Art at the rockface
PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 March 2014
The multiple award-winning Geevor Tin Mine plays host to an incredible exhibition exploring the photographic record of Cornish mining over two decades. CAROL BURNS discovers more
A key centre for the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, Geevor Tin Mine is the perfect setting for an exhibition of some of the many photographs taken by John Peck over a period of more than 25 years.
John was commissioned in 1972 by Wheal Jane Mine to take a series of photographs for an exhibition but went on to become the official mine photographer up until the mine closed in 1992. During this time he also recorded working life at South Crofty Mine. He recalls wet, humid and noisy working conditions – but found the work exciting as he captured the people who worked in one of Cornwall’s primary industries: this fascination comes through in his wonderfully evocative images that capture an all but dead industry.
“I was quite into my potholing so to me it was an adventure,” he tells me. “And someone was going to pay me for it!” But unlike potholes which are naturally occurring, the mines are man-made, which makes them more dangerous and vulnerable to collapse.”
During his time, he got to know how hazardous the work was. He photographed fatal accidents, as part of the company’s investigations. The men he says, never forgot they were working in a potentially deadly environment. “There’s a wonderful camaraderie,” he says of the people he met. “The miners relied on each other; you had to have faith in the men who were with you. I spent a few hours a fortnight there, but they were there full-time.”
“I remember it got hotter the further you went down,” says John of his time in the Wheal Jane and South Crofty mine where he spend several hours photographing every month for 20 years. “Wheal Jane went below 1,500ft and South Crofty was deeper than that - 440 fathoms, which is well over 2,000 feet.
For a photographer, the conditions were often challenging, he remembers. “Sometimes the conditions were diabolical. At times you were standing in a protected area, looking into an area where an accident had happened and there were bits of rock still falling.”
At the time he didn’t know he was recording what would become an important part of history. “If I had known, I would have taken more photographs of the men - but that wasn’t what I was being paid for,” he says. “When the mines were closing, there were one or two people who came down to take photographs because they knew the industry was coming to a close. It would be interesting to see how they compare to the ones I took.”