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photo-eye Gallery: Selected Works – Colette Campbell-Jones


photo-eye Gallery Selected Works - Colette Campbell-Jones photo-eye Gallery's current exhibit titled Selected Works is a group show of photographic prints highlighting the diverse styles and subject matter embraced by photo-eye Gallery artists. This week we feature Colette Campbell-Jones.


This week Selected Works dives in deep with Colette Campbell-Jones about Abyss #2 a large 60" mural detailing the last remaining deep shaft mine in Wales. Abyss #2 is part of a larger body of work titled Stories from the Underground, and this week's article is an excerpt from three part interview with Campbell-Jones published in 2011. Follow the links at the end of the piece if you are interested in reading the original statement in its entirety.  



Abyss #2 – Colette Campbell-Jones (click for enlargement)

"I'll talk about what went into making of the underground mural. There were fragments from a number of stories, one from an uncle, combined with current 'stories' told to me by miners I spent some time with while at Tower colliery. I also incorporated my own visceral impressions when I visited down the pit. Much of a story's impact is in the way it is told; so much is lost through writing. So much of the power is in the oral transmission.

My husband's uncle Vernon (no biological connection) and his wife Val and I sat around a table having lunch inside their glassed-in porch looking out onto the garden. Above a table was a large photograph of Vernon in his youth during a boxing championship. He held several titles. Vernon told me about being underground before the mines were modernized, before the nationalization of the industry. He worked an 18" seam — a tunnel barely high enough to get his body into. It was very hot in that seam (sometimes the heat underground could get up into the triple digits) so Vernon took off his shirt. There was barely any room to raise his arm up to dig out the coal with his pick.

Detail from Abyss #2 – Colette Campbell-Jones

When he returned home, his mother became angry with him when she saw that his back was bleeding cut up into vertical strips from scraping his back against the top of the tunnel every time he swung his pick. I was absorbing this story when Vernon launched into 'Oh but all the fun we had.' Vernon was beaming.

     'What do you mean?' I asked.
     'All the joking and laughing,' he replied.
     'That story in the tunnel sounded awful!'
     'Yeah, it was, we worked hard, and it was hot! But everything was turned into a joke... I'd go back down in a heartbeat!'
     'I don't understand, that doesn't make sense to me.'
     'I went to other jobs, thought they might be safer, I was in steel and then I worked at the docks for a while but then I went back down the pit.'
     'For the money?'
     'It was more money, but that's not why I went back down the pit.'
     'Why then?'
     'Those other jobs just weren't the same. You'd just do your work and that's it. The people weren't the same. I missed my buddies, we were all brothers. We looked out after each other and had fun. Nothing else was like it, the camaraderie...'

Detail from Abyss #2 – Colette Campbell-Jones

I asked Vernon if he could give me an example of some of the ways they would have 'fun.' He told me about a time that while underground a group of men put Vernon on their shoulders carrying him through the tunnels, passing him around to other groups of men.

'Then they completely covered me in muck so that I was completely black, we were all joking and laughing and then we all got into a trolley and rode around the mine for hours.'

Vernon's face was one wide smile during this retelling. As I asked him more details and he said that most of what happened down there stays down there, that unless you're a miner, you'd not be able to understand.

'We don't even talk the same way down there. Things we can't repeat. When we go to the showers and put on our good clothes to leave work, we become gentlemen. Underground we are "just the boys."'

Detail from Abyss #2 – Colette Campbell-Jones

I was a guest at Tower colliery, the last remaining deep shaft mine in Wales. Until its closure in 2008, it was the oldest deep shaft colliery in the world, working continuously for two hundred years. In its early years, this mine had a reputation for militancy. Each generation of miners here felt proud to be apart of this lineage and up until its closing Tower flew a red flag (in the past the flag had been dunked in sheep blood) in remembrance of a miner, martyred during a 19th century uprising over mine safety. The miners I met at Tower were the last to maintain their jobs in this dying industry and therefore they were amongst the most skilled. They were slightly older, including Tower's union chairman having worked underground for more than fifty years. Steeped in history, Tower had been bought out from the British Coal Board by the miner's themselves (during the Thatcher years, to prevent its closure) and they now owned and operated the mine themselves. In the following decades Tower was profitable and had become one of the world's safest deep shaft mines with state of the art computer and engineering technologies." —Colette Campbell-Jones

View Stories from the Underground 

Read Colette Campbell-Jones' three part interview on Stories from the Underground:
Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Read more Selected Works Blog Posts

Selected Works is currently on view at photo-eye Gallery and will be up through mid March. For more information or to purchase prints please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly at 505.988.5152 x 121 or anne@photoeye.com or Gallery Associate Lucas Shaffer at 505.988.5152 x 114 or lucas@photoeye.com

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