The Road to Wigan Pier

One of the boxes of books that got shipped from Japan, which has been following me since California, contain most of my Orwell and Huxley. At random, i’ve been picking up and re-reading stuff. A few weeks ago it was The Road to Wigan Pier.

It’s a fascinating read: the combination of Orwell’s shock at the living conditions in the working class, his obvious, naked awe at the toughness of coal miners, paired with a fairly confused and angry rant about why establishing socialism in England will almost never work.

The edition that i have is american, and has a rather wonderful Bill Brandt photograph on the front:

It’s titled, Coal Searcher Going Home to Jarrow, and was taken in 1937. A section in the first part of the book describes a scene of hundreds of people picking over the trains dumping the waste from the mines for usable fuel on the slag heaps.

Not entirely sure what it is that haunts me about the shot. The light is obviously pretty bad, and has that Northern English feeling of a winters afternoon, the haze on the horizon, the slag heap lurking ominously in the gloom… and yet the sandy path picks out the entire outline of this crooked, seemingly broken, little old man. It even widens a little where he took the shot, meaning that you can’t help but notice the shape of his back.

Absolute genius.

Whenever people ask me who my favourite photographer is, it never quite feels right to be saying Brandt. I don’t see much influence of him in my own photography, and it’s saddening that nobody really knows much about him or his work.

[Yes, i know. It’s all about photography at the moment. Even the book reviews turn into reviews of the photography on the cover. Will try to write about some other stuff eventually.]

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