Miners' strike at 40: The story of Easington through one camera lens

Photographer Kieth Pattison told Jonny Blair how he came to document the miners' strike in Easington

In 1984, Keith Pattison was a photographer specialising in documenting arts projects in Newcastle.

During March of that year, the near 23,000 men of the County Durham and Northumberland coalfields walked out in what became one of the biggest industrial actions in British history.

The miners' strike hit headlines and hit the communities dependent on the pits even harder.

Keith was called upon to record life on the ground, and put forward a different narrative.

"Someone who commissioned the arts projects had connections with the union in Easington," he told ITV Tyne Tees.

"The people in communities didn't feel as though their voices were being heard.

"So the person that I worked with thought that perhaps if some photographs came out from these places, would that challenge the perceptions of what was being portrayed as the strike?"

Credit: Keith Pattison
Credit: Keith Pattison
Credit: Keith Pattison

Keith said he and the community bonded quickly - him becoming "their photographer".

"They looked after me, come thick or thin," he continued. "It was just lovely and relaxed, they didn't look to the camera. They just got on with it and I photographed as best I could."

While Keith captured the every day reality of the miners' strike for those in Easington, he was also there for its toughest days.

"A month in there was this huge push and a huge presence from the police, for a week, to actually get a striking miner into the pit," he explained.

"And that built from the Monday right through to the Friday when the place was absolutely flooded with police.

"And looking through the camera you were in the middle of things that you'd only seen in history books, and I was thinking I'd never seen this before.

"It was a bit overwhelming but the great thing was, on the Friday, it was almost like photographs were just throwing themselves down my lens."

Credit: Keith Pattison
Credit: Keith Pattison
Credit: Keith Pattison
Credit: Keith Pattison

It was on Ascot Street in the village that Keith snapped an image which represented what he was trying to achieve with his work.He said: "It was actually trying to find the simple images that described a more complex operation.

"From Ascot Street I was perhaps about fifty yards away and spotted a woman come to a window with a newborn baby in her arms.

"And below that were lined police with riot helmets on, and that just seemed to crystallise all of that chaos in the presence of a really domestic environment."

Credit: Keith Pattison
Keith Pattison speaks to ITV Tyne Tees on Ascot Street. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

From soup kitchens and people watching TV at home, to scenes of violence and clashes between miners and police, Keith's pictures are a permanent reminder of the strike.

They are also a source of pride.

"It was actually a huge privilege and I pinch myself looking back to think that I was here," he said. "I was accepted by so many people, I was supported by so many people.

"And also, that what I did resonates forty years later - they still move me.

"I still go through those pictures and they move me because I can remember exactly the moment when those photographs were happening."

Credit: Keith Pattison
Credit: Keith Pattison

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