Monday 8 July 2024

Have a look at the out of sight coal industry 5/5

The 112 plate photos in this excellent book are a small selection of the 2,800 Russell Lee took in the five months from June 1946 while visiting more than ninety mining communities in eighteen states. The Truman administration was concerned about strikes and the living conditions of coal miners and commissioned Joel Boone to write a report about American coal: 'A medical survey of the bituminous-coal industry.' 

Filmmaker Pare Lorentz suggested his friend Lee as the photographer for the survey because of his work ethic and the powerful images he took of the Depression years for the Farm Security Administration. Most coal mines were in small rural locations, away from the public eye where companies owned and supplied everything for miners and their families and charged for everything. They all had railroad tracks but frequently no roads other than rough tracks. Lee's photos perfectly capture the communities with their houses (built a few feet from the railroad tracks) a general store, a church, a school and maybe a swimming pool.

Looking through the photos I was struck by the phrase: a picture is worth a thousand words but it's reading Lee's captions that make certain photos come alive. Page 116 shows a little girl drinking from a saucepan the caption reveals that the water is red and thick with iron rust. Page 137 has a a lady getting water for washing from a stream, the caption says that livestock wade in the stream and a dead animal was a short distance from where she was collecting the water.

The book has a twenty-nine-page illustrated essay about the coal communities and the Boone report. The photos (all with excellent captions) use a 175 screen printed on a good matt art paper. I think it's worth saying that the book is about the living conditions and people in the coal towns with less than twenty-five photos covering the actual mining operations. 


No comments:

Post a Comment