For years I’ve been photographing something...and I’ve just realised it’s social haunting.

For years I’ve been photographing something...and I’ve just realised it’s social haunting.

My wife recently attended a lecture at Durham University by Dr Geoff Bright, a research fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University. The lecture was on the subject of social haunting in the ex-mining communities of South Yorkshire. Geoff displayed some images to accompany the talk, my wife saw a similarity between those images and ones I’d been taking for a few years around the area where we live in Durham. My wife decided to send me a copy of Geoff’s article ‘The lady is not returning!’: educational precarity and a social haunting in the UK coalfields and Geoff a link to my photography website.

Reading Geoff’s article my mind was blown. I’d never heard of social haunting and I wasn’t from a mining community, but what Geoff was seeing in Yorkshire felt so familiar to me.

I was raised in Felling, Gateshead on a council estate, my father worked at a local paper mill making crepe, wrapping paper and christmas decorations. During the late eighties my father was made redundant (a victim of the same forces that affected the miners). He signed on and being nearly 40, struggled to find new employment (being that all the jobs similar to his, which he was qualified for had also disappeared). He enrolled on some adult training programmes at a local college and volunteered helping in classes for people with learning difficulties and other disabilities. Eventually he found work in adult training, teaching people who, just like him, had been made redundant. His position was as precarious as those he taught and he regularly reverted back to signing on as funding disappeared form one company, to reappear somewhere else. He has finally retired and relies heavily on his state pension to supplement his small private pension. Already he is talking of going back to work when that runs out.

I was lucky enough to be one of those who, as Geoff puts it, “entered an expanded higher education system in the heady days before the economic crisis of 2008”. I was able to go to university before the tuition fee hike with great support from my local, now defunct LEA, I went at the age of 21 and despite poor GCSE results was allowed to get on a course in Art & Design as a ‘mature student!’ But so many people I grew up with were not so fortunate. Many of the kids I played with as a child have been caught up in drugs, crime and some have even died as a result (I’m currently 35!).

I now work as a freelance artist/filmmaker and have my own body of photographic work. About 8 years ago my wife and I moved to a small rural village in durham (an ex-mining village surrounded by dozens of other ex-mining villages). There was something about the landscape of the area that instantly grabbed my attention and I began documenting it with my camera. I had a strong sense that there was something in my own experiences, something autobiographical that was drawing me to the locations I photographed, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was (although where I live now is not far from where I grew up, Felling is very much part of the conurbation of Newcastle/Gateshead and feels much more urban).

Strangely after documenting my new home for a couple of years I found myself revisiting Felling and wanting to document it too. There was something so similar about these two places. It felt like something was missing, or more like something was there which couldn’t be seen. Something that seemed to pervade both areas.

After reading Geoff’s work I realised, that something could be some kind of manifestation of social haunting. Geoff’s article gave me a totally new insight into my work and made me understand what it was I’d been grasping for all this time.

I was concerned that maybe I was just projecting and there was no real link between my work and social haunting, so I decided to get in touch with Geoff, knowing he’d seen my work. His comments, first in reply to my wife and then to me are below, along with some of my images.

“I loved your partner’s photos and as much as he says they’re about his own feelings, well, they speak out of that personal space and into a common one known by a lot of people. I know those photographs! They’re all around me in the industrial ruins of South Yorkshire where I live.”

“I think your photographic work is really interesting in the way it subtly captures the kind of ever present, left behind, medium-level desperation of de-industrialisation. In particular how there’s no one there…as if we’ve all vacated or would have if we could. Great stuff and keep going with it.”

Chris Younger, Photographer/Filmmaker, Durham.

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