Shutter Hub member Nick Hodgson is a London based photographer whose main practice is landscape photography. He walked away from his former professional life as a Chief Marketing Officer and since then his images have been published in various titles including The Garden (the RHS members magazine), The English Garden magazine, Mail Online, Irish Times and London Evening Standard, and his work has been used by publishers including Frances Lincoln/White Lion and Laurence King.
In 2020 I successfully completed an MA in Photography at Falmouth University – my Final Major Project was This Unquiet Earth, a photographic essay on the Forest of Dean landscape and its relationship with mining.
The genesis of the project was two-fold: reconnecting with my family history; and studying a small rural community that is fiercely independent, proud of its unique heritage, and determined to preserve the unique attributes of the local culture despite the homogenising of much of the outside world.
My great-grandfather was a Forest of Dean free miner. Free mining is a legal right, subject to meeting the qualifying criteria, for people of the Forest of Dean. It’s a backwater on the western side of the River Severn wedged into the southerly border with Wales, a place in England (Gloucestershire to be precise) that you don’t have to pass through to get anywhere. Few people really know about it or have visited it. It’s also a stunningly beautiful area, home to one of the most ancient forests in Britain and to the locals known as ‘Foresters’. The terrain is rich in minerals, and free mining of coal, iron ore and stone has been recorded since the 1300s. It is called free mining because qualifying miners can dig wherever they want in return for a small fee, all of which is overseen by the government in the form of Forestry England. The coal output is tiny but still allowed despite climate change issues as local households still rely on Forest coal for heating. This will no doubt change in due course so in a sense I am also documenting the start of the end of coal-free mining.
I’ve been intrigued by the life that my great grandfather’s family went through, and the characters that are today’s miners. It’s really about preserving heritage, camaraderie (hence the ubiquitous cups of tea before and after being underground) and recording these lovely if mildly eccentric personalities. I did a lot of research and started to build relationships by meeting (pre-Covid) with the free mining community. Over a few months, I started to build trust and with that came access to the mines and a willingness for me to photograph (with a small number of very reasonable restrictions). What I love about photography projects is that the journey can be so unexpected and often serendipitous. For example, I ended up meeting a miner whose partner, it turns out, is a distant relative of mine; going a quarter of a mile underground to shoot at the coalface (it was a bit claustrophobic and technically challenging), and being invited to join the free miners’ private Facebook group which helped me to plan shoots and get to know the characters even better.
The pandemic has temporarily postponed plans for an exhibition and book, but I plan to restart these and also finish shooting more portraits once the vaccine rollout is largely completed. The reality is that it started as a two-year project which will almost certainly take another 12-24 months to finally complete.
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