Dan Wilton’s new photography series brings light to the shocking coal consumption around Europe

Dan Wilton’s new photography series brings light to the shocking coal consumption around Europe

With so many of the lignite mines inaccessible and across flat landscapes, Dan thought it best to shoot some of the series on a drone. “It seemed to make sense… to capture the enormous inhuman scale of some of the lignite mines,” he explains. “It led to some fairly stressful moments, like launching the drone whilst hiding in bushes from security or talking my way out of being arrested by German police for flying over the Garzweiler mine during the Ende Galenda protests.” The series covers nine countries in total, some in part led by ClientEarth’s involvement in cases. “I sparked up a working friendship with artist Joanie Lemercier whilst shooting around Hambach and Garzweiler,” Dan adds. “He was shooting a lot of moving images by drone and making large scale video projections into the mine and against the deconsecrated church at the demolished village of Manheim to protest against RWE’s actions and to support Ende Gelände.”

Two particular images which stand out in particular are the captures of the power plant at Sines and the protesters running through the Garzweiler mine. The Sines image illuminates the current coal situation in Europe, and how Portugal made a transition into a coal-free country. “At the time, Sines was one of the top 30 worst polluting plants in Europe, yet whilst researching the project I could see people lying on the beach beside and swimming in the sea next to the outflows from the plants, on satellite images,” Dan explains. “As soon as I saw that, I knew I had to try to photograph it.” As for the protesters at Garzweiler, “they played a grand game of cat and mouse with the German police and mine security as they tried to blockade the mines and plants,” Dan recalls. “To witness thousands of young people protesting, breaking through police lines, storming the mine and blocking train lines to shut the plants and force mining to stop, all in the face of a very heavy-handed police response, was genuinely moving.”

But, Dan hopes this project goes beyond highlighting the past and present. He wants it to inspire a future. “I want this project to highlight the work that still needs to be done in Europe to move beyond coal and also to highlight that it’s not just a simple black-and-white issue,” he says. “We can’t just close all the coal infrastructure and replace it with renewables in the same area to replace the jobs that will be lost in one fell swoop. It’s not that simple.” It’s what Dan describes as a “bittersweet” situation, since “so much has changed” since he shot it. “The project is as yet unfinished, I had planned to shoot a lot more in Poland, especially around Bełchatów but the pandemic put an end to those plans,” he explains. “I hope to continue working with ClientEarth, so perhaps we’ll continue work on this project or approach a different environmental issue.”

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