I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I love a good typology. There is something very soothing about viewing them and similarly there is something very calming about making one. Usually they are inanimate objects which is a nice change instead of taking candid pictures of people on the street and the stress and strains that comes with that pursuit. There is also the added pleasure of taking pictures of things that are the same but different. You feel like an archaeologist discovering something just below the surface of the real world and uncovering details which most people have seldom ever thought about.
For me personally it is a palette cleanser, it allows me to take time to remember other aspects of photography that whilst in the maelstrom of creating a street project you forget, I get to use different f stops, light and composition. It also allows you to learn something different about the world we are living in and, for a moment, glimpse into other people’s reality.
Coal Holes are such a moment. I had seen these 7-12” metal plates on our street many times, often thinking I had no idea what they could be. I’ve even looked at them carefully, reading the typography and being no wiser before I decided that actually I had to take pictures of them. It was only after I had, and I started to search online for some kind of answer that I realised they are a link to London’s past that has long gone and will never return.
Placed sometimes only inches apart on the street they are chutes down to coal houses under the ground. I knew that in front of our building, under the road, were arches that were now empty. I knew this because we discovered a man living in one once but most of them have wire mesh over them now and any hints of coal have long since gone. Mainly used in the 19th and 20th century to heat and feed homes around the UK they were effectively stopped in 1956 when the clean air act forced oil and gas to be used instead.
While this is all very interesting, what really fascinates me are the designs. Different companies, different styles and (when the designs are the same) the pavement stone or concrete that surrounds them. The typography around the edges of, most probably, long since gone companies and the circles, patterns and stars that fill the centre.
So, take a look at the pictures, numerous people who have seen them have commented that they had never noticed them before but now they can’t stop seeing them as they walk around London. I am obviously not the first person to document them and probably for that reason I won’t go too deep into this project but for me it’s another lovely memento of the joys of London, one day they will all be gone and for that reason, I’ve loved taking pictures of them.