Glass interviews Welsh photographer Dan Wood

OVER the past nine years Dan Wood has focused his image practice on Wales and the Welsh. Hailing from Bridgend in South Wales, prior to his focus on this native country, Wood concentrated on shooting skateboarders, almost exclusively in black and white. His first move into colour was a self-published book, Huldufólk which transpired after he became fascinated by the mythical Icelandic beings of the book’s namesake. Graphic landscapes framed with clear blue skies offered a different movement in Wood’s style, allowing a gentle sense of humour and a clear observational perspective to his work.

After a spate of unexplained teenage suicides between 2007 and 2008 in Bridgend, Wood’s work returned to his homeland to create a new body of work, Suicide Machine. Published by Another Place, the delicate handling of a sensitive subject rooted Wood’s direction and skill in documenting people, the landscapes they live within and the emotional difficulties of living in an often misrepresented town.

The concept for Gap in the Hedge, Wood’s forthcoming publication, has been building inside him for many years. Wood’s thirst to document and examine the interplay between people and landscape, is, according to him, exactly what he’s been looking for. Based around a Welsh mountain bypass, which was crucial for industrial development in the country, this body of work illustrates the beauty of a significant landscape feature, while documenting the personal stories of those who interact with it.

Wood has looked inside himself in order to capture the people around him. He stands with them, illustrating lives he’s so familiar with. From this honest standpoint, it imbues his work with the conviction it needs to tell the stories, he believes, we all should know.

Glass interviews Dan Wood "Gap in The Hedge"Photograph: Dan Wood

How much planning goes into each shot or is it a simultaneous process of “finding” things and then shooting them?
For me the process of exploration was a primary factor in making the series. Every time I went out was an adventure and the sense of freedom was tremendous – I thrived on that and felt constantly excited but also slightly apprehensive and that’s what motivated me the most. I’m addicted to the unknown, and the prospect of finding something in a place where I’ve never been before is very thrilling and intriguing.

The images are so nostalgic in position and colour for me being Welsh and growing up in Wales and obviously have a very strong narrative drive from your upbringing and current home. Looking back over this body of work do you feel the same or are you too close to the work by now?
I made every effort to photograph objectively and really feel that personal emotions did not get in the way too much – that was my full intention from the beginning. I also wanted to be able to tap into the nostalgia whenever I saw fit and express what I saw and felt as a child but at the same time create an accurate document of the area and really see what life was really like up there. The nostalgic journey as a kid was just the foundation of the series and subsequently kick started it, but as the project evolved I became predominantly interested in the people and the impressions they leave on the landscape.

Glass interviews Dan Wood "Gap in The Hedge"Photograph: Dan Wood

How important is personal history to your work?
It’s very important. There’s always personal history connected to all my projects and I guess that helps me understand why I’m making the work in the first place but also gives me a better understanding of myself too, which is something I’ve always struggled with. Bringing together the two elements of project/personal history is really how I can be most expressive through the work.

What were the significance of the people who feature in these portraits?
At the start of the series there really was no significance to the people I shot, I was just interested in who I would cross paths with. As time went on and the project evolved I realised that I wanted to find people who either lived near the road itself or were using it and the Pass (The Bwlch) in some way. The road is primarily the main subject and the project is centered around a road trip I used to make with my mum every Saturday to visit relatives on the other side of the mountain pass.

Glass interviews Dan Wood "Gap in The Hedge"Photograph: Dan Wood

Many photographers wrestle with the pressure of producing work. What’s your relationship to this process?
It’s definitely bittersweet. There’s pressure when I haven’t got a project on the go but also pressure when I do due to pressures of producing quality work and being “among it”. I suppose this is what keeps the fire burning in my belly, pressures like that are a good thing that can really help you turn out work that you’re satisfied with.

Where do you find inspiration?
My main source of inspiration comes from photobooks. I’m a big collector and at one time it did become a problem, but I’ve toned it down now mostly because I’ve run out of shelf space! I also to attend as many photography related socials, talks and gallery gatherings that I can get to – they are usually always interesting and inspiring.

Glass interviews Dan Wood "Gap in The Hedge"Photograph: Dan Wood

Who do you find inspiring?
I really like American photography and some of my favourites are: Lucas Foglia, Diane Arbus, Todd Hido, Vanessa Winship and Gregory Halpern – the list goes on.

Do you feel the same towards this project as you did when you began it?
I always let my projects evolve naturally during the process and I think that’s a good thing. I start off with an idea that’s usually vague and that becomes the foundation for the series. Once I have that I can start to build and add to it until things start to become clear and I know where I’m headed, then I can focus properly and really start making work that will fit the now clear narrative. So yes, I do feel the same about the project as I did in the beginning the only difference is that I have now have the answers I was looking for.

Glass interviews Dan Wood "Gap in The Hedge"Photograph: Dan Wood

Do you feel you’ve said everything you have to say about Welsh life now or is there always a new idea to document?
There’s so much more i’d like to do, but time really isn’t on my side. I work part time plus I’m a stay-at-home dad three days a week too (we have two children aged four and one). I honestly don’t know where I found the time for Gap in the Hedge.

There really aren’t enough documentary photographers producing long-term work in Wales, and Wales is in danger of failing to record a crucial time in its own history (Brexit). So the Welsh government/Arts council should seriously think about commissioning photographers to make an accurate record of this time – like The Valleys project in the 1980s [published by Ffotogallery].

What’s next in the pipeline?
There’s quite a few ideas but I’ll need to make some trial shoots and recces to see which one is most promising. I like to shoot each project using different cameras, format and film just so my work doesn’t always look the same. Once the combination of tools, idea, location and narrative falls into place I’ll throw myself in and begin. All the prospective projects on the list in my little black book have great potential, I just need to find out if there is enough material available to turn any of them into an interesting series that will have considerable substance.

by Stephanie Clair

Gap in the Hedge by Dan Wood is published by Another Place and available to pre-order here.