This is one of a group of three colour photographs in Tate’s collection from the British photographer Peter Fraser’s series The Valleys Project 1985 (Tate P81065, P81070 and P81073). In 1985 Fraser was invited to take on a commission for a new piece of work in Wales. Fraser’s was one of ten commissions undertaken between 1985 and 1990 that made up a larger project titled The Valleys Project, which was set up in 1984 by Ffotogallery, in Penarth near Cardiff, to document ‘one of the most captivating industrial landscapes in Northern Europe’ (David Chandler, in Tate St Ives 2013, p.46). Fraser’s inclusion in the project was controversial initially, as most of the other photographers invited to take part were committed to a social documentary agenda and were making only black and white photographs whereas Fraser was known for his work in colour. Aberdare 1985 (Tate P81070) presents a forlorn image of three discarded balloons, two orange and one pink, on a red carpet that has a large split in it. One of the balloons is almost entirely deflated, emphasising the ‘after-the-party’, slightly dejected atmosphere of the photograph. Mountain Ash 1985 (Tate P81073) was taken in a railway siding and depicts the buffers of two freight train wagons, one slightly larger than the other, pushing against each other as if in a bid for dominance. The image most strongly identified with this series by Fraser is Pontypridd No. 1 1985 (Tate P81065). It shows a dilapidated corrugated iron shed which has been painted green. Spray-painted graffiti on the double doors of the shed reads ‘I Hate Green’. The historian and curator David Chandler has written of this photograph:
The picture … strikes a lightly ironic tone; a wry comment about [Fraser’s] place in the project and on the adverse reaction that his colour photographs had often encountered … The photograph also seems to reach back into history, obliquely referencing Robert Llewellyn’s 1939 novel How Green Was My Valley … that had stood as an abiding, clichéd image of Welsh experience in popular culture … But if the photograph sets up a comic dissonance in relation to the past, it registers a sense of pathos too about the present. Those words and their irrepressible wit might also suggest frustration: their mild, circumscribed identity both a lame refusal to submit to cultural stereotypes and an expression of limitations and disempowerment.
The images in Tate’s collection from The Valleys Project were included in Fraser’s book Two Blue Buckets, published in 1988. This was Fraser’s first photobook and has come to be considered as one of a small number of important publications that defined what has been called ‘post-documentary’ photography in Britain, alongside publications by Fraser’s peers such as Paul Graham, Martin Parr, Jem Southam and Chris Killip. The book brings together photographs from four series of work: 12 Day Journey 1984 (see Tate P81068–P81069), Everyday Icons 1985–6 (see Tate P81066–P81067, P81071–P81072 and P81074), The Valleys Project 1985 and Towards an Absolute Zero 1986. It summarised Fraser’s work between 1983 and 1988 and won the Bill Brandt Award, awarded by The Photographers Gallery, London for the best photographic book of 1988. Fraser has been at the forefront of colour photography as a fine art medium since the early 1980s. Less concerned with overt social documentary than Martin Parr (born 1952) and Paul Graham (born 1956), Fraser’s practice developed around a sense of revelatory encounters with everyday things or places, which he photographed with forensic intensity. His found still lives, as exemplified by the photographs in Two Blue Buckets, reveal the incidental beauty and strangeness in the visible world.
All the photographs from the series in Tate’s collection exist in editions of twelve and are archival pigment prints.
Rupert Martin, Maureen Paley, Two Blue Buckets: Photographs by Peter Fraser, Manchester 1988.
Peter Fraser, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2013.
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