Roger described how he was contacted two weeks before last Christmas by the BBC and offered a commission to record the closure of Kellingley Colliery. Apparently one of the miners the Beeb had been talking to has a copy of one of Tiley’s books depicting his work documenting the miners in another colliery. It didn’t take long for Roger to accept the job and was soon on his way to a pre-booked hotel.
Before being permitted down the pit Tiley had to attend a Health and Safety briefing, which consisted of an hour-long video; access to the coalface was transport by elevator, ‘train’ and a scary high-speed coal conveyor.
Because many of the miners had been laid off and those working on the closure were labelled as ‘SCABS’ the situation on site was very sensitive. When in the works canteen no one was permitted to order Sausage Chips And Beans (SCAB) on pain of removal from site.
Tiley informed us that he delayed commencing the shoot to form a relationship with the miners and feels that it’s very important to generate a rapport with the subject of the shoot regardless of the possibility of missing photo opportunities due to initial relationship building. Roger talked about attitudes and the changing atmosphere during month-long shoot and despite the imminent pit closure the miners were always friendly and helpful to him.
Tiley stayed for the full 12 hour shifts with the miners, which helped to prove him worthy of their trust and his unique position as the only photographer on site with the opportunity to capture the changing mood of the miners.
Tiley said that his Nikon D810 frequently steamed-up due to the humid atmosphere, also that he only used a 35mm lens with the available light from miners’ helmets as flash units are not permitted in the mine. Tiley said that the miners drank two gallons of water per day just to remain hydrated in the humid atmosphere.
We were shown an image of a hesitant man charged with the job of totally shutting-down the pit, all the pumps and ventilation equipment, signifying the end of the colliery. The image was of a man whose hand was hovering over the computer mouse to deliver the final blow.
Roger suggested that we should all trust our instincts and quoted Dorothea Lange’s comment about returning to the Pea Pickers Camp where she captured her iconic image of Migrant Mother whilst working for the Farm Security Administration during the US Depression in 1936. Lange had been driving home on her seven-hour journey when she saw the sign ‘Pea Pickers Camp’, initially she drove on by, but then after 20 miles she felt an “inner compulsion” to turn back. What resulted was the photograph that changed her life.
He also mentioned the David Hurn quote “you have to be there to take it”. Tiley trained with David Hurn who set-up the internationally famous School of Documentary Photography in Newport in 1973.
Roger said that he’s been accused of being “traditional, old fashioned” in his approach to documentary photography, but it’s a format that I relate to and enjoy. He also said, “what’s the point of photographing things you don’t want to?”
Tiley was lamenting over the current situation with providing images to the media, stressing that all the newspapers want is a photo to support the text and not necessarily for the picture to tell a story. So many images are captured on mobile ‘phones or DSLRs capturing 12 frames per second for instant uploading to the news agency, these agencies are now only willing to pay less than they did 20 years ago.
Documentary Photographer Tom Stoddart, who I saw at the Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham, advises that when supplying images for media clients that one has to “make it easy and cheap for Picture Editors”, which echoed the sentiments of Tiley.
The remarkable thing is that Tiley said he currently makes 50% of his income from photos taken 30 years ago, “it’s always worth producing quality products” he added.
Roger Tiley’s talk was very interesting, engaging and inspirational and confirmed the path of my photographic journey and gave me a sense of clarity of direction, an enjoyable night out.
My evening was rounded-off by meeting one of my photography heroes, Magnum Photographer David Hurn. It was great to have a conversation about photography with a man whose work I enjoy and respect.