Terrils is an enigmatic book by one of my favourite photographers, Naoya Hatakeyama. The front cover hints at the content – a pool of water which on closer inspection is seen to be frozen, an area of black wasteland between the middle distance and the horizon and an intriguing cone of something on that horizon. It is, perhaps, reminiscent of a desaturated Burtynsky shot of industrial wasteland.
At first site it appears as a mountain, but opening the book reveals that the cone is a “terril” a pile of coal mining slag in the now defunct coal mining area of Nord pas de Calais in France.
They will be visually familiar to many in Britain, black, barren slightly intimidating piles of nothing useful. Reflecting on the sheer effort expended to make these piles can take the breath away. We are firmly in the arena of the industrial sublime in some of these shots. Incongruous contrats abound..slag heaps and sunsets, slag heaps and modern traffic roundabouts, toy pianos and slag. And yet..as the book progresses the pictures get a bit greyer and exude a sense of something missing..something passed/past.
The text in the centre of the book provides some narrative explaining how and why Hatakeyama comes to be there, what the terrils mean to him and why he wants to photograph them – which is the potential subject for a later post as it crosses with my interests.
The second half of the book features more of the same scenery, but in winter. Cloaked with a shroud of snow and frost and mist, it is clear that these are things who’s time has gone probably never to be resurrected until suddenly, in the last shot or two, the snow is melting, the grass is breaking through and the sun is catching the roofs of the small town.
“Building on the tiny elements which have survived…we must use our imaginations to extend the memories of others. If we do not do this, a story will be lost and disappear forever.” Naoya Hatakeyama, Terrils