Aftermath, Book reviews, Environment

Coal not dole

“…their future will be as black as coal itself, and the weekly wage packet will be a giro-handout…”

– Marsha Marshall, Women Against Pit Closures, at the beginning of the strike, 1984

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike. A book by a German photographer, only now published, offers the viewer a rare glimpse inside the upended lives of local families during a hugely divisive period in modern British history.

 

Spud Marshall with grandchild Carla, Rimington Road, Wombwell, 1985

Spud Marshall with grandchild Carla, Rimington Road, Wombwell, 1985

 

Taking inspiration from Robert Frank and his great opus on American culture, Michael Kerstgens, a young photography student at the time, follows his family contacts to South Wales before heading to the hotbeds of social upheaval in the mining towns of South Yorkshire.

The photographer manages to secure remarkable access, particularly through a chance encounter with a man on his first day at the NUM office in Barnsley by the name of Stuart ‘Spud’ Marshall. Trusted by the communities, he now becomes an invisible eye, free to make some astonishingly intense pictures of Union meetings and record insights into pivotal roles played by the Miners’ wives.

 

WAPC activist Marsha Marshall supports picketing miners with a donation of cigarettes, South Yorkshire, December, 1984

WAPC activist Marsha Marshall supports picketing miners with a donation of cigarettes, South Yorkshire, December, 1984

 

These pictures show the subtle bonds and ties of family that are sometimes difficult to articulate, but are nevertheless integral to stories of private and working lives connected and interwoven in ways which seem both familiar and strangely abstract. The images in places feel like a sooty archeological archive, such is the patina of coal dust covering every surface. The use of monochrome connects the subjects to a strong pictorial lineage, to moral questions of right and wrong and, perhaps more viscerally, to the very elements of the land under their feet.  Adding to this sense of other-worldliness the pictures of NUM meetings, veiled in a tobacco haze, are striking for their visual aesthetic, but are made more profound as historical documents of a very particular time and place.

The solemn tone is given a refreshing and relevant counter-point with the inclusion of some witty party pictures.

 

New Years Eve with neighbours and friends at Wombwell Working Men's Club, Station Road, Wombwell, 1984

New Years Eve with neighbours and friends at Wombwell Working Men’s Club, Station Road, Wombwell, 1984

 

The last quarter of the book brings us up to date with Spud and the town, who both, as Kerstgens puts it, ‘never entirely got over the strike and its aftermath.’

 

Spud Marshall at the Mitchell & Darfield Social Club, Wombwell, 2013

Spud Marshall at the Mitchell & Darfield Social Club, Wombwell, 2013

 

The passage of time has imbued Michael Kerstgens’ important photobook a sense of perspective and confirms feelings of injustice; less about the simple economic facts regarding the (un)sustainability of the pits themselves, and more to do with the void left behind after such enormous and immediate social change.

See more of Kerstgens work and buy the book here. All photos ©Michael Kerstgens

 

The Reunion aired on BBC Radio4 recently brought together five interested parties from the strike, allowing an opportunity to see if thirty years have entrenched or softened views formed at the time.

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Uncategorized

Newspaper Update…

Following some much appreciated exposure from a kind gentleman on the BBC photojournalism blog today, I would like to point people in the direction of the friendly folk at Newspaper Club where people can get hold of a copy of the paper I made, which is mentioned in the feature.

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Alternatively, please contact me direct if you would like a new version, with some new pictures as featured on my site.

Please also spare a thought for the many kind and generous people I met in my travels, some of whose families have been rooted in the area long before the airport existed. Hopefully they won’t have to wait too much longer for a lasting decision so they can get on with their lives.

Thanks for looking, and do please drop me a line if you have any questions.

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Photography and current affaires

Material

by Tim Flach

by Tim Flach

Matter n. 1. what a thing is made of; constituent material

Food product. Horse material.  Meat contamination.  Words, like food, have an intimate relationship with the mouth.  There are some words which one would rather not associate with a, usually, pleasurable and sustaining experience.  Listening to the radio on a drive out from London, I was struck by the artificial nature of the terminology used to describe something essentially natural.  Each of the commentators and interviewees rolled these prickly words around their mouths like encased conkers, picking through the left-overs of the Horsemeat scandal which is currently preoccupying the British media.  Suddenly, the pairing of words has a distinct and unsavory significance.

DNA tests are being used to find out definitively the biological sources inside the boxes of frozen meals in cryogenic suspension up and down the land.  One of the least appetizing statements was, ‘due to modern processing techniques – it would be impossible to tell by taste alone that the meat was not beef.’  Modern processing techniques.  Gets the mouth watering, doesn’t it?

Food and its production has been a popular subject for photographers.  I love the approach taken by of Bernhard Fuchs and Taj Forer featured in the Feb 2012 posting of the photo-eye blog.  Their quiet contemplative approach allows the viewer space to consider food production and consumption in its relationship to nature and the seasons.  For a more political, less nostalgic view on the food industry, take a look at this work by another German photographer Michael Lebensmittel.  You have to dig deep to get a copy, but it looks like an interesting, if challenging, book.

Taj Forer - Stone by Stone

Taj Forer – Stone by Stone

It’s at times like this when casual banter turns to unusual and exotic snacks enjoyed at the behest of one’s hosts.  While on the subject, I couldn’t end this post without a reference back to Mali and the Dogon region in particular.  During the festival of Tabaski we were welcomed into the Kodio (Atemelou – from the previous post) family home and treated to fresh goat, the highlight of which was the unfortunate beast’s bollocks.  We had no problem tracing from where it had come.

Meanwhile, the horses are whispering: find us… find us…FINDUS.

Dogon, Mali 2006

Dogon, Mali 2006

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