Residue: The Early Coal Mining Photographs of Earl Dotter
April 22, 2023 – October 1, 2023
Starting with the Appalachian coalfields, Earl Dotter has dedicated his career to photographing the American worker. “He has put a human face on those who labor, often in dangerous and environmentally unhealthy conditions.”
As documentary photographs, these pictures exist as records of working conditions, camaraderie, community, resilience and even death. They depict frozen moments of action, as coal miners squeeze between the earth beneath and the dirt above, shoveling coal, or pulling dynamite. They are portraits of men and women leaving work with dirty faces and clothes, or portraits of the coal itself, cutting through town on the rails heading outbound. And then there are the photographs that capture moments of suffering, showing us another miner lost to Black Lung, or a coal mining disaster.
But the life of these photographs does not end with their first publication. As Ariella Azoulay writes in her book, The Civil Contract of Photography, “Even when it seems possible to name correctly in the form of a statement what it shows –“This is X”- it will always turn out that something else can be read in it, some other event can be reconstructed from it…” (p12)
Looking back at these early photographs by Earl Dotter there is an opportunity to read and reread, as well as construct and reconstruct the moments Dotter photographed.