The Diary: Anton’s exhibition of ‘the last pitmen’

Brian Pashley of Jump. Mobile Plant Operator,'Pit Profiles: Re-profiled, Kellingley Colliery, Yorkshire
Brian Pashley of Jump. Mobile Plant Operator,'Pit Profiles: Re-profiled, Kellingley Colliery, Yorkshire
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IT is an industry as synonymous with South Yorkshire as whippets, real ale and underachieving football teams.

Mining employed thousands of the region’s sons before the collieries were closed in the Eighties and Nineties.

Alan Blackburn of Darton Barnsley, Heading Worker.  Pit Profiles: Re-profiled, Kellingley Colliery.

Alan Blackburn of Darton Barnsley, Heading Worker. Pit Profiles: Re-profiled, Kellingley Colliery.

Now a new photo exhibition, Pit Profiles, will shine a Davy lamp on the men who may just be the area’s last generation of miners.

Dozens of South Yorkshire folk still travel daily to work at one of England’s largest remaining deep shaft pits, Kellingley Colliery, in North Yorkshire.

They and their colleagues from across the north of England have been portrayed by Barnsley photographer Anton Want, pictured below, in a bid to capture the people still bringing up coal in 21st century Britain.

The 20 pictures of 20 different workers have been commissioned by the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield. They will be displayed there for the next three months and collated in a book before being saved for posterity in the centre’s permanent archive.

Alongside the images - snapped over eight months in 2011 - will be pictures from a similar project undertaken in the Forties and Fifties when artist Hubert Andrew Freeth sketched 60 miners from across the entire country.

“Obviously the reduction of the industry has been well documented,” says Anton, of Barnsley town centre. “But this exhibition shows that the skills and experience have been passed on and survive in our region. It’s on-going. It hasn’t been completely lost.”

Among the six South Yorkshire workers snapped are Brian Pashley, a mobile plant operator of Jump; Alan Blackburn, a heading worker of Darton; and George Wood, a deputy of Birdwell.

“These guys have real pride in their work,” says Anton. “A lot of them told me about how when they first started in their teens they would look at these huge older miners who had worked down the pits for decades with awe. Well, now they are the older guys themselves - and they have all the knowledge and skill that comes with that. That’s what I wanted to capture.”

Each image comes with a 500-word written profile of the person. And for Anton himself, the project completes something of a personal circle.

“When I first started as a photographer in the Eighties, I worked on a local newspaper,” explains the 42-year-old father of two. “I took a lot of pictures of the strikes. I’m a South Yorkshire lad and the mines are in my blood. I’ve always wanted to go back and take pictures under better circumstances.”

Pit Profiles runs at the National Coal Mining Museum at Caphouse Colliery, Wakefield, until May 11.