Joann Randles has spent much of the last 18 months in the same natural Gower environment photographing the semi-feral Welsh ponies which graze the land. 

When lockdown hit in March 2020, the freelance photographer and filmmaker, like so many others, lost all of her work.

As an antidote, and as part of her daily exercise routine, she found herself walking the Gower marshes with her camera. 

The National Wales: Three ponies grazing. ©Joann RandlesThree ponies grazing. ©Joann Randles

“I’m not from a horsey background”, says Joann, who is originally from Saundersfoot. “So although I was aware of the ponies there, I hadn’t really studied or photographed them properly before. 

“I was lucky that, living nearby, I was able to to use my time in order to photograph them within the limits of what lockdown permitted.”

The National Wales: Starlings flock above the head of a Gower foal. ©Joann RandlesStarlings flock above the head of a Gower foal. ©Joann Randles

As the days turned into weeks and then months, Joann returned to the same place on a daily basis, getting to know the terrain, the weather and the wildlife. She bore witness to the tiny changes going on within the environment, something which most of us scarcely notice. 

“It gave me a focus at a time when there was absolutely no focus whatsoever,” says the 33 year old. “It was an outlet. One thing we were blessed with during all the lockdowns was time. And so suddenly I had an awful lot of time to be able to dedicate towards this.

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“I didn’t want to sit at home dwelling on the fact that there was no work. As a creative, you're always looking for a way to express yourself. 

The National Wales: Two ponies 'sharing breath' at sunset. ©Joann RandlesTwo ponies 'sharing breath' at sunset. ©Joann Randles

“I found myself in a place, on those marshes, that became my own creative space. It was somewhere where I could just be alone with my thoughts”

As time wore on, an unspoken trust began to form between her and the equine herds roaming the marsh. Suspicion turned into curiosity. 

The National Wales: The Gower ponies got used to Joann in their environment. ©Joann RandlesThe Gower ponies got used to Joann in their environment. ©Joann Randles

“It wasn’t a case of me feeding them and coaxing them to come to me,” says Joann. “It was me, walking, sitting and just existing in their environment, in their world. 

“I came to understand what I should and shouldn’t do, what their boundaries were and I started to recognise the different characters within the herd. 

The National Wales: A Gower stallion attempts to woo a mare. ©Joann RandlesA Gower stallion attempts to woo a mare. ©Joann Randles

Before the pandemic, in 2019, Joann premiered her first documentary feature film, which she wrote, produced and directed.

‘You May Be Pretty, But I Am Beautiful: The Adrian Street Story’ tells the tale of Adrian Street, the wrestler from Brynmawr who ended up making it big in America. 

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Months later, Joann had swapped the edit suite for the salt marsh. Work began to pick up once more and her images of the lives of Gower's ponies began appearing in magazines and broadsheets, including The Telegraph, The Times and The Wall Street Journal. 

The National Wales: 'Under the Rainbow'. ©Joann Randles'Under the Rainbow'. ©Joann Randles

Her photograph entitled 'Under the Rainbow' was the runner up in the People's Choice for the Royal Metrological Society's Weather Photographer of the Year 2020. 

"That will always be a poignant picture, for me, because it was taken just before things began to fall apart in March 2020" says Joann. "There is this air of beauty, of nature in its entirety."

The National Wales: Starlings perch atop a mare who stands next to a foal. ©Joann RandlesStarlings perch atop a mare who stands next to a foal. ©Joann Randles

Joann says she will continue to photograph Gower's semi-feral herds in their natural habitat.

Amid the uncertainty of the past year and a half, she says the ponies have provided sanctuary, friendship and focus: "I want to obtain as much knowledge about them as possible. 

"They play a huge role in taking care of our environment. There are different herds across Wales and so ideally, I'd like to expand and analyse the ponies in the Brecon Beacons and across Gwynedd."

The National Wales: ©Joann Randles©Joann Randles

To find out more about Joann's work visit her website

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