Hard Coal: Portrait of a Brotherhood

Coal mining was an alien world when I started photographing the tiny ramshackle mines near my Pennsylvania hometown. It took many friend-of-a-friend meetings and trips out to meet mine crews to gain entry to this close-knit society. What I assumed were tough jobs of economic necessity revealed themselves as an intricate brotherhood going back generations, and deeply woven into the community. This has become an ongoing project for me as I document an industry which has become controversial and the people whose ties to it go beyond a paycheck.

Anthracite, the miners say, is better and harder and burns cleaner than the common bituminous coal most people are familiar with. Blasted out of the ground in a tiny footprint of Pennsylvania it is still mined the way it’s always been, with dynamite and pick axes and men going hundreds of feet down rickety tracks to the strangely pure air sandwiched between layers of solid rock.

Not many anthracite mines are left in Pennsylvania, fewer than a dozen, and I am documenting their world and the changing landscape, both physical and emotional, left behind as the mining world changes.  These are not the big mines run by corporations but small, family-owned mines, scraping by with an average of four people working each mine.

This is a noisy, dirty place and the miners are filthy and exhausted right when I want to take their portrait, often using large and ultra-large format film cameras but sometimes a Nikon D750 and a few times an iphone.  I'm documenting the anthracite mines left in central Pennsylvania, the sweeping poverty and changing landscape left behind as the mining community has shrunk, and the lives of those living in the small towns dependent on mining.  

Joel Anderson Photography

Fine Art and Documentary Photography
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