The title of Wilton’s series couldn’t be more ominous: The Very Fire They Sit Beside tells us exactly what to expect from the haunting images. Exhibited for the first time in the UK at Huxley-Salon in London from March 10-12, the photographs are part of a unique collaboration between Wilton and environmental law charity ClientEarth, to highlight the negative effects of Europe’s coal industry.
It all started in 2019, before the pandemic, when Wilton traveled to nine European countries: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain and the United Kingdom. A combination of landscapes and portraits, the images oscillate between expansive views of vast German coalfields, depictions of daily life in the UK and Portugal against a backdrop of power stations, sensitive portraits of Greek miners showing the impacts industry on a human scale. Together, they illustrate the bitter irony that those affected by environmental instability and industry-induced disease remain the most economically dependent on it.
Of course, the series couldn’t be more timely, as Europe’s transition away from coal gathers momentum. In fact, since Wilton’s project began, many of the countries represented have announced an end date for coal power, although damage continues to occur as communities wait for change. In this case, one could also say that Wilton’s photographs act as a crucial document for the vast infrastructure of power stations and mines, as many are decommissioned and, in a few years, may no longer dominate the European landscape.
“When I learned of the extent of German coal mining just half an hour from Cologne, a city I have visited several times and been none the wiser, I knew that it was an important story to tell,” says Dan. “Ending coal is crucial: it puts our common and bright future at risk. Across Europe, people’s health, identity and livelihoods remain intimately linked to coal, even as we strive transition to alternatives. I hope this series makes a powerful plea for governments and investors to act, without placing an unfair share of the burden on ordinary people.”
In one of these images, we are introduced to Yiorgos in northern Greece who works in the lignite mine that surrounds Akrini. “The village’s natural water supply previously had to be shut off after carcinogenic hexavalent chromium was leached from the coal ash deposits of nearby coal-fired power stations,” says Wilton. “Those responsible were subsequently jailed – but the site is still not run properly. affecting real estate prices.
In another, we see the Towerfest Country Music Festival next to Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire. “The owners, formerly a coal-fired power station, have looked to a variety of future options – including the hotly contested biomass (burning of wood pellets). For this they have received millions in grants from the UK government. “
At the exhibition at London’s Huxley-Parlor for Wilton’s The Very Fire They Sit Beside, prints of the photographs will be available for sale, with all proceeds going to the environmental charity. CustomerEarthwho dedicate their fight to tackling the climate crisis using the power of law.
“Nothing threatens the future of our planet more than fossil fuels,” says its CEO, James Thornton. “The process of mining and burning is rife with injustice. Dan’s work is a powerful reminder that the challenge of moving beyond fossil fuels like coal is present and urgent for people across the world. “Europe. Dan Wilton and Huxley-Parlor’s contribution is emblematic of the unique potential the arts have to show us the fallout from climate change in all its forms – and spur us to action.”