Cardiff before Cardiff
Keith S. Robertson
Ceredigion)Fifty years ago, Keith Robertson roamed the streets of Splott --- don't ask --- taking black-and-white photographs of people and places on the street. Although color photography was easily available, he chose an old style Leica M3 with four different lenses and B&W Tri-X film.
His mentor was Henri Cartier-Bresson who was and remained profoundly sceptical of color shots. A recent exhibition of Cartier-Bresson's photographs is entitled "A Question of Color" and quotes him as saying: "Photography in Color? It is something indigestible, the negation of all photography's three dimensional values."
Towards the end of his photographic career, Robertson got behind in his rent at Warwick Hall in Cardiff and ultimately was locked out of his office. He ran into his landlord sometime later who told him that all the films he had left behind had been burned, along with all his notes.
Fortunately, it was not so. Years later, another photographer --- Jon Pountney --- rented the same space, came across the negatives and sought out Robertson to tell him the good news.
Together they coöperated on this book, and Pountney took the trouble of seeking out almost twenty people that had been featured in the older photographs. He took new pictures of them --- sometimes in the identical location --- and they are included in this book.
It is a nice joining. There are well over fifty B&W photos from both Robertson and Pountney that take up the last part of this book. The only complaint this reviewer has is that none of these final pictures --- the bulk of the volume --- are identified as to date and source. In other words, we don't know which are older ones by Robertson, and which are the newer ones that Pountney has taken on his own. We tried to figure it all out by examining the cars in the background, the toys of the children, the newspapers on sale in a kiosk, the signs on the walls and in the windows ... trying to determine which is which. But it isn't all that easy. (One advertisment for "eye pencil" in a store window offers it to us FROM COFFEE TO COCKTAILS WITHOUT SMUDGING. We're guessing that this is a new one.)
Still, if you are a fan of the slightly eccentric folk of Wales and their wonderful faces, this might be the one for you, We are also guessing that the two pictures we've chosen to reproduce here are as good as the best of Cartier-Bresson.
Splott, by the way, we are told, means "God's Plot." Some might assume that means "a plot of land" --- but for those of us who have our doubts about these things, it may mean another kind of plot altogether.