roger coulam

The Blast (Where the Earth Bleeds)

"The Blast" is a half a mile long section of the County Durham coastline, a place once 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 mining pollution remains.

Thousands of men and boys mined coal 500 meters below the earth here and miles out under the North Sea. More than 100 were killed in often brutal accidents and those lives and deaths only add poignancy to what remains.

A plateau of coal slurry lies along the base of the cliffs and the "sand" is made of pyrites. Rare chemicals form bright yellow crusts, and blood red pools, the largest of which is known locally as Red Lake. It can be a strange, frustrating, empty and desolate place, but the worst pollution and the final traces of heavy industry are vanishing rapidly as time and tides scour away our violent marks.

This place has become an important part of my life and I have walked and photographed there for a decade. 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 deduce 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. Industrial items still wash up on the Beach but increasingly plastics dominate, often mixing with colliery waste and landfill from previous generations.

Just as local people have mined the slurry for jewellery, and the beaches for sea-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