roger coulam

The Blast

"The Blast" is a half a mile long section of the County Durham coastline, which until 20 years ago was part of the notorious Coal Coast, an area blighted by heavy industry. Dawdon Colliery sat on the cliff top here for 84 years, dumping millions of tonnes of coal waste straight onto the beach and into the North Sea. A major clean-up began in 1997 but pollution remains.

A plateau of coal slurry and landfill lies along the base of the cliffs and the "sand" is made of pyrites. Strange objects still appear on the beach, some from landfill, others from the slurry, whilst rare chemicals form bright yellow crusts, and blood red pools, the largest of which is known locally as Red Lake.

This place has become an important part of my life and I have walked and photographed around there for almost a decade. It is a space I know intimately and one that appalls and enthralls in equal measures. It can be a strange, frustrating, empty and desolate place, but the pollution and the final traces of heavy industry are vanishing rapidly as time and tides scour away our violent marks.

As my understanding of this area as a cultural landscape has developed, my work has partly become about how we walk and move through a space, about how that makes one feel, and what can we understand from our responses and the experience.

Whilst walking my regular route alone through The Blast, I have always collected small objects of interest, wondering how they might inform future generations about the place and the culture. With future archaeology in mind I gather artefacts, to see what they might reveal once I take them home and make simple images with them. This allows me to view the objects in a different context whilst helping me to retain a connection to the place they came from. Just as local people have mined the landfill for jewellery, and the beaches for coal, sea-glass and copper wire, in a small way I too continue to mine "Blast" for whatever items the relentless tides or recent human activities have left exposed. 

NB: This work references “Coal Coast” by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen