I was right at the beginning of my studies and had only just begun to explore the medium of photography. Looking back, I now see that I was really in search of myself and — under the recent influence of the work of photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank — an appropriate subject matter.
In preparation for my trip, I had attended a benefit event at the decommissioned, fittingly enough, Carl Colliery in Essen. There I spoke with a representative of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), who was there to take receipt of donations and declarations of solidarity with the striking miners. When I told the NUM representative of my plan, he said that if I wanted to photograph the strike, I would need to be clear about which side I was on. His words were plain and spoke volumes about the part played by the British media during the 12 months of industrial action.
After visiting Llanelli in South Wales I decided to leave Wales for South Yorkshire. It was Boxing Day when I arrived in Barnsley, the weather bitterly cold, and I spent the first night in a van. The next morning, I stood outside the locked doors of the NUM office. The address and telephone number had been given to me by the NUM representative I had met in Essen. Located in the same building was a strike helpline, where a kind-hearted counsellor gave me sanctuary for a couple of hours. Over sandwiches and piping-hot tea, he began to tell me about some of the problems faced by the striking miners. Several hours later, the door swung open to reveal a man by the name of Stuart Marshall — small, stocky, and covered in tattoos. Call me "Spud", he said. Having listened to my story, he promptly invited me back to stay with him and his wife, Marsha. They lived in the small terraced houses on Rimington Road, in Wombwell, near Barnsley. From the window, you could see the strikebound Darfield Main Colliery, the shaft of which was sunk in 1861.
Spud was a miner in the fourth generation and worked at Darfield Main Colliery. Before the strike, Marsha