Michael Kerstgens was born in Wales, with family connections to the mining industry, but moved to Germany when a young boy; later, as a photography student – and spurred on by meeting representatives from the National Union of Mineworkers at a benefit event for the workers of a German colliery that was closing – he made the decision to come to Britain and photograph the then ongoing Miners’ Strike in this country.
He was lucky enough, more or less on arrival, to meet a fourth generation miner, Stuart ‘Spud’ Marshall, who had been working at the Darfield Main Colliery in South Yorkshire before the strike. Marshall not only befriended Kerstgens and made introductions on his behalf, he invited him to stay at his home in Wombwell, near Barnsley.
Kerstgens repaid this hospitality with a set of black and white photographs that go beyond the more usual depictions of picketing and conflicts with the police, though this are present; what he succeeds in doing is showing us the striking miners and their families in moments both of stress and relaxation, vivid portrayals of union meetings, social clubs and soup kitchens, miners and their wives relaxing at home. And, in a shorter section at the end of the book, Kerstgens brings the picture up to date with a series of colour photographs taken when he returned to the same village, the same people, in 2013, close to thirty years later.
Coal Not Dole, The Miners’s Strike 1984 / 1985 is published by Peperoni Books, Berlin