Skip to main content

Beaming Through Grime

Anita-2 We have to give our friends in the coal industry credit – it has had a pretty good showing in the climate change bill, even if the goal of the bill builds on the hope that carbon capture and sequestration proves itself, and it survived the widespread attention given to the clean coal carolers, a well-intended Flash animation that was bound to bring down criticism.

However, here’s the thing: coal miners don’t deserve, and for most part haven’t received, the criticism that industry touts might receive. These are folks doing a job many would not consider doing and take a considerable amount of pride in the doing of it.

So we were delighted to see an initiative to celebrate coal miners, with West Virginia based photographer Thorney Lieberman putting together a show of photographic assemblages spotlighting these workers.

Here’s how he describes the project:

The project I am proposing would entail my travel to several mining communities, where I would set up a temporary studio in a community space – a school or church gym, for example - and photograph approximately 30 men and women who mine coal.

Initially, I envision making photographs of them in the clothes and equipment that they wear to work, but as my approach is often guided by the subjects themselves, this could vary. Similarly, while I see the images primarily in black & white, some could be done in color should that become desirable and is deemed appropriate.

Lieberman picked up sponsors for the project, including Appalachian Power, Prichard Mining Co., the International Coal Group, A.T. Massey Coal Co., Natural Resource Partners, Petroleum Products, the United Mine Workers of America, the Bituminous Coal Heritage Foundation Museum and many others.

This is exactly the kind of project these organizations ought to support, if the value proposition is that it transmutes the stuff of work into art. That’s clearly Lieberman’s intention.

But let’s allow that such sponsorship carries a decided risk:

These monumental portraits reveal the human essence of the coal industry and their exhibition will celebrate and honor these men and women as contemporary American heroes.

Well, no, they’re not “contemporary American heroes,” any more than any other contemporary American.

Still, Lieberman really does capture the pride that goes into work, even if the work, as the photos show, leaves one caked in grime and soot. No one, anywhere along the ideological spectrum, would care to say that hard work that leads to a perceived positive outcome is not worth doing.

And because coal has become more controversial, the look of pride on these faces conjures up considerable ambiguity: because Lieberman has made these assemblages life size, you’re confronted with the whole person. So what do you say to them? What can you say? Your good intentions and their good intentions may not meet in the middle and, in any event, do not put you in a very good position. They’re the ones beaming through dirt. You may be left a little embarrassed.

As a photographer – and only seeing the work online – Lieberman seems a technically proficient but not extraordinary talent. But the idea is brilliant and very well executed. The project might qualify as coal industry agit-prop, but it’s a league beyond the clean coal carolers. So credit where it’s due.

Anita Cecil, one of the subjects of Thorney Lieberman’s Honoring America’s Coal Miners project.


DocForesight said…
I'm all in favor of recording the workers whose job many of us would not consider doing. However, I do object to the use of the "hero" moniker to describe the task. That just further waters down the value of "hero" just like "superstar" to describe a rookie athlete who has accomplished nothing before the season begins.

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…