Alec Aarons: Last Man Turn the Light Off

The photographic form has always played an important role in documenting times, places and people. As the world becomes more digitalised, the use of photography has become paramount to telling a story. Alec Aarons is definitely an artist that has come to terms with this. Last Man Turn the Light Off is a provoking and moving series looking at the mining community in the United Kingdom. We caught up with the photographer to talk about his work.

Where did your interest in photography stem from?

I’m not entirely sure myself, I think that photography was a solution to my fear of forgetting, allowing me to transform my thoughts and feelings into something that felt more tangible. I found a need to document things of value to me, either through creating a body of work that comments on changing social or political trends, or simply taking photos from my everyday life. Both are important to me as I love the act of recording a moment that is significant in the place and time that it's situated, keeping it alive even after it’s gone.

Where did the idea behind ‘Last Man Turn the Light Off’ come from?

I first got the idea through my friend at university whose family was directly impacted by the 1984/5 miners’ strike in Orgreave, Sheffield. The title of the project was a response to the mass pit closure and death of the mining industry. With my friend’s assistance I discovered the abandoned locations of the collieries around South Yorkshire. I worked closely with the National Union of Mineworkers, who were vital during the miners’ strike and are still fighting for the employment of miners and a re-ignition of the community [represented through the Justice for Orgreave Campaign]. However, the prominent theme behind the project was to capture the remnants of the collieries and the decaying aftermath of the death of the coalmining industry in Britain.

Talk to us about the shooting process.

There wasn’t much thought behind choosing the medium. I enjoy the formality of a Hasselblad camera's square format but it also gives all the photos in the series a consistency which I think is really important. The impact of the camera extends further than this though, changing the way I photograph as it made each shot much more considered in the composition and choice of subject.

If you were to translate these images into a different medium, what would it be?

Through painting an artist can interpret the scene in a way that photography cannot. The straight and true indexical nature of a photograph can provide a perfect document of the scene in front of you, however another medium such as oil painting would allow me to infuse my thoughts and feelings through an expressive individualist perspective in scripted nature to manipulate reality. It's a hand crafted representation whilst photography is the act of recording the light that hits the subject and bounces back towards the camera.

It seems as though the series has some sort of social commentary running through it. Would you agree?

Coalmines are more relevant than ever to photograph; they are a piece of history that I've recorded objectively, questioning whether the decisions made on 6th of March 1984 impacted our society today. Times are changing - their place in today’s society is dwindling. The purpose of this project was to contribute to the importance of documenting it through a visual perspective. I wanted to document it objectively to give the viewership a chance to read more about it and make their own opinions from the work.

What are the future plans for the project?

I plan on visiting more locations around the country where the remains of the mining industry are still prominent. I watched a BBC documentary recently about the last miners of Kellingley Colliery and went to photograph it for the project but ended up submitting the project for a university brief before I could get permission to visit the site. I would also love to see the photographs printed and have plans to exhibit them in the National Mining Museum to raise awareness that these places still exist, keeping the memory alive within the mining community.

You can check out more of Alec's work here and follow him on Instagram.