Voices in the Coalshed: Martyn Pitt
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Voices in the Coalshed: Martyn Pitt

How often has one of your photographs been spoiled by too much, or too little, light? How many times have you peered at an image trying to work out what exactly you were trying to capture?

Imagine then the difficulty you might have taking photographs in the depths of a working coal mine.

This was the job of Martyn Pitt.

Born in 1965, Pitt developed an interest in photography at an early age – he had his first SLR camera at the age of 13. When he left school, at 16, he became an office apprentice at Florence Colliery and from there progressed into photography.

In 1985 he became the industry’s National Photographer and his work tells the story of the last twenty years of coal mining in the UK; many of his photographs were used in Coal News, the newspaper of the mining industry. He takes us from British Coal to RJB Mining and on to UK Coal.

Photographing what went on underground was not easy. Special flash units were used to capture the images and he also used a technique which he called “painting” whereby he used a powerful torch to “paint” a scene with light as his camera captured the image.

He photographed many things: royal visits; publicity shots; staged accidents for use in Health and Safety posters; record breaking teams of men and, the darker side of his job, accidents and incidents which took place underground.

Pitt gave his entire catalogue of photographs to NCMME and you can see a selection of his work at the museum until February 2024.

Written by Volunteer Nicola