The Dynamic was only published for two years, but it caused quite a stir and is still talked about in the Welsh valleys today. Now a new exhibition and book by Sebastian Bruno tell its fascinating story.
Local newspapers are often treated as a bit of a joke. But they're a vital part of our democracy and the healthy functioning of communities, a point that's not lost on the towns and cities where they've vanished.
But although the UK has lost some of its most established local newspapers in recent years, constant efforts are being made to replace them. These projects don't always succeed, but they deserve to be celebrated nonetheless.
And so we're delighted to see a new exhibition and accompanying book present the story of The Abertillery and Ebbw Valleys Dynamic, as told by the paper's former staff photographer, Sebastian Bruno.
The Dynamic was first published in May 2015 in Abertillery, a small town in the Ebbw Fach valley in the historic county of Monmouthshire, Wales. Reaching a circulation of 5,000, it continued to be published regularly for two years.
Behind the newspaper were two men, Tony Flatman and Julian Meek, one computer and a printing contract. Its short but intense life coincided with some of the most tumultuous years in contemporary British history, marked by the coming of fake news, austerity policies and Brexit. While the newspaper campaigned to Remain in the EU referendum, the region of Blaenau Gwent had the highest Leave vote in Wales.
In the book Bruno, an award-winning Argentine/Spanish photographer, filmmaker and educator, describes how he first encountered The Dynamic and became the staff photographer. "I first stepped into 'Spoons on a Tuesday afternoon, and the place was buzzing," he explains, "as it was Steak Day: £5.90 for a pint, steak and chips. I approached the bar. There were six people in front of me and only one person serving. Laying on the bar was a copy of a newspaper that someone had used to mop the slops from an overflowing pint. 'The Abertillery and Ebbw Valleys Dynamic: Your Free Local Paper'. It was unusual, to say the least.
"It was unclear where one article ended, and another began, and I had never seen a publication with a column called 'Sheep of the Week', a mix of current political affairs and agriculture. I was gripped and started to ask around. Who was behind this quirky idea? The barmaid directed me to 17 High Street: 'just ask for Julian, love!'… Once the introductions were over, with little hesitation, I announced: 'I want to become the Dynamic's photographer'."
Documentary and exhibition
Bruno had initially intended only to be in Abertillery for three months, and upon becoming The Dynamic's staff photographer, he hoped to make a small project about the community with his photographs taken for the newspaper.
However, he quickly became fascinated with Tony and Julian and began chronicling their work and efforts to keep the paper going. Three months in Abertillery became two years; during that time, Bruno helped with the design of the paper and its distribution and developed a friendship with the editors.
Although the paper officially stopped publishing in May 2017, it was relaunched in 2019 to coincide with a documentary film, Dynamic Duo, that Bruno and photographer David Barnes were commissioned to make for the BBC. At the time, there was an attempt to turn the newspaper into a community enterprise, but this didn't come to fruition. One final newspaper was published in December 2019, and the Covid pandemic followed soon after.
"Time and time again, I get asked: 'Oh, when is the paper coming back?'," says Julian Meek. "We will never stop being The Dynamic; it has become an integral part of who we are."
The exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol includes photographs, archive materials, film, a telephone for visitors to hear Julian, and a mock-up newspaper office. The book, meanwhile, includes an amalgam of articles from The Dynamic to immerse both visitors and readers in Tony and Julian's universe.
The Dynamic is on display at the Martin Parr Foundation, Paintworks, 316, Arno's Vale, Bristol BS4 3AR from 20 April to 2 July. Opening times are 10.30-5.30pm, Thursday to Sunday. A book of the project, also titled The Dynamic, will be published by ICVL Studio in April.