The Coal Coast. Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen study visit

Hawthorn Hive, afternoon 31 May 2000. Beached section of a mine ventilation duct; bricks among boulders. © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

The Coal Coast exhibition features documentary photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen work on the East Durham coal coast taken between 1999 and 2002.

The study visit was held on the opening day with a talk from the artist who described how she became involved in the project to document the legacy of coal mining on the North East Coast and its communities. She stayed in a caravan a couple of nights a week and spent the whole day on the beach from dawn to night time.

The photographs document the effects of coal mining on the coast including the litter and mineral/coal deposits. The pictures are in colour and the composition and focus on colour, whether in landscapes or close-up composition is extremely well done.

Does the beauty of the images work with or against the focus on human industrial debris?

I was interested in discussing composition with OCA tutor Wendy McMurdo. The artist’s composition varied with some very symmetrical images and some off-centre. I tend towards symmetry in my composition which is something I am trying to get away from but I was interested in Wendy’s take on this as so many artists do use symmetry. Wendy asked which were the most interesting pictures to look at and I had to admit the unsymmetrical ones had the most interest. Although, I do still like symmetry! In the pictures below – Dawdon, evening September 2001. Your eye follows the receding wooden piles and zig-zagging waves to the end of the cliff and rock which is to the left of centre – however, the horizon is pretty much straight across the centre. In Crimdon Dene, the image is much more symmetrical. The image feels more abstract although it is clear what it is. I feel it is still an effective image.

The Coal Coast
Dawdon, evening 11 September 2001. Wooden piles, remains of supports for rail track for wagons tipping pit waste in the sea. © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen. 


The Coal Coast
Crimdon Dene, afternoon 15 June 2000. Coal Dust, winnowed from shaly pit waste by action of the sea, streaming on the surface of the sand. © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen 

The Coal Coast

I was interested in Konttinen’s detailed and poetic captions for her photographs, for example the above picture is captioned: “Hawthorn Hive. Afternoon 24 May 2000. Iron pyrites pounded to sand, bleached shells of starfish: footprints of bird.” I like the way this image seems to be black and white until you notice the tiny patch of yellow/brown on the lower starfish.

The exhibition can be found here


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