Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Archeologie de la Mine by Didier Vivien

I cannot read French so I am probably missing some of the nuances of Didier Vivien's Archeologie de la Mine published by Marval in 1994 but it is compelling both in its photography and layout.

Archeologie de la Mine is about a major coal mine that existed in the northern region of France bordering Belgium from 1720 until its closing in 1990. It was the main source of employment for the surrounding towns which prospered because of the richness of the coal seams. It was also the site of Europe's worst mining disaster when on March 10, 1906 an explosion killed 1100 miners.

Vivien photographed the mine and its surrounding area in a fairly non-romantic tone considering the history and expected depictions of miners as heroic men working under miserable conditions. This is a colder view more akin to the authorless topographic-style especially when Vivien moves out of the mine buildings and into the landscape of shale heaps. The book ends with images of the transition into a suburban neighborhood complete with big box stores.

Book-wise, the layout of Archeologie de la Mine is very well conceived. Simple full bleed square images - many on facing pages that create dynamic spreads. The printing is a decent, open rendering of a full range of tone but to the attentive viewer it can be seen as slightly inconsistent throughout the book. Archeologie de la Mine includes a short essay by Eric Wawrzyniak.

I hadn't heard of Didier Vivien nor this book before discovering it by chance and I would be curious if anyone else out there had known of it. It seems like an overlooked gem to me.