Craig Austin reviews Scaffold to the Moon, the deeply personal monograph/photobook by Huw Alden Davies exploring life, hope, dreams and aspiration – an ode to those that shape and inspire us.
I’ll be back about 3 .00 clock.
today There’s a man coming from Social to Mam & Dads
i’ve got to be there
One of the few positives to emerge from the global unpleasantness of 2020/21 has been the decluttering of Marie Kondo and her fellow busybody neat-freak cops to the charity shop donation box of history. It’s stuff, after all, that’s helped most of us to get through the last year or so of interminable drudgery. The dog-eared books and dusty family board games that we clung to like rubber rings among the jetsam. The trinkets and mementos that tell stories about where we’ve come from, where we’ve been, and who we intrinsically are.
Images of the ephemera of human existence, the accumulation of things, pepper the pages of Huw Alden Davies’s Scaffold To The Moon. A photographic memoir/document of the artist’s father and his devoted mother, the book also acts as a cultural time capsule of their own generation in its twilight years and an increasingly fading industrial Wales. A Carmarthenshire life story underpinned by the visual stimuli of saucy postcards, rugby club membership cards, cabaret club matchbooks and handwritten personal notes. Tales that emanate from a small West Wales village, ‘a lawless frontier’. One that as far back as the 1960s, much like the Wild West, produced legends who ‘cared nothing for anyone who stood in the way of a good time’.
To most of us the name Prince conjures up either a diminutive pop genius or the kind of German Shepherd that features on the most fearsome of ‘beware of the dog’ signs. But to Alden, ‘Prince’ is dad — the author’s father and the proud owner of seven sheds. A man he describes as an ‘unconscious surrealist’, a man ‘compelled to escape the shackles that prohibit his innovations.
“I’ve been a funeral bearer forty times. Joyce ‘Y Clwb’ was the fortieth, and the last. If they gave you Green Shield loyalty stamps for bearing, I’d have filled a fucking book” – Prince
The author’s photographs of Prince, and his mother Pearl, appear within the book’s pages in unsmiling domestic isolation. The only exception being a stony-faced night-time image of the couple interned behind the windshield of the family car. It acts as a counterpoint to Davies’s vivid evocation of the laughter that bonds them together and a seemingly deliberate attempt to redress the fact that he has never seen a single photograph on display that includes both of his parents. Romantic gestures may be rare, but Davies is keen not to underplay the love that exists between his parents regardless of the bravado that may often conceal it: ‘If I went out and bought her flowers now, she’d only say, what the fuck are you wasting money on flowers for’, Prince bemoans. ‘You can’t fucking win, mun’
Scaffold To The Moon’s positioning as a photobook is something of a misnomer however. It’s the author’s illustrative anecdotal storytelling that truly breathes life into this acutely personal document of the life and history of his family. One that comes imbued, like so many families, with flashes of inimitable extraordinariness and boundless eccentricity. The book’s title recalls a post-pub escapade in which his parents laid down in the middle of the road just so they could watch the night sky, imagining how they could get from the top of the hill in Porthyrhyd all the way up to the moon. ‘We should build scaffolding’, Pearl recalls Prince suggesting.
As if this was the only way, ‘like he believed it’.
Scaffold To The Moon by Huw Alden Davies is published by iPigeon.
Craig Austin is a Wales Arts Review senior editor.