Thoresby. The end of an era

By Chris Upton

personThe 10th July 2015 was a landmark date in the history of Nottinghamshire. When the last shift at Thoresby Colliery finished on that day not only did it mark the end of 90 years of mining in the village of Edwinstowe but it signals the end of mining in Nottinghamshire.

The pit opened in 1925 and over the years has employed tens of thousands of local people. It was one of 46 coalmines in Nottinghamshire, which supplied more than 14 million tonnes of coal per year at their peak in the early 1960s.

The first two shafts were sunk to 690m in 1925 and subsequently deepened in the 1950s to the current pit bottom at around 900m depth.

Thoresby Colliery was the first to have fully mechanised coal production and also the first to achieve an annual saleable output of more than a million tons, it became a star performer in the British coal mining industry.

In the late 1980s it raised output to exceed 2 million tons, regularly smashing it’s production records, and the colliery became known as the Jewel in the crown of Nottinghamshire mines. A crown sits proudly on the headstocks in recognition of this achievement.

When the coal industry was nationalised in 1947 it employed a million men at 1,503 pits; prior to the miners’ strike in 1984, there were 180,000 miners at 170 pits. Today there are just two deep mines left, employing about 5,000 men, at Thoresby and Kellingley in Yorkshire. Kellingley will suffer the same fate as Thoresby and closes in the autumn.

UK Coal say market pressures have led to the closure of Thoresby Colliery. Coal generates more than a third of Britain’s electricity, but it is cheaper to import coal from countries such as Russia, South Africa and Colombia than to mine it in the UK.

For the past few months I have been recording the colliery, it’s buildings, plant and people for posterity. It was my aim to create a comprehensive record of the pit at a specific point in time immediately prior to its closure.

It was a chance conversation after giving a camera club lecture that started the ball rolling. A chap in the audience worked at Thoresby and was unfortunately in the first wave of redundancies. He asked if I would be interested in visiting the colliery to take a few pictures. It was a fantastic opportunity and I jumped at the chance. He put me in touch with the Health and Safety manager, I explained what I would like to do and we were off and running. It was at this point, after I had gained their agreement to document the colliery, that the full extent of the task dawned on me.

Starting the project

I visited the colliery on seven occasions, at different times of day, in different lighting conditions, including dawn and dusk. I planned each shoot but found that an outline plan whilst retaining a degree of flexibility to react to opportunities worked best.

At the outset I just toured the site to give me an understanding of the buildings, the machinery, the operation and the people. I took snaps to create a digital scrapbook to help me plan my approach. Essentially I was imbibing the atmosphere much as I would do when visiting a foreign destination for the first time. I wanted to get a real feeling for the place before I started the photography in earnest.

Health & Safety manager Grant was so supportive of my visits giving me more time than I could have wished for.  Even coming in at 3.30am for a dawn shoot and returning to work late in the evening to get “the best of the light” didn’t diminish his enthusiasm. In fact he joked that, after watching me, he would now be able to take the best holiday snaps ever! I hope he does.

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Gear used

All of the images were shot on a Fujifilm X-T1 or X-E1 camera using a selection of Fujifilm XF lenses including the 10-24, 18-55 and 55-200 zoom lenses and 14, 23, 35 and 56mm primes. I also used a Nissin i40 flash for some shots, though preferred to use natural light wherever possible.

For my portraits, the unobtrusive Fuji equipment allowed me to concentrate on building a rapport with my subjects rather than intimidate them with a large DSLR and f2.8 lens combination. Miners might be tough guy’s and supermodels they certainly are not but they seemed to relax pretty quickly in front of my Fuji lenses.

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There were several challenges to overcome not least the light levels that were typically pretty low in all of the buildings. Because of the poor light I used a tripod fitted with a ball and socket head for as many shots as possible. My cameras are fitted with arca swiss type plates so that I can switch from landscape format to portrait very easily and without having to waste time readjusting the tripod.

The mix of different light sources from tungsten, to fluorescent and natural meant it was difficult to assess the ideal colour temperature. However the decision early on to convert all the images to black & white certainly helped counter that problem!

