Thursday, November 24, 2011

Going Underground

The above photograph is from an historic set taken by Londoner James Jarche for the Daily Herald in June 1931. It was the first time that flash photography was employed underground in the UK. The pictures were used to illustrate a series of articles entitled In Search of Wales, penned by H V Morton. In his 1934 memoir People I Have Shot, James Jarche elaborated on his groundbreaking Welsh commission:

“We got permission to go down one of the deepest coal-mines in Wales, the name of which I deliberately withhold, owing to the controversy that arose by my taking shots by flash. For it was the first time that pictures had been taken in an explosive area with the new safety-light, now, however, extensively used in photography. This is not a naked flame though it looks like one. It is shaped like an electric bulb, and is full of magnesium foil, ignited by a 2 volt battery, synchronised with the camera. Before permission was given me to descend the mine, I had to demonstrate with the light to experts on the surface. They themselves made experiments with it, holding the light over a gas-ring to see whether it would light the fumes. Of course nothing happened, and when they were satisfied as to its safety, they gave us permission to go down.” And later underground: “There was a most tense moment before I shot the men at work. Then the flare went up, and simultaneously I shot. There was absolute dead silence, followed by a sort of hum of relieved talk, for never had that mine expected to see itself by clear light.”