K: Sure I like it, but I want to know why you like it.
Me: Because the pictures don't look like other people's pictures of England. They don't even look like other pictures from the early eighties which was when they were taken. They don't really look like poor people pictures either. They look different.
K: Is looking different enough though?
Me: No, not really. It's more than that. The backstory of how Killip came to do the project is brilliant for a start - a kind of case study in documentary photography chickens coming home to roost in a good way. He went down to the beach where all these people were collecting coal from the sea - hence the title of the book, Seacoal - and and was just blown away by how medieval it all was. But when the coal collectors saw him, they told him to fuck off. They thought he was from the DHSS and was spying on them. So he fucked off and thought I'm not going there again.
Then a couple of years later he thought, what the heck, let's give it another go. And they told him to fuck off again - and charged him with the horse and carts they used to carry the coal. So he decided to go to where they drank and ask them again. So he went to the pub where they drank, walked through the door and the pub fell silent. Everyone stared at him. Then he told them what he wanted to do. Then they told him to fuck off. so he was just about to fuck off again, when a man walked in and said, hold on, do you remember me. Killip didn't remember him but the man, who was called Brian, remembered Killip taking his picture at a horse fair a few years before. And that's how the Seacoal pictures started. Killip stayed in a caravan on the beach for 14 months on and off and made his Seacoal photographs. .
K: Great back story but what about the pictures.
Me: They just look so bleak and raw, bleak in a way that no other pictures look bleak. And nobody is even noticing Killip half the time so everything is quiet and natural but with this harsh edge. Even when people are noticing him and posing, there is something very human about the faces. Not downtrodden even though the life looks tough. And not noble either. And the faces are kind of hard and soft at the same time, but always, always set against this beach where the pebbles are coal and you can almost see the wind and the cold, you can almost smell the salt blowing in from the east.
K: Sounds kind of exotic to me.
Me: No it's not.
K: But it doesn't exist anymore, this landscape and this community.
Me: No. Perhaps that's part of what makes it so good.
K: That it's rare, that it can't be photographed again.
Me: Yes. It's more than that but that's a part of it.
K: Sounds exotic to me.
Me: Well it's not.
K: But it's rare.
K: Does something have to be rare to be good?
K: I mean in photography, if something common and anybody can photograph it, then it can't really be anything special, can it? It becomes generic then.
Me: The way you're putting it, yes..
K: So something good has to have a rarity value. Like those giant pinhole pictures or the ones made with the massive camera.
Me: Up to a point yes,
K: Or Chris Killip's Seacoal because nobody else photographed it and it doesn't exist anymore?
K: Which is rare. And so exotic.
Me: No, I don't think so. They're different.
K: Alright then. I suppose everybody loves Killip, don't they.
Me: Pretty much, yes.
K: You sure it's not a case of you liking him because everybody likes him.
Me: Absolutely not. He's properly good. And Seacoal is properly good.
K: I'll believe you. Let's watch some telly. What's on?
Me: Ooh, second part of the new Adam Curtis thing is on at 9. Excellent!