Wales 2013–22, Sebastián Bruno’s careful documentation of the communities of South Wales, is made up of images stark in their beauty. Cinematic and often verging on the dreamlike, the poses and situations depicted manage to be surreal, as much as the scenes are essentially quotidian. This surface-level ordinariness is misleading. I found myself returning to them, noticing a balletic sense of control, the small details – the angle of an arm, the expression of a young bride, a cross around her neck on a chain.
As I studied the photos one by one – a pale woman holding her child, a couple locked in an embrace, a street empty except for a woman, a billboard – I marvelled at how the stylistic choices give the environment of the photos a liminal and timeless feel, even as the title of the collection emphasises change, or a movement towards change. Nine years is a long time, and yet the photos do not outwardly reflect a great deal of visible change. Of course, much has happened in these last nine years. My mother, raised in South Wales, cried in 2016 when the Brexit result came in, knowing the impact it would have on the place she loved. These photos document the time before, the time during, the time after – not explicitly, but we know what lies underneath, even if it’s not immediately what comes to mind.
The choice to shoot these images in a crisp black-and-white gives them a solemnity, a gravity. Sometimes even a sense of menace, just visible under the surface – in an image of several handprints pressed into wet concrete, both ghostly and frantic. Taken as a whole it can feel almost elegiac, the recording of a place as it is now and will not be again, though there is an aliveness in the images that makes this notion feel reductive.