What started as an exercise in ‘taking the piss’- photographing an outdoor urinal in beautiful evening sun at Quakers Yard in Merthyr Tydfil County Borough - soon (in the way that creative projects often do) mutated into a more thoughtful observation of these almost totally overlooked street furniture remnants.

Ironically bricked up, and thus removed from its sole purpose of opportunistic relief, it had become little more than a slightly surreal pseudo Art Deco pavement decoration.

The National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

It (as passers-by double-took at me photographing a bricked up public lav) made me ponder the contemporary problem of public toilet provision and look at the urinal as a greater symbol of something we used to be able to do - provide public lavatories.  

The National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

And then, as I travelled the Valleys, I noticed quite how many of these strangely mute and utilitarian objects there are - positioned along the invisible chorographical web of routes known and used by (male) workers heading to and from mines and works and factories at the crack of dawn or dead of night.

There used to be a system; there used to be a provision.

The National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

Yes, modern toilets are more expensive with needs for accessibility, but the feeling is that we used to take pride in providing public municipal amenities of all kinds, and that modern life is somehow about how we, as a society, can’t afford these things anymore. Which is, of course, an ideological decision rather than a financial one. 

The National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

As I was photographing a urinal in Cwmparc, a man walked past me, taking in what I was doing but not what I was photographing. I saw him observe the public toilet, and he turned to me in shock.

"I’ve walked down here every day for 30 years, and never noticed that. Incredible that you taking photos brought my attention to it, " he said.

The National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

He stood for a while, looking at it like it was a piece of sculpture, and then he went. There is a strange beauty in the totally practical, and the danger is that I now see urinals wherever I go.

Will there be a volume 2?

I certainly hope so. 

The National Wales: © Jon Pountney© Jon Pountney

Fountain:  Great Urinals of the Valleys is out now and available here

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