In a coal mine dust was another inevitable and unavoidable issue. As the miners told me it’s not only the dust you can see that is the problem and I was very careful when changing lenses and using two bodies certainly helped. Thankfully the in camera sensor cleaning worked well and I was pleasantly surprised at the minimum amount of dust spotting required.

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Working on a project

As my photography has progressed I have found that I prefer to look at a series of images that tell a story rather than seeing individual impactful pictures. Whilst I have adopted this storytelling approach in my travel and landscape photography this project was a whole different ballgame. This wasn’t going to be a six or ten image set but a large body of work that had to be planned and created in a certain style. I found this experience fascinating, though at first it was pretty daunting. However after a couple of visits I had captured some shots I was very pleased with and the plan started to fall into place. I think the discipline required in a project such as this has helped me to improve my photography and it felt good to be succeeding in this new genre of social documentary photography.

In an attempt to capture the “feel” of the colliery, and to bring completeness to the project, I also recorded various sounds around the pit and organised a series of interviews with miners past and present. I will be producing mini AV’s including these sounds and using the miner’s comments in my presentations.

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Stretch yourself

It is very easy to stick to what we know in photography and limit yourself to a particular genre. Whilst my experience as a travel photographer, where you are required to be adept at many different genres, undoubtedly helped me there were aspects of this project that were not so familiar. As a result I feel I have grown as a photographer and I would urge you to move out of your comfort zone and try something new. There will be similar opportunities in your area, seek and ye shall find!

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Capturing a piece of history

As I progressed through the project I realised that I was not only taking pictures for myself but that I was actually recording a piece of history, an enduring record of a place that, in just a few months time, would be gone forever. With that came a feeling of responsibility, not only to do myself justice but also to represent the life and work of the mining community. Apart from my family photographs, this project is the most important and worthwhile piece of work that I have ever created. Whilst there is clearly interest in the work now, what will its importance be in another 10 or 20 years?

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A personal perspective

This project has been a fantastic experience. It has improved my photography, taken me into a different genre and enlightened my knowledge of an otherwise mysterious industry.

It has been a pleasure to work with the team at Thoresby, without whom I would not have been able to produce this body of work. Whilst the colliery may not draw its workers from the immediate village area, as in years gone by, their camaraderie, team spirit, hard work and no nonsense attitude in this tough and uncompromising industry epitomise the best of British workers. The closure of Thoresby truly is the end of an era.

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What next?

I feel it is important to showcase my images to as wide an audience as possible, especially in the local area. Therefore, after securing feature in the local and national press, I will be staging a major exhibition in Nottinghamshire and am planning to produce a book – more details to follow.

To see more Thoresby images and to keep updated on the project developments please visit my website  www.chrisuptonphotography.com

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Aspire and Fujifilm – Becoming a Storyteller with the X-Pro1 and X-T1

For those who don’t know, Aspire Photography are based in the Lake District. Set amongst the beautiful and dramatic landscape, along a windy road and built within converted stable yard, you have to walk over an old cattle grid to enter. This may not sound like a very poetic or creative start, but hang on a mo. As you walk over the cattle grid something really rather magical happens. You can’t see it, you can’t smell or taste it, but you can feel it. It’s as though invisible fairies are perched on the gates and sprinkle you with fairy dust as you walk into the entrance.

You may be thinking that I’ve had a bit too much to drink, or perhaps been out in the sun for too long, but bear with me.

Aspire Photography (rather, multi-award winning Aspire Photography) are a very special group of photography trainers, running courses for all different levels throughout the year. They specialise in styled shoots and empowering photographers to understand how they can become better photographers, and how to run a successful photography business. They also have a strong, but by no means exclusive, female engagement. It’s not just down to things looking pretty, or sets being styled to the most amazing standard. What Aspire teach is that it’s a totally safe environment to ask questions, to challenge your limits and to play – to really play with photographic techniques and leave with a portfolio of new images and a fresh outlook on your personal style of photography.

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One of the reasons we wanted to engage with the Aspire “tribe” is because the X-Series of CSC cameras has really connected with female photographers – they love how light the system is, the amazing image quality and the damage limitation the price point has on their business expenditure.

The day started with Kerry Hendry, our first UK female photographer, talking us through her journey from Nikon to Fujifilm. Why did she decide to make the switch? What did it mean to her style of photography? We then move on to the technical aspects of the X-T1, X-Pro1 and lens line-up. There’s a mixture of attendees. Some are curious and open to the idea of the X-Series and others are already X converts but want to know how to get more out of their camera.

6After lunch the real fun begins, and I mean the opportunity to play! Three models have been dressed to embrace the Midsummer’s Night Theme and amazing stages of beautiful woodland fantasy scenery were created to make an amazing photographic landscape. Everyone was encouraged to interact with the models, to capture stunning still images that would demonstrate the creative capabilities of the camera and to have fun. The images from the day, from all the attendees were stunning.

I interviewed both Kerry and Catherine to understand their view of the day:

Why Fuji?

Kerry Hendry – Love The Image

Going back to using Fuji has been a remarkably natural progression for me.  I shot grainy Fuji film as a teenager and fell in love with the Fuji way right back then.

I am the one who misses the smell of film in the fridge!  More recently I’d gotten drawn into the whole ‘bigger is better’ perception – and that’s all it is, a perception – and it just didn’t feel right.  I was looking to find my photographic mojo again – and bought a Fuji X-E2 and one kit lens, and I’ve not looked back.

I adore the unique image quality the Fuji’s produce, after all, quality is still the primary influencer.  The smaller, lighter system gives allows me to feel free again – to try new things, to capture landscapes without 10kg of kit in my bag.  Travelling light in any respect is liberating – and for me, using Fuji kit has made me excited about photography again, given me new inspiration – and it also seems to bring a smile to my face.

I’ve worked with Aspire for almost a decade, in a marketing capacity and as a photographer – the Aspire way really does change your life!

The team teaches you to look at your strengths, concerns, opportunities, your creative ‘wish list’ and so many other aspects of becoming a better photographer – whether that’s as a hobby or with the aim to going pro.  And then of course, they help you achieve these goals.

On the Aspire/Fuji courses we leave the every day aspects of life – pressures, distractions and worries – at the Aspire gate.

Once you drive onto the estate it’s all about freedom to express your creativity within – while learning and developing too.

On the Fuji days of course we talk kit – and there’s the opportunity for guests to try and of the cameras and lenses they like – including all the latest releases.

Many courses will talk theory, but there’s no better way that putting what you learn, or new things you want to try, straight into practice on a professionally styled shoot.

It’s the perfect opportunity to capture amazing images for your portfolio, or simply immerse yourself in a friendly, explorative environment in which to learn.

Think gorgeous models, magical styling, likeminded new friends to work with, technical expertise to quiz – and of course Fuji freedom & fun!

Catherine –

Aspire Photography Training designs educational programs that teach and inform whilst inspiring those to push the boundaries of their photography.

We train those that have a keen interest in photography and those who are passionate about photography.  Whether you are a hobbyist or seasoned professional we have a range of courses to suit all.  We have been a significant influencer on some of the best businesses in the UK.  Education is at the core of all we do.

We believe the Fujifilm X-Pro1 range will revolutionise the perception of what a professional photographer should look like and already is essential gear for a professional to have over their shoulder. Women and men alike are leaping to change over to the X range, all for differing reasons.  We have witnessed photographers reach out to the X-range to seek sheer quality of the product, we also have seen many photographers change to the X-range to liberate themselves from an overweight camera bag, enabling them to deal with any scenario with ease. The Fuji X-Pro1 is high on Aspire’s agenda, we will be giving this camera and system a great deal of conversation, time and training space. The X range is making it’s mark with the professional photographers who are at the coal face of weddings, commercial and portrait shoots, mainly due to the freedom given and the sheer level of technical ability it gives them on a daily basis.

Aspire Photography Training is all about looking ahead, liberating and thinking out of the box.  In fact we don’t even have a box, just a broad and open mind to all the possibilities photography can give you when you choose to think creativity.

The next Aspire and Fujifilm workshop takes place on Wed 20th Aug, in the Lake District.

All images by Kerry Hendry at Love the Image.