Moon transformation for Kellingley Colliery site three years after its closure as country's last deep coal mine

Emily Ryalls has captured lunar-looking images at the former Kellingley Colliery site. Photo by Emily.
Emily Ryalls has captured lunar-looking images at the former Kellingley Colliery site. Photo by Emily.

In 2015, miners finished their last shift at Kellingley Colliery, marking the end of an era for coal. Now, the site has been transformed into a lunar landscape. Laura Drysdale reports.

The steps taken by the last remaining deep coal miners in England in December 2015 took them past a sign that read ‘the last pit: closed for business’.

The images will be shown as part of Wakefield's Festival of the Moon. Photo by Emily Ryalls.

The images will be shown as part of Wakefield's Festival of the Moon. Photo by Emily Ryalls.

The final shift at Kellingley Colliery’s coal face had drawn to a close. Not only was it the end for the five-decade-old pit, but it was the end of an era for a once proud and powerful coal mining industry, of which Yorkshire was at the heart.

Video: The last pit - closed for business, as final shift at Kellingley consigns deep coal mining to history
Nearing four years later and the former colliery is almost unrecognisable in new images taken by Wakefield photographer Emily Ryalls.

She has used the local landmark as the backdrop for a specialist shoot for the city’s Festival of the Moon, dramatically transforming it to appear as a surreal lunar landscape.

Dancers Jessica Nixon, from Barnsley, Leah Darby of Holmfirth and Ellie Pearson, from Wakefield, all current and former students at Wakefield’s CAPA College are captured performing at the now-desolate site of the deep coal mine.

“We purposely chose the colliery for the shoot as it was the last deep mine to close in Britain and reflects our unique local history and culture,” says Ryalls, who lives and works in Wakefield.

“The three dancers performed an interpretive dance using the deserted and desolate former pit site as a back drop, ideal for imagining the lunar landscape I’d had in mind. It was all captured on black and white analogue film and developed by myself.”

Ryalls created the lunar effect using dark room techniques and a form of photo development, pioneered in the 19th century, called solarisation.

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“The paper is exposed to a flash of light for a second time while the paper is mid development, darkening the print and bringing out metallic tones and shadows,” she explains.

It is this method that gives the landscape a grey, cratered and dusty appearance, like that of the moon.

Ryalls’ photo series Solar Dance will be shown at Wakefield Market Hall as part of the Festival of the Moon, which marks 50 years since the 1969 lunar landing.

Throughout the festival fortnight, from August 23 to September 8, several artists will present newly-commissioned, space themed work to be installed around a seven metre wide illuminated replica of the moon by installation artist and sculptor Luke Jerram.

His artwork, Museum of the Moon is a fusion of lunar imagery, moonlight and surround sound and is currently touring at a number of arts, science and cultural venues.

Other highlights of the Wakefield festival include film screenings during a dedicated ‘Star Wars Day’ on September 1, an inflatable planetarium where people can learn about the solar system, space travel and the stars, moonlit yoga sessions and a range of theatre and music performances.

It will also feature a blue plaque unveiling for Wakefield-born Dame Marjorie Williamson, a national figure in the study of physics, whose work in the fields of relativity, quantum mechanics and electromagnetic theory contributed to the space programme.

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“There’s a definite buzz around Wakefield for The Festival Of The Moon and it’s with good reason that we are getting excited,” says Coun Jacquie Speight, the cabinet member for culture, leisure and sports at Wakefield Council.

“Together we’ll start using the former Market Hall as a place to gather, have fun and gain new experiences, all within sight of Luke Jerram’s remarkable artwork replica of The Moon itself.

“This is two, whole weeks of specially-arranged events for residents and visitors to take full advantage of, whether they are looking for free daytime activities to do as a family or to dance into the night with friends.”

For details of the full programme, visit experiencewakefield.co.uk