Britain’s coal mining industry has been in a long slow decline for decades. It’s been well documented elsewhere and is an emotive subject that I have no wish to get bogged down with. But with the recent drive to lower carbon emissions, the closure of the coal fired power stations has seen a dramatic reduction in the need for coal (notwithstanding the fact that we have significant reserves and there is still a demand for it from the cement and steel industries – another argument I don’t want to get bogged down with). Hatfield Colliery was one of the last deep coal mines in the UK, closing in 2015, the same year as nearby Kellingley and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire. Whereas those mines have now been cleared, Hatfield remains standing for the moment.
I’d done my usual research on Google Earth, Flickr, Geograph and Google Images so had a reasonable idea of the topography and layout of the site, and what kind of pictures were possible. But I’m always conscious that the map is not the territory and research is only speculative preparation. Weather is different daily, things get moved, changed, demolished, access can change, and a whole lot of other variables can come into play. And it was the weather that proved my biggest challenge – I’m not used to shooting in bright sun against a featureless blue sky (unless I’m on holiday in the med). If you’ve seen my photography before you will probably have noticed that the majority feature some pretty gloomy skies, and I normally respond to those who comment that I live in the north of England, not the north of a Africa – this is quite often what the weather is like and I can’t always choose the optimum time for photography from a light perspective. That said, as a black and white photographer I definitely prefer sky’s like these as it gives some texture and tonal balance to the photograph.
So bright sunlight it was then, and being January, it was low in the sky. I decided to capitalise on this by looking for shadows and interaction of light and structure where I could but to a large extent struggled to figure out how I could make the most of it and decided to see what I could do creatively in post-processing.
As it was, this was quite straight forward – park up, walk round the barrier and wander across the wasteland to the perimeter fence. The big Russian dog handler and his very barky dog meant that this was as far as I got, but he was fine as long as I stayed on my side of the fence.
So as I photographed and the dog barked itself hoarse, all was well, although the surreal introduction of soft rock music played at a volume akin to a small festival from the aforementioned Russians portakabin (presumably to drown out the noise of aforementioned barky dog) added an unusual twist to the day. I’m not sure I’d recommend having a power ballad soundtrack to a photographic expedition but on reflection it wasn’t overly distracting.
What’s left isn’t much – winding houses, headgear, fans and another large building between the winding houses that I’m unclear as the purpose. And finally the large coal loading conveyor that took coal from the mine to the adjacent railway line where it would be loaded into merry go round trains and moved to one of the power stations nearby.