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Do you recognise these pictures of Cardiff before Cardiff?

Many of you will have seen Cardiff before Cardiff photographs before, either on their website or on social media.


But how many of you actually know the story of how the photos and website came about? The Cardiffian spoke to photographer and Cardiff before Cardiff founder Jon Pountney to find out.

By taking over an abandoned art studio, Mr Pountney has managed to document Cardiff’s past and in the process help reunite a man with his daughter.

In 2010, Jon Pountney took over Warwick Hall, an abandoned art studio which had previously recorded Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers albums. But the journey it took him on was something no one could have expected.


“My nan got me into photography”, Jon said. “She had my grandfather’s camera. He was a very keen photographer and I got his camera. That’s how I started really.

“What happened, to cut a long story short, I was opening up a recording artists studio in Warwick Hall.

“I went up there to deliver some work to a client who was based there and I couldn’t believe the state the place was in, it was almost derelict. It had been quite a big deal but it had fallen almost into disuse.

“A group of us went in, took it over, tried to bring it back to life, inject some cash into it, give it a lick of paint.”

But through renovation, what Jon found has kept him busy for the last five years and helped to document Cardiff of the 1970’s and 80’s.

Eddie Brown and Richard Parsons.

Eddie Brown and Richard Parsons.

He said: “I found a picture of two teenagers, Eddie Brown and Richard Parsons. Firstly it really reminded me of a painting I had done for my A levels which is a self-portrait. But also I just loved it as a picture because it’s very similar to my interests, in that it’s mod revival 1979-1980 and I really like the street lamp reflection. It just said something to me.

“So I put it to one side and we carried on working, then I started to find more. The next one was a guy stood in a doorway with a Ford Cortina behind him. Then there was another one that I recognised as being Carlisle Street in Splott.

“I went down to Splott and started trying to piece them together. Through this I found out that virtually all the photos were taken in and around Carlisle Street. Some of them are Butetown.”

But Jon still did not know the owner of the photographs, as the building was virtually abandoned.

He said: “On the back of the pictures some of them were marked Keith S Robertson. I Googled him but nothing came up. So I started a Tumblr and digitalised a load of the photographs.

“About six months past, still no idea who Keith was, and I had had some weird emails about him, one from his brother and one from his ex-wife asking where he was.

“But then I was at the studio one night, probably in August 2011, and the doorbell went just as I was about to leave. I opened the door and there was a lady there and a man straight away who I recognised to be Keith. That was pretty mental. It was his daughter Leigh who had seen the pictures online from Dubai and had come over to find Keith to bring him to the studio.

“That night I found out that he used to be a tenant in the studio and he had given up photography, become a taxi driver, and was skint. He was kicked out the building and the people who were running the building at the time told him that they had destroyed the photos.


“In the process of all this happening he had had a stroke and lost his memory a bit and become a bit of a recluse. He didn’t have internet in the house so he had no idea about the photos. Until she [Leigh] brought him up to the Studio and I showed him the blog, he thought all the photos had been destroyed. For him it was really moving as he started to see these images come back to life before his eyes. He was really touched.”

Keith gave permission for Jon to carry on posting the images but rather than just post the old photos onto the Cardiff before Cardiff blog, Jon decided to start reshooting them going for a then and now look.

Keith Robertson whose daughter Leigh had seen the pictures online from Dubai and had come over to find him and bring him to the studio.

Keith Robertson whose daughter Leigh had seen the pictures online from Dubai and had come over to find him and bring him to the studio.

He said: “Finding Keith’s work really inspired me to do what he was doing which is just go out everyday, not be afraid of people, and take pictures and document life.

“I was out everyday, at first I was really rusty. You have to decide whether to take the photo and ask the person’s permission or ask them before and risk ruining the photo. It was quite terrifying at first.”

Next for Jon and Keith’s work was an exhibition at the Wales Millennium Centre in 2012 featuring 120 prints. According to Jon: “That was the biggest opening the Wales Millennium Centre had had to that point with an exhibition, it blew them away. It was absolutely mental with people everywhere.”

A book was written in December 2012 documenting Keith and Jon entitled Cardiff before Cardiff.

The photos, mainly of 1970’s and 80’s Cardiff, are now a huge hit on social media with Jon posting two or three a day. He said: “If I don’t post stuff people say ‘Where are you?’ cbc3

“All the information behind all the photos is on here. Without social media this would never have been possible.”

But perhaps the most warming story of all in the making of Cardiff before Cardiff was Jon being able to reunite Keith with one of his daughters whom he had not seen for many years.

Jon said: “There was one photo of a baby in an incubator with a women peering over. A lady called Nicola emailed me and said that she was the baby in the incubator in Keith’s photo. She said at the end of the email that she was also Keith’s daughter!

“They hadn’t seen each other for quite a few years, and were only reunited by the picture being on the net.”

Nicola as a baby

Nicola as a baby

Nicola today

Nicola today

On Cardiff before Cardiff’s potential legacy, Jon said: “It does make you wonder what’s out there, if me, as one person, has found all of this then what is there in someone’s attic? It would blow your mind.”



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