A photographer living in Cellan near Lampeter has completed the first part of a PhD project at Aberystwyth University retracing the footsteps of Welsh photographic pioneer John Thomas of Cellan (1838 – 1905).

John Thomas set out on the 140-mile journey to Liverpool from Cellan in May 1853 when just 15-years-old. He survived the challenges of that initial journey and went on to thrive in later life as an important photographic pioneer.

Once established as a photographer, Thomas repeatedly returned to Wales over a 32-year period travelling its length and breadth with his camera.

He gathered a unique photographic record, taking the very first photographs in many rural locations. By the time of his retirement, it was said that there was no better known person in Wales.

Simon Robert Tune, who started his project in August 2021, said: “I am inspired by people from history so it felt like serendipity that such a wonderful character as John Thomas came from Cellan.

“I realised I could travel the same route to Liverpool, photographing the one journey that John Thomas, as a boy, was unable to document.

“John Thomas had walked to Newtown in Powys before catching a canal boat and later a train. Once I reached Newtown, I continued walking for the entire length of the Montgomery canal and part of the rail journey. I only finally got on a train in Gobowen in Shropshire.”

The journey was completed in sections but added to further walking in Liverpool where Simon tracked down Thomas’ original studios and grave in Anfield Cemetery, he covered more than 120 miles on foot.

“This journey unlocked a wealth of revelations,” Simon added.

“This was not a copy of Thomas’s methodology, but rather a contemporary digital photo process influenced by the past and grounded in the present, whose overall sentiment is nostalgic.”

An exhibition showing the work to-date, called Searching for Thomas: In the footsteps of a photographer, is currently on at the School of Art in Aberystwyth and will remain open to the public (weekdays 10am to 5pm) until Friday, 10 November.

There are also plans for the publication of a book on the project next year and a return journey.