touch. We would especially like to hear from you if you have photographs of parties or gigs, which we know were regular occurances at the ’Stute in the 1960s-80s.