Merthyr Rising

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Shot in Merthyr Tydfil throughout the summer of 2015, Merthyr Rising, a collaboration between photographer, Tom Johnson and Stylist and Merthyr native, Charlotte James sees residents of the former Welsh mining town, sourced via street castings, social media, and featuring a number of James’ family and friends photographed in high fashion pieces in a bid to readdress popular misconceptions of the working class community.

Here, James shares a selection of her favourite photographs from the series and tells us more about the Merthyr residents who star in them.


Iris. 72 years old, retired, wearing Moschino.

"The first time I saw Iris she was having a cigarette outside a coffee shop in the town centre. She looked amazing - dressed from head to toe in orange with Hello Kitty trainers to match. I took lots of pictures of her that day and a few months later asked her to be part of the series."

"Upon photographing Iris I received a letter from her husband, John, in which he wrote, 'In 2002 Iris suffered the effects of a serious brain virus, which for a while threatened her life and kept her in hospital for many weeks. Iris' illness led to some astonishing changes in her behaviour, her dress code to name but one. She became very colour coordinated; she wears lots of different colours but always just one colour at a time. From time to time people stop and tell her how nice she looks, these little compliments really lift her spirits and mean a great deal to her."

"I met Iris in town last week with my Nan and gave her the photo from the series. She was so proud to see the image of herself and couldn't wait to show her husband. That day she was dressed all in blue with three rings stacked on each finger."


Brandan. 15 years old, wearing Agi and Sam and Vivienne Westwood.


Kevin Jones. 50 years old, Pub Landlord, The Whydham Arms.

"This is Kevin, Landlord of The Whydham Arms, a pub we've been drinking in for years. The pub was once dubbed one of the roughest pubs in Britain but I've never seen any trouble there and all the locals are a laugh. It also sells its own beer, Bevans, which is brewed locally in Dowlais."

"Kevin loves flashing his tattoo. He got it when he was going on holiday to Spain around 19 years ago. Someone made a bet with him that he couldn't get a six-pack by the time he went. So he got himself a six-pack tattooed on his stomach and proved them all wrong."


Kyra. 8 Years old, wearing Agi and Sam.


Margaret. 78 years old, retired, wearing Giles Deacon.

"Margaret is my Nan so this is a really personal image for me. My Nan retired as a nurse when my brother and me were born so that she could look after us whilst my mother went back to work. She has had a lifetime of caring for others and is one of the best people in my life. I loved seeing her have her photo taken, she was really comfortable in front of the camera considering she wasn't keen on having her photograph taken."


Thomas and James. Twins, 6 years old, wearing Adidas.


Phylis. 91 years old, retired, wearing Pleats Please Issey Miyake.

"Tom and I were invited to Phylis’ house for tea one afternoon by her daughter, Karen. When we turned up with my suitcases full of clothes she thought I had brought her my washing to do and kept saying ‘cheese or sex?’ whilst her picture was being taken. We were really hungover that day but she was really funny and had us all laughing by the end of it."

"Unfortunately Phylis passed away before the project was complete. She leaves behind 9 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren. She worked throughout World War II in London, then as a dinner-lady until she retired."

See more from Johnson on his Website and Instagram.
See more from James on her Website and Instagram.

Purchase a limited edition zine comprised of photographs from the series via Johnson's Website.