Photographer Reveals Two Estates At Tredegar House, Newport

By Marian Cleary | 13 August 2008
A photography of two women eating at a table

© Janire Najera

Exhibition preview – A Place Past, A Place Present at Tredegar House, Newport until September 30

It often takes someone from the outside to see a place in a new light with new possibilities. In the case of the current exhibition at 17th-century Tredegar House, Newport, a Spanish photographer has revealed new links between one estate and another.

Janire Najera has been studying Documentary Photography at the University of Wales in Newport and in so doing worked with people from the Duffryn Estate near Tredegar House.

The Duffryn housing estate was built on the Tredegar estate lands. Newport City Council acquired the Tredegar estate including the house after it ceased to be the home of the Morgan family and became a school. The final brick was laid on the Duffryn Estate in 1978.

For her project, Janire brought the inhabitants of Duffryn into Tredegar House and recorded them in the rooms. Posing in a variety of situations, the Duffryn people are captured looking a little surprised, wary, but also wistful, as if to the manor born.

A phograph of two women in a bedroom with a child on the four-poster bed

© Janire Najera

Recalling how the project evolved, Janire said: “By taking them to be photographed in Tredegar House, my aim was to make this historic building a part of the present.”

Among the images, there is a man in overalls sitting at a writing desk, a pair of women eating fruit at the dining table, and in another, a child flops across a four-poster bed while two women look dreamily away.

While a permanent portrait collection of the nobility is a key feature of Tredegar House, in terms of heritage, the current interpretation of the building is as much about how it functioned as a world defined by servants and masters; rank and hierarchy.

Whether the images in this temporary exhibition can be seen as a triumphant signifier of the changes wrought by circumstances on classes or ‘estates’, or whether they represent the interplay of two worlds, is for the visitor to decide.

A photograph of a woman holding a camera in front of some photographs

Janire Najera. Courtesy University of Wales, Newport

When looking for somewhere to pursue her photography studies, Janire was immediately drawn to the Newport area: “Once I saw the university in its beautiful surroundings and strong local history, I knew this was the place,” she explained.

For this reason, although she has now graduated, she intends to continue hunting out the missing links between Newport’s history and culture. A new project with Newport-based photographers’ collective, Punctum, will explore a disused steelworks that once employed thousands of local people.

The project is called Ghosts in Armour. Clearly a theme is emerging in her work. People displaced and replaced through changing social and economic environments are as much a part of history for Janire as portraits of nobles and the trappings of aristocratic wealth.

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