Art & Photography

Slag Heap: Spoils of Industry

Photographer Morgan O’Donovan and William Richard Green on their latest collaboration – a series investigating Wales’ industrial landscape

“We wanted to do something that was not fashion related” Morgan O’Donovan explains of his latest creative collaboration with fashion designer William Richard Green, Slag Heap. Intrigued by the man-made landscapes around mining communities in Wales, the pair headed to the historic slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog to capture the slag heaps surrounding the town, once a cornerstone of British slate mining.

It’s about as removed from the fashion world as you can get. “I’d always wanted to go to these old slate quarries,” Morgan explains. “I find this altered landscape really interesting, how much work was involved in creating them. There’s a massive scale of operation behind it all: they’d literally carve it out of the mountain and tip it over the edge and make these massive mounds”. These mounds are of course the by-product of industrial scale slate mining: “For every 10 percent of good slate you get, you have this enormous amount of waste” says Morgan.

As well as capturing the physicality of the slag, the project also plays with proportion: large format photographs are presented in juxtaposition to smaller collages, a deliberate and leading concern for the project. William explains, “The scale of these mounds of rocks is deceptive – you can’t really judge it. We wanted to demonstrate this scale, explore it”. The resulting collages create this textured overview hinting at the energy and man-hours that have gone into each discarded rock, which each speak of the town’s long history as a centre for slate mining. It also nods to the added poignancy of a town in decline, where industry has moved out and where only a handful of working mines remain.

But perhaps what emerges most poetically from the images is the beauty of this discarded raw material. Both texture and contrast abound and Morgan and Will have taken the purest examples of this to weave their narrative. The result is texturally provocative and grounded in a sense of awe.

Slag Heap runs until 10 December at Space, 1-93 Great Portland Street, London W1W 7NX