Channel / 12 Jan 2021

Artist Interview: Matthew Eynon

What originally fired your interest in photography? Are there any photographers you particularly admire?

I’ve always had a camera nearby and became more interested after starting a family and documenting day-to-day events. I have no formal training in photography, but I think my training as a geologist has developed my observational skills. I am inspired by humanistic documentary photographers like August Sander, Eugene Smith’s work in Wales, the Valleys Project and contemporary work documenting culture and communities.

What was the motivation behind your project?

Although I have no faith myself, I grew up in Penclawdd, a former mining and metal processing village, where there are strong family and community links to religion. I’d been making work into sort of vignettes of subcultures (e.g. the Mods in Swansea), and was keen to do more portraiture; The Faithful became an ideal subject for exploring my practice through the theme of religion in Wales in the 21st Century.

Historical perceptions of Wales were of a nation of frugal, God-fearing, Welsh-speaking country dwellers; however, this was at odds with reality in the early 20th Century. Only half of Wales were Welsh-speaking in 1901, which declined to 43% in 1911 (a trend that continued for a century but is now reversing) and two thirds of Welsh people lived in urban and industrial areas.

Based on 2011 census data, nearly one third of people in Wales have no religion. Most adherents to organised religion in Wales comprise Christian denominations; however, this has seen a 14% drop in numbers since 2011 (the Church in Wales has said that Christianity is ‘no longer the default setting’ for many people). By contrast, there has been an increase in numbers of people who are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Druid.

In what ways has the pandemic affected your work as a photographer? How has it affected your approach / choice of subject?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on my photographic endeavours; I mainly focus on people and people have been understandably reluctant to meet up during periods of relaxed restrictions. Meetings have been impossible during each lockdown period.

What are your thoughts about being included in the Ffotogallery exhibition?

I was thrilled to find out that I had been included in Many Voices One Nation 2 amongst such exciting and high-quality work by others. It has really inspired me to continue beyond the pandemic in making other vignettes of culture in Wales.

What are your hopes for Wales in 2021?

My main hope for Wales in 2021 is to move away from polar politics and for everyone to realise that collaboration and sympathetic working is far better than adversarial approaches.