THE MAN WHO CAP­TURED LIFE IN THE COAL­FIELDS

PHO­TOG­RA­PHER’S AMAZ­ING RECORD OF LOST WAY OF LIFE:

Cynon Valley - - FRONT PAGE - THOMAS DEA­CON thomas.dea­con@waleson­line.co.uk

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.

ROB BROWNE

Leslie Price, of Ton Pen­tre, and, right and be­low, some of his pic­tures

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