Friday, May 19, 2017

Peace in the heart of the city

The beauty of Diffusion, Cardiff's annual photography festival, is that it is literally diffuse - spread across a host of venues city-wide. You can of course seek out specific sites, or alternatively find yourself stumbling across them by happy accident. Such was the case last week when, getting off our bus by the Central Square development, we spotted a vacant shop unit/office (the 'Stute) that had been converted into a temporary exhibition space.

Inside, on the ground floor, was Peace Signs, an exhibition of pictures taken by Edward Barber. Shot between 1980 and 1984, they fit in squarely with this year's festival theme of revolution, showing the protests against the US stationing nuclear missiles at English RAF bases. The peace/anti-nuclear movement is often associated with young hippies, so Barber's pictures are enlightening in revealing the cross-generational nature of opposition. There's also a very DIY feel to the protests and the protest materials, underlining their relatively uncoordinated and spontaneous nature.

The best pictures show the political/cultural/ideological clashes: a group of police officers engaged in conversation, apparently oblivious to the female protesters lying at their feet; a dapper gent with suit and briefcase crossing a City street, with protesters lying across it in the foreground and crowds of bemused onlookers gathered on the pavement in the background.

It seems like a different age - which it was, I suppose, being more than 30 years ago - but the photos are more than merely a valuable chronicle of the anti-nuclear movement. Personally, at least, they felt like a reminder of the power of protest, and even a call to arms at a time when policies and developments both in this country and across the Atlantic require vigorous and robust resistance.

Upstairs, a collection of photos by Sebastian Bruno takes the visitor behind the scenes at the Dynamic, a local newspaper set up by two friends to cover the Abertillery, Ebbw and Usk Valleys. The evidently ramshackle nature of the whole operation, as well as the recreated office - complete with piles of paper, spilt Doritos and rancid half-drunk cups of coffee - transported me back to my days working on the student magazine. All that are missing are overflowing ashtrays and stacks of promotional CDs from indie no-hopers put to good use as coasters.

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