The rise and fall of Wales’ most idiosyncratic newspaper

The rise and fall of Wales’ most idiosyncratic newspaper

A new exhibition tells the story of ‘The Dynamic,' a free and uncompromising community paper published in Abertillery, through the lens of former staff photographer Sebastián Bruno.

One day in 2015, Sebastián Bruno walked into The Pontlottyn, the local pub of UK-wide chain Wetherspoons in Abertillery – a former mining town in the South Wales Valleys. Having grown up in the big city of Buenos Aires in Argentina, he had recently finished studying a documentary photography degree at what was then known as the Newport College of Art, and was looking to capture the unique pace of local Welsh rural life.

As he approached the heaving bar, packed out for ‘Steak Day’, out of the corner of his eye he saw copy of a distinctive-looking newspaper emblazoned with the words "The Abertillery and Ebbw Valleys Dynamic: Your Free Local Paper." He picked it up and began flicking through its beer-stained pages.

“The newspaper was interesting,” Bruno says. “It was super well written, terribly designed, and had things like ‘Sheep of the Week’ and all these eccentricities and humour. I was like: ‘This is a gold mine.’”

Intrigued, he asked the bartender about the publication, who pointed him down the road and said: “Just ask for Julian, love!” He soon did, and in the office sat next to ceiling high stacks of newspapers he found Julian Meek, the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief and Tony Flatman, the Sports & Business Editor and financier, to whom he announced his intention to work for The Dynamic.

For the next two years, Bruno served as the paper’s staff photographer, capturing the local stories, people, and exclusive scoops. From local rugby matches in full swing, to making portraits of the local MBE-awarded milkman – he provided the pictures for the stories spanning local politics, culture, lifestyle, fashion, and sports, which would run across its 16 pages.

A number of pictures from those years appear in his new exhibition and soon-to-be-published photobook The Dynamic. Presented are pictures from the various shoots – giving a unique glimpse into rural Welsh life – but also Julian and Tony’s unconventional workflow, with the pair single-handedly producing the weekly, free-of-charge 16-page newspaper. 

“Tony doesn’t write on the computer, so he handwrites everything and then dictates to Julian,” Bruno says. “But the quality of everything was always [of a] very, very high standard – if you compare it with any tabloid, the writing is really good.”

But Bruno’s tight working relationship and friendship with the editors was cemented by Julian and Tony’s unashamedly political stance. Ardently left-wing, they ran stories bashing Donald Trump, called out the Department of Work and Pensions for declaring a dementia sufferer fit to return to work, and celebrated a pre-Labour Party leader era Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to the nearby Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones. 

“I had an ideological compatibility with Tony and Julian,” Bruno says. “The area has a rich history in relation to the working class struggle – if you think about the NHS, it comes from there. It was created after the Second World War, and Bevan, who was the [region’s] MP, modelled the NHS on the local Tredegar Aid Society.”

But in the end, as with so many other publications, the politics would come to a head in the country’s biggest moment in recent memory – 2016’s Brexit referendum. The Dynamic campaigned strongly to remain, but found their views weren’t quite aligned with the prevailing local sentiment. “The area ended up having the highest [proportions] of votes to leave in Wales – and probably the whole of the UK as well,” Bruno explains. “For the past 40 years nothing’s really been done to re-activate these communities after the closures of industry.

“So you have whole communities that have been drifting away,” he continues. “Voting for it was the only way that could feel that they can change something.”

Soon after the result came in, Julian suffered a mental breakdown, which would lead the pair to move out of the office and into Tony’s flat. The Dynamic would cease regular production a year later. 

“To what point the community actually embraced the newspaper as its voice I don’t know,” Bruno says. “But it did have a huge readership and people were very interested in it.

“Because you were seeing the quality of work that they are producing,” he continues. “You really wanted them to succeed – because you could see all the effort [that] they were putting in.”

The Dynamic will be on display at the Martin Parr Foundation from 20 April – 02 July 2023, and a book of the project will be published by ICVL Studio in April 2023.

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