Pamela Bilalova

Farewell to the Monty: photographer Nat Wilkins explores last mine in Northumberland

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Nat Wilkins poses next to his photographs/Photo by Stela Taneva

Nat Wilkins poses next to his photographs/Photo by Stela Taneva


Words and photos by Pamela Bilalova and Stela Taneva


Solo Arts Exhibition welcomed Nat Wilkins and his latest documentary project in Holmeside coffee last night.

The exhibition consists of 20 photographs, exploring one of the last privately owned mines high up in the North Pennies.

“I think it’s really interesting, it’s the last mine in Northumberland. Mining legacy is really significant to the area. People associate it with the loss of regional identity, so I think it’s quite surprising to find that there are still some people mining. It’s nice documenting on something which is sort of finishing,” Nat said.

The project documents working conditions and methods in Ayle East Colliery mine, which has been owned by the Shepherd family for four generations. The mine has between three and seven miners.

The realization of the project took Nat, who is a student in photography at the University of Sunderland, more than nine months. He found out about the mine in December 2014:

“As soon as I found out there was one last mine in Northumberland, I was immediately inspired to go and find out about it,” Nat said.

It took him 5 months of talks with the miners before he was finally able to go down and start taking photos.

“I found it quite exciting, exploring new environments with my camera. It’s quite challenging to take images down there; it’s pitch-black most of the time,” Nat said.

The final result is 500 pictures overall, 20 of them included in the exhibition and 30 featured in a self-published 40 page book, which can be bought for six pounds.

“I tried using the same photographs to tell the story multi-platform,” Nat explained about his book.

Dave Harvey, a programme leader for BA (Hons) Photography at the University of Sunderland said:

“I’m very proud of Nat, it’s an incredibly good job. It’s a challenge as a photographer getting in those places and making photographs in the low light conditions. You can see from his work that Nat is going to be an established documental photographer.”

Chris Sykes, a photography student at the University of Sunderland, who attended the launch night, said:

“It’s really good. I think this is the third Nat’s exhibition I’ve been to and it’s definitely the best one.”

Apart from his project, Nat has been working with the Northern Correspondent as a photo journalist as well:

“I want my photography to work on multiple platforms: editorial, galleries and also film,” he said.

His next project will take him to Portugal, where he will set out to document the harvesting of cork for 2 months, starting in May.

“People are reducing the amount of cork they grow, because it is used less in wine. It’s a declining habitat and culture, so I’ll go there and see what happens,’’ Nat said.

Farewell to the Monty is funded by Sunderland Futures Fund. The exhibition will run daytime from 9 am to 5 pm until Thursday night at Holmeside coffee.

If you want to find out more about Nat, visit his web site:


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