The photographer Bertien van Manen grew up in a Dutch mining community in the 1950s. Later, her fascination with this way of life took her first to Yorkshire and then to the Appalachians. In 1985 she met Mavis and her husband Junior, both miners, living in a trailer on a hill overlooking Cumberland, Kentucky. Two years on, she spent four months living among their extended family and neighbours. Since then she has been back many times. Here we publish some of the images and words from her forthcoming book.
“Mabel, one of Junior’s sisters, lives with the Boggs family – miner Red and their 10 red-haired, timid sons – in a ramshackle wooden cabin on the edge of a ravine. No water, no electricity, and the toilet a wooden hut with a hole in the ground.”
“I make friends with Allen, who’s 26, and Irving, who has no job and with whom I go hunting squirrels. We roam for hours in the forest, not a single squirrel gets shot, but Irving assures me one day he’ll tell his granddaughter about our expedition.”
“Billy lived next door to Junior and Mavis on the hill with his wife Sue and the kids, Justin, Chet, Megan, Amanda, the baby Jennifer, and later on young David. I spend a lot of time at their house. When Jennifer dies suddenly, the photograph I have made of her is the only one Sue has.”
“I also go to the Boggs family. They have moved to a public housing project right next to the last mine still in operation. The small house is crowded with familiar redheads. Father Red lies dying in the back room. He has ‘black lung’. A balloon with the cheery message ‘Get Well Soon’ hangs from his bed.”
“In 1996 in Amsterdam I get a call from Mavis, asking me to come over. Junior has liver cancer and not much longer to live. The door of the house is open. Junior, emaciated to the bone, reacts with emotion when he sees me. He will survive for another few months.”
‘Moonshine’, by Bertien van Manen, is published this month by MACK (£40)