THE MAN WHO CAPTURED LIFE IN THE COALFIELDS
PHOTOGRAPHER’S AMAZING RECORD OF LOST WAY OF LIFE:
THE mystery miner behind a set of remarkable pictures of Wales’ coalfields has been found.
Incredible photographs taken of a time when coal still ran through the veins of Wales were uncovered recently – but nobody knew who took them.
But following the public reaction to the pictures, showing a time when impending closures of the mines loomed over communities, the man who stood behind the camera and captured a pivotal point in Welsh history has been revealed.
Over many decades Leslie Price documented life in the Welsh Valleys, including the coalfields of South Wales.
One night in the 1960s when he was a young man, keen photographer Leslie decided to show some of his work to a fellow miner – sparking a love of photography.
From hard-working men blackened with dust, families scrabbling for coal during the miners’ strike, the ruins of shut-down mines and hand-written notes documenting the demise of the collieries, Leslie captured it all on film.
Now 80, Leslie has spoken of his memories of working in the mine and the stories that lie behind his photos.
Speaking at his home in Ton Pentre, Leslie told us: “I wasn’t just working at the mine, I was interested in the mining world too.
“I started off with a [Kodak] Box Brownie camera, and what I did then was I would take the film to the chemist to be processed. But then one time at the pub where I used to drink, I showed another miner and he told me that I should develop them myself.
“I didn’t have a clue how to do it, but he said he would teach me.”
The man Leslie met in the pub, Dick Marks, became a “second father” to the miner and started his real love for photography.
Leslie said: “He was Polish and he came over during the war. He could speak seven languages and was a very educated man.
“When Poland was invaded by Russia he ended up with the British Army in Africa, believe it or not.
“He started to teach me on a Saturday evening in his house. We would go out for a pint after, too.
“He taught me how to look at photographs. One thing he told me always stuck with me, he said ‘don’t try to take photos, try to take stories’.”
Most of Leslie’s work on the mines was carried out during the last two weeks before the Abercynon mine shut in 1988, almost 100 years after in opened in 1889.
He said: “Many people have photographed mines, but I thought I will photograph the boys and the mines but I will include their occupations too.”
Taking his camera everywhere he went, Leslie’s photographs capture the smiling faces of colleagues and friends, the harsh reality of the job, and families scavenging for coal during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985.
Leslie started off as a trainee in the mines in the
Cynon Valley, and moved to the mine in Abercynon where he stayed until it closed decades later when it merged with the Ynysbyl colliery.
He said: “To be honest, like many, I had a lovehate relationship with the coal mines. Ask any retired miners if they wanted to go back, they would. I went to work in a factory afterwards, and it wasn’t quite the same.”
Leslie donated dozens of his photos to the Cardenden Mining Museum in Scotland, which were sent to the Fife Archives after it closed.
Leslie said: “I forgot all about them, and when the museum closed and they were sent to the Fife Archives, there was nothing on them about who took them. My brother heard about the appeal and got in touch.
“It was really nice to be recognised, to be honest. My whole aim was to leave my mark.
“It’s nice to look back at them and know that they’ve got a home.”
The photos and negatives have been donated to the Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff.
The whole collection can be viewed in the Glamorgan Archives search room, and digital images can be accessed online through their Canfod catalogue.
Leslie Price, of Ton Pentre, and, right and below, some of his pictures