Luke Unsworth's audio-visual examination of Littleton past and present opened at the Coal Mining Museum on Monday (January 26 2009). Pic © Luke Unsworth
Exhibition: Littleton, The National Coal Mining Muesum, Wakefield, until April 26 2009
At the end of 1992, Littleton Colliery in Cannock, Staffordshire was designated as a ‘core’ pit by the Conservative government of the time, sparing the site from the fate of hundreds of other doomed mines across the country.
A year later, in December 1993, Littleton was closed, and 800 workers lost their jobs.
The exhibition describes the "sense of comradeship" at the pit, which closed 16 years ago. Pic © Luke Unsworth
“The colliery was at the heart of the community, and as a youngster living in Cannock I remember it being as much a part of a town as the forest that surrounds it,” remembers Luke Unsworth.
A local boy and audio-visual artist, Unsworth has asked the miners to re-edit pictures he took of the pit when it closed in a multimedia examination of the social, political and physical changes forced upon the town by the resulting industrial and economic upheaval.
Littleton Colliery was closed a year after being assured it was a 'core' site. Pic © Luke Unsworth
“An entire culture disappeared along with the colliery,” he explains, having seen the empty plot turned into a housing development.
“The organised labour force that the miners had once formed has disappeared into an economy now championing the benefits of the services industries and short-term contracts.
Around 800 jobs were lost when the mine closed. Pic © Luke Unsworth
“The children of Cannock, who over so many generations had looked up to their coal miner fathers, now have little connection to their heritage.”
Black and white images from 1993 juxtapose colour images of modern Cannock. Pic © Luke Unsworth
It is this historic knowledge gap Unsworth aims to inform, juxtaposing the black and white photos of nearly 20 years ago – which he feels “create the impression that these events have no relevance to today” – with contrasting, colour snaps of the present, suggesting a greater relevancy for new communities.
Unsworth wants to bring Staffordshire's proud mining heritage to a new generation. Pic © Luke Unsworth
“The aim of the project is to revive the memories of the miners and create discussion between different generations,” says Unsworth, capturing the “language of the pits" in looping videos and interactive DVDs with the help of video artist Ravi Deepres.
Unsworth has spent time documenting the new lives some of the former miners have built. Pic © Luke Unsworth
“Bringing the Littleton exhibition to the National Coal Mining Museum is really the climax of the project for me. The project is very local and indeed personal to the Staffordshire district, so it is fantastic to give it a national platform.”
The subjects of the show played a key role in its development. Pic © Luke Unsworth
“This exhibition is a powerful reminder of the impact that the coal industry once had – and continues to have – on its surrounding communities,” adds Imogen Holmes-Roe, Curator of Art and Photography at the museum.
Museums curator Imogen Holmes-Roe says the display touches upon themes any community can identify with. Pic © Luke Unsworth
“For many, Littleton will evoke important memories, but Unsworth’s photographs also touch upon the effects of social, cultural and physical change, which are themes that any community can identify with.”