roger coulam

The Blast (Where the Earth Bleeds)

"The Blast" is a half a mile long section of the County Durham coastline, a place once blighted by heavy industry. Dawdon Colliery sat on the cliff top here for 84 years, dumping millions of tonnes of coal waste straight onto the beach and into the North Sea. A major clean-up began in 1997 but mining pollution remains.

Thousands of men and boys mined coal 500 meters below the earth here and miles out under the North Sea. More than 100 were killed in often brutal accidents and those lives and deaths only add poignancy to what remains.

A plateau of colliery slurry and industrial waste lies along the base of the cliffs and the "sand" is made of pyrites. Rare chemicals form bright yellow crusts, and blood red pools, the largest of which is known locally as Red Lake. It can be a strange, frustrating, empty and desolate place, but the worst pollution and the final traces of heavy industry are vanishing rapidly as time and tides scour away our violent marks.

For a decade I have walked and photographed "The Blast" often considering what would be left if our society ended today, and how our lives and culture might be interpreted by the people of the future. How would they read the cultural objects found scattered and washed up on the beach?

With future archaeology in mind I gather small artefacts, to see what they might reveal once I take them home and make simple images with them. Just as local people have mined the colliery spoil and landfill for jewellery and copper wire, and the beaches for coal and sea-glass, in a small way I too continue to mine "Blast" for whatever items the relentless tides or recent human activities have exposed. 

Industrial items still wash up on Blast Beach but increasingly plastic dominates, often mixing with colliery waste and landfill from previous generations. In the ocean plastics will take 400 years to break down but will never biodegrade, and one in three fish caught for human consumption contain plastic. 

90% of the UK's coastal rubbish is single-use plastics, and for every mile of our beaches there are approximately 5000 items of marine plastic pollution.

I hope that these pictures offer a small glimpse at the cultural legacy our daily choices leave behind.

NB: This work references “Coal Coast” by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen