Behind the Picture: David Severn

This month in Behind the Picture: David Severn’s painterly photograph of a former coal mine in rural Derbyshire, England.


Image from the project Thanks Maggie by © David Severn

I took this photograph as part of my long-term project, Thanks Maggie, which looks at ex-mining communities in the British Midlands. In this work I explore the transition of former coal mining sites to places of leisure. You find these sites dotted around the peripheries of ex-mining towns and villages in the coalfields (areas where coal is mined), which often retain signs of their industrial past.

These peculiar post-industrial landscapes are big, and you can get lost on them. Many have been reclaimed by nature, but at the same time the remnants of their history are still there. Some have been regenerated and look quite beautiful, whereas others have not had the same good fortune.

I grew up in a mining town and was aware of the many social uses of these landscapes – from dog walking and bird watching, to rabbit hunting and as drinking spots for teenagers. I wanted to capture the diversity of activities on the colliery sites, to show the human relationship to the land.

What we’re looking at here is the beautifully restored Pleasley Colliery in Derbyshire, England. The main pithead building is in the centre with the winding gear on either side. The building is now a museum set within a nature reserve.

I was looking for subjects that conveyed a sense of recreation and community, and had made the journey out to the colliery site hoping to photograph children sledging on the old coal spoil heaps. But unfortunately it turned out that not many kids had decided to go sledging. Instead, I saw dogs and their owners playing in the snow in front of the pithead building.

The scene with the snow-covered ground, industrial building and figures relatively small in the frame reminded me of a Lowry painting. I stopped for a few minutes to photograph the dog walkers and their pets before moving on.

It was one of those shots that I had little control over, but which came together nicely before me. I could see that there was potential for a nice composition with the dogs running and their owners interacting with them in various ways.

I shouted over to the group to indicate I wanted to take a photograph, and they obliged, throwing a ball for the dogs to chase after.

When I had the film processed, this shot worked well, so luckily it wasn’t a wasted trip.

To see more work by David Severn, visit his website

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