Chris Killip's book Seacoal is being published this month. (There's some ambiguity about that. Amazon says February; the publisher says May.)
Seacoal is about a tightly-knit community of families who scavenged the beaches at Lynemouth for coal that washed ashore from dumped mine tailings. The people worked in an uneasy, semi-legal relationship to the mine and property owners and the local authorities, and were suspicious of outsiders and meddlers.
Chris Killip's brief, almost terse introduction tells a gripping story in only three pages of his repeated attempts to photograph at the beach as part of his documentary project of the Newcastle area, only to be attacked and run off each time, and how he finally confronted the men in their local pub and managed, with the help of one man who had encountered him before, to gain their trust and acceptance.
It's a classic story of an outsider becoming an insider that reminded me of Danny Lyons' The Bikeriders or Josef Koudelka's Gypsies among other projects. In fact the story's virtually an object lesson about how photographers manage to gain access to insular or closed communities in order to document them. The pictures are gritty, undramatic, unromantic. They merely show how a group of people lived the provisional, extemporized life they led—a life that's gone now.
Killip is a major figure in photography in Britain who is little known here.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.