Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Photographing Coal Towns

Coal towns and America........images that are near iconic, BUT I ask, are they accurate? A coal town, by definition was created to house coal miners so they could live in close distance to a coal mine. LEST WE FORGET, THEY MINE THAT COAL.

Bartley West Virginia Coal Miners Memorial

I am disappointed when I look at coal town photography geared towards the perspective of the average American who has by and large NEVER been to a coal town, or really any industrial town. The images are almost always a pic of a man, or several men emerging from a coal mine, covered in coal dust and carrying their dinner bucket. That's vital, BUT thats also where the average American has flash frozen the coal town. Its one dimension. One small idiom, and it invites the usual discourse.

The hipster, the cool person who thrives on the genre of industrial decay, music or photos, provides the real fix. Hey, its a company town.....Photos are an explosion of stark black and whites, apathy, decay, an out of control spiral that is only made silent by a bulldozer, in these places, these "similiar" places, they seek an answer to the morbidly curious, LOOK AT WHAT was LEFT BEHIND.
Bartley Tipple Bottom, Bartley West Virginia

There is no flesh, no life, no death, its just a post industrial hibernation.......I detest this. Its not by intention. MOST people crave the ability to categorize. It brings comfort. NOT only can a person create control, they can create knowledge...Its easy, its natural and its also false.

I decided in 2003 to start easy. I went back to my Moms coal town. Whitby, West Virginia. I played there many many Summers, I LOVED IT. THEN, the big buzz kill. Its not that the coal industry was gonna croak, I knew that. Its NOT the fact that you cant go home again, I knew that. It was the literal death of a place I knew. The death was not so hard, honestly, compared to the attitudes I encountered afterwards. People NEED to look at any one place, in this instance a coal town, and just "know" what it was.......

11 years later, I try to challenge that with the photographs I take. I am asking not to look at what is, or what was...I am asking: What could have been here? Who were they? How many? How much? How did they play, or die, or worship?........It is now time to show people just how different each place really was...Come by and look.......Each of these places is an invitation.
Boissevain VA, Pocahontas Fuel Company Store


  1. Looking forward to reading/seeing more of what you have to offer here, Mark. Sure like it so far! Thanks for sharing the photos, the history and your thoughts.

  2. Mark, Good luck with the blog. If you get half the followers from the fb page you will be in the tall cotton. I have maintained a blog for my HS graduating class for about 10 years. When the hits slowed, I slowed the updates. I don't post much on the fb page because my background is a little different than most that contribute. I did grow up in WV coal country, Central WV, surrounded by both deep and strip coal operations. My experience was more with the families of coal operators, not coal miners. Most of my coal related experiences are actually with strip coal since most of my friends parents (those in the coal business) growing up owned strip coal operations and in their defense all of them did great reclaimation, far and above what was required at the time. Having said that several friends fathers did own deep coal mines. Don't hold that against me...It just gave me a little different view. Of course all that and $5 will get you a coffee at Starbucks. Again, good luck with the Blog, I look forward to reading a lot more comments. Brooke

  3. Hello Mark I think its good that the West Virginians learn a little more about there state...

  4. Good luck with the father in law Carmel Burnside worked 52yrs in the coal mines at montcoal wv..Raleigh county..i will be back checking for new comments.

  5. Dear Mark,
    I think you are going to enjoy having this blog and we will enjoy following it and you. Best of luck. Not sure what all the choices mean.

  6. So cool! Good luck...I know you will have a HUGE following!

  7. Looking good! Good luck. Can't wait to see more pictures!



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