With a collection of photographs taken during the miners’ strike of 1984-5 around the Easington Colliery area in Durham, this exhibition is an insightful reflection of a working class community and its struggles in the era of Thatcherite cuts. The 55 photographs by Keith Pattison, showing at King’s Place Gallery until 4th March, evocatively captures a piece of recent history, with stunning representations of place, people and conflict.
Throughout the collection there is an impressive use of subject, light and framing. These beautiful black and white images have a wonderfully textural look, whilst capturing what are often quite bleak and hard-hitting subject matters. In terms of reportage, the photographs give a sense of what it must have been like to live in these communities, with depictions of the day-today lives of those who lived through it.
The struggles of the miners and their families, whether it was the battles with police and scabs, the constant pressure of having their town overtaken by outside forces, the need to provide some feeling of escapism and joy for the children or the hardship of getting enough money and food to survive are shown graphically throughout. The faces captured in the photographs, from both sides of the divide, show the range of emotions felt. From the defiance, hardship, yet sense of unity and pride of the miners and their families, to the determined, hardened looks of the police, these are wonderful studies of portraiture.
The depiction of the Easington area itself, with its rows of terraced houses, scrubby grass verges and stunningly dramatic coastline all dominated by the colliery and its industrial architecture, is made all the more poignant yet relevant to viewers today. These images may only have been taken 25 years ago, yet, with the loss of the mining industry in the area, they allow us to see what is now a lost landscape.
While those of us who remember the miners strike, and the images from the media at the time, might feel a sense of familiarity with the photographs of the conflict between strikers and police, what makes this exhibition even more worthwhile are the shots of the miners and their families at home, at play, at meetings, in the canteens and welfare halls or in the streets. This exhibition takes the audience on a journey from the hope and determination of the earlier days of the strike, to the division, despair and bitter acceptance at the end of the action.
As a collection, Keith Pattison has brought together some stunning, powerful imagery. There are particular photographs I loved. One with a miner collecting sea coal at the beach, with a smile of conspiratorial cheekiness; a miner and his family at home watching Arthur Scargill on TV in a room of typical early 80s decor, a Turner reproduction and a poster of Karl Marx on the wall; riot police lined up outside a house as a mother holds her baby and looks out from an upstairs window. There are more, but it is the collection as a whole that makes you feel moved, informed and heartened. In these times of recession and cuts, this exhibition of Britain’s recent history is both relevant and palpable. I highly recommend it to everyone.
Cover of "No Redemption" - published by Flambard Press
Pattison’s photographs have been published in the book accompanying the exhibition; his images are introduced by writer David Peace, who interview three of the people caught up in the strikes. There isn’t really a better way to explain the effect of these interviews than the words of the publisher – “their memories, still freshly felt, make explicit the anger, pain, resilience and warmth captured in the photographs.”
Keith Pattison’s images have also been used by Sunderland band Frankie and the Heartstrings on two of their vinyl releases; they played at the book launch.
7" single "Ungrateful" features the work of Keith Patterson