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Book Review: Port Talbot UFO Investigation Club by Roo Lewis

Port Talbot is a town in Wales, United Kingdom, on the east coast of Swansea Bay. It is dominated by one of Europe’s largest steelworks, which still employs over 4,000 people, and is crossed by the M4 motorway. The same motorway that Roo Lewis, as a child, traveled with his parents to visit his grandfather, in the Welsh county of Pembrokshire. Crossing Port Talbot he thought that the steelworks, illuminated, were a spaceship.

Blue Steel © Roo Lewis
“I spent an evening in ‘the trench’—an out of bounds storm drain right by the steelworks. When the blast furnace is going you feel alive— you can feel the energy going through yourwhole body. With a little bit of luck, you can be there when they turn the lights on. Thesun sets fast in South Wales and just before it does—it glooms.”

Port Talbot is, apparently, just a provincial town notable for the pollution produced by steelworks waste and traffic on the M4 motorway. There are actually beautiful mountains, beautiful dunes, one of the longest beaches in Wales, beautiful reservoirs and lakes, bioluminescent phytoplankton lights up the sea. Sports, culture and entertainment figures such as Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton were born in Port Talbot. But, above all, Port Talbot is famous for UFO sightings which have increased significantly in recent years.

Reservoir © Roo Lewis
Natalie floating on a reservoir overlooking the town. Originally a colliery which supplied coal to the nearby copper works at Taibach, it later flooded to supply water to the docks. The depth is rumoured to be over 100ft and home to many cars which have fallen in and sunk to the bottom.
‘It was a warm and clear summer night in 1996, during the early hours me and my best friend strolled along the beach promenade…we were both stopped dead in our tracks. In the matter of seconds some sort of aircraft hovered a few metres above our heads, covering the entire sky before shooting off at lightning speed into the distance. I have thought about that night often in the twenty-seven years since, it probably led to my fascination with the cosmos and the infinite nature of it all. It seems both absurd and arrogant to me that we would think we are alone in the universe/ multiverse.’

My grandfather was a proud Welshman and when visiting we would pass Port Talbot on the M4. My brother and I had our noses pressed up against the window staring at the blast furnaces belching into the sky. We were told it was a space station and it’s been stuck in my head ever since then. [… ] The more I read about Port Talbot the more I realised I had to study and document it – Michael Sheen, Antony Hopkins and Richard Burton all hail from this small industrial town. The steelworks is a generational beacon and a human story I can really get my head around. You will meet someone who works there, who father worked there…grandfather and so on. When I heard Sheen mention it had an extremely had number of UFO sightings I found my angle – why does the town produce so many icons and why do the aliens visit it so often?

[Roo Lewis]


Posters © Roo Lewis
Posters I put up around the town. In hindsight putting my actual phone number was a misstep.

The unidentified flying objects are the key that allowed the author to enter the “world” of the Welsh town. The investigation began by posting flyers, accompanied by a telephone number and an email address, to find out who had seen a UFO. The answers allowed the author to create connections and, for two years, to access the stories, the people and the territory. To gain their trust and meet, for example, those who have transformed into Captain Beany, those who have lost their jobs due to an encounter of the third kind, those who only believe in scooters, those who are managers who would like to see a UFO but whose priority is to become an actor. There are also those who wear a thermal radiation suit in the middle of the dunes.

Jonny Lovejet © Roo Lewis
Jonny Lovejet in the dunes wearing a thermal radiation suit similar to that used in the steelworks. This was shot when some Saharan dust clouds hit the UK giving the sky this wild orangeade pink.
‘Late summer, 1988. A small, bright light moves slowly over the mountain towards the coast, it stops over the steelworks for a few seconds then…flash… it shoots off towards Swansea. I had always had a fascination regarding UFOs and this only made my belief stronger. Fast forward to 2016 when I’m at a customer’s house, someone I had never met previously, I notice he is watching a program about UFOs, so I start to tell him about what I had seen in 1988. He stops me as I talk and asks some questions about the time, date etc…He was travelling into work that night and he was stopped by a bright light above his head, whilst looking at it, it shot off over Swansea…Up until this point his wife had never believed his story but when I told the same thing she said she might just have to start believing it after all.’


“I arranged to meet a UFO spotter on the side of a mountain – he declined to be photographed for the project. We were talking about why he does what he does what drives him to gaze into the stars at night looking for anything out of the ordinary – he replied ‘Maybe I am lonely – maybe that’s all I am qualified to be’. That really stuck with me and I thought about it for hours afterwards. It wasn’t until much later I realised it was a line from a Meat Loaf song.”

[Roo Lewis]


What was born is not just a collection of scenes that document a territory and tell its people, ways, ideas, history. “Port Talbot UFO Investigation Club” is an alternative way of describing a city beyond its insignificant appearances. An alternative way of describing a people, the Welsh, through the acts of faith of the city’s inhabitants. In this sense, in the transition from truth to belief and drawing on the innate fascination for mystery, ufology becomes a faith. And faith, in the absence of facts, opens up to fantasy and emotions which, in turn, generate legends and fuel their narration, their passing down. Folklore. “Folklore” (a term, moreover, coined in the United Kingdom) means finding one’s own cultural identity by getting lost in its myths, fairy tales, legends and other narratives linked to the dimension of the fantastic. A bit like the magic that surrounds Port Talbot.


“I don’t want to over-explain it too much, as I want people to understand it as how they make sense of the world, but the UFO Club is about the innate human yearning to connect to one another, and how we do that in whatever language we are able. It’s about being lost and found at the same time.”

[Roo Lewis]


Port Talbot Cymric Choir © Roo Lewis
I decided to attend a choir rehearsal I heard was taking place one evening at Wesley Chapel, Taibach. As I approached the chapel, I could hear the singing getting louder and louder so I followed it through the door. There were about thirty men in a circle singing to

In this book I found the detachment of the documentary photographer but also a lot of participation. Lots of emotional involvement and a mysterious atmosphere. And I felt like asking the author what remained of this project, with whose words I leave you:


“I think it’s really important to make a connection to the subject and you have to allow time and space to do that. I like photography to tell stories, whatever they are, and use it to make an emotional connection to the viewer. The way I connect to photography is through story and beauty. If either are missing I struggle to engage.  The aesthetic is an important way to keep the viewers attention and draw them into the narrative and the themes it raises – sensitive use of colour can invoke certain emotions. 

 I used to think photography was about taking photos of what you see – now I understand it to be creating a universe to explore and communicate. I like that mystery and feeling of magic you see when you view an image you love for the first time. I dont think you can ever be truly objective as a photographer there is always a decision and bias involved – why did you shoot that angle? use that focal length? Why did you choose that subject? because of this I see it as important to say something – I dont think you are ever totally detached.”

[Roo Lewis]



Port Talbot UFO Investigation Club
by Roo Lewis

Published September 2023
245 x 306 mm portrait
136 pages, 67 images

Captain Beany © Roo Lewis
In 1991 Barry Kirk legally changed his name to his superhero persona ‘Captain Beany.’
The Captain runs the world’s only baked bean museum from his council flat in Sandfields, Port Talbot. Since his first charity event in the mid 80s (sitting for 100 hours in a baked bean-filled bath) he has raised over £100,000 for good causes. Beany is well known in the town and elsewhere with numerous television appearances. When I photographed The Captain, I noticed his head was tattooed with drawings of beans each one initialled—one of his charity stunts where patrons could donate money in order to be immortalised.

Port Talbot LA Skies © Roo Lewis
A view at 8pm from Mynydd Dinas overlooking the town.

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