After the coal dust came

On the evening of Monday 1st April the club hosted a fascinating presentation by Castleford-based John & Bridget Gill and their daughter Freya. The title of the presentation was “After The Coal Dust” and comprised a series of photographs taken by John, Bridget and Freya. The idea was to provide a dispassionate look at what comes after the closure of an area’s main industry and focal point. Although many of the images were taken in the local “coal towns” they expanded their view to other places such as Scarborough and York as they found that other traditional industries such as steel and textiles have seen a similar decline. The photographs put a face to some of the people in these areas. Photographs from After The Coal Dust have been exhibited at The Great Yorkshire Show, The National Mining Museum for England and The Bradford Industrial Museum.

The show started with some shots taken outside Kellingley Colliery as it closed and moved into the communities. It had been coal and the economy surrounding it which had held these communities together and despite some investment a lot of the people felt left behind and forgotten. Most of the images were from our local area and had a resonance with the audience but the locations did include Bradford as it too experienced the demise of the textile industry. The images often portrayed a generalised disconnect between the subjects and life elsewhere. John provided the commentary as a procession of wonderfully evocative images were displayed on the large screen. His varied and interesting talk put the images into a context, both in terms of the society and the photography.

John explained that basically it could all be viewed as street photography but with a theme running throughout. All the images bar 2 or 3 were candid photographs without the subject knowing they were being photographed. He felt that any subject behaves or appears different when they know they are being photographed and he wanted the “un-posed” image. He recognised that there was some risk, although he has only received one death threat!! He tends to walk around rather than selecting a particular sight and waiting for a subject to come into it. He tends to use a wide angle lens on a micro for thirds camera which keeps the whole thing unobtrusive and less likely to cause interest. He does accept you need to get in close but if the subject is concentrating on something else, even if it is daydreaming, then one can still go unnoticed. He has to work quickly and it is a case of “practice makes perfect”. In the end it has to become instinctive. For his normal work he does not do too much Photoshop processing – just sufficient to highlight and bring the subject to the fore.

In the second half the stream of excellent and though-provoking images continued. He started by showing a group of images he classed as “controversial” in that they sparked a lot of interest and debate on social media. The subjects included children, the homeless and obesity. He followed this with a section showing a lighter side which provoked laughter and comment. He finished with a section on portraits. In these he had eliminated most of the background by cropping or processing in Photoshop. This took away the context and created a pseudo-studio image so that the viewer’s full attention was on the person in isolation. Some of these were stunning – full of attitude and emotion which probably could not have been created or simulated in a studio.

Throughout the evening the audience was captivated by the images displayed and John’s narrative. At the end there were many questions and everyone agreed it had been a really good evening. John, Bridget and Freya’s work is best seen rather than talked about and you can find many of the here and I do urge anyone who missed the talk to have a look at them.

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