HIDDEN human stories which lie behind the biggest celebration of the region’s once-mighty coal-mining industry are captured on camera in an exhibition which opens today at a former North East pit.
Big Meetings – which showcases more than 20 images shot by acclaimed photographer Julian Germain – trains a lens on the annual Durham Miners’ Gala.
But it also casts new light on the deeper stories of the individuals, bands and communities which form the backdrop to the annual celebration of the days when coal was king.
The exhibition opens today at Woodhorn Museum near Ashington – a former colliery which is the venue for the annual miners’ picnic, once Northumberland’s equivalent of the Durham miners’ gathering. Mr Germain, who moved to the region many years ago and lives in Allenheads, Northumberland, has had books published on images of communities such as Consett after the steelworks closure. His work has been exhibited all over Europe, the USA, South America and Japan.
He was invited to photograph last year’s Durham gala but, as well as attending the “Big Meeting” on the day, he took the opportunity to explore the wider social significance of an event which still attracts up to 100,000 people.
He took his camera to record communities and landscapes of former pit villages such as Chopwell and Trimdon Grange, visiting community centres, band rooms and houses of people and organisations taking part in the gala.
Mr Germain also attended gatherings and meetings of some of the political and campaigning groups who use the gala to promote their ideas. The images in Big Meetings include former pit village street scenes, residents preparing banners for the event and musicians practising.
It also includes two synchronised video films of the protest song and socialist anthem The Red Flag, one portraying 77-year-old Maurice Craig, in the main picture below, playing the tuba, and a nine-year-old boy singing in the other.
The exhibition – commissioned by Woodhorn Museum in partnership with the DLI Museum and Durham Art Gallery – runs until just before Christmas.
Yesterday, Woodhorn marketing officer Deborah Tate said: “The miners’ gala is still a very big event but you sometimes forget there are a thousand stories behind it about the band members involved, the people nervous about making speeches and lots of other things.
“Julian’s pictures explore the ideas of identity and cultural tradition, and question the nature of politics at a point in history when it’s widely held that socialist ideals have been buried by consumerism.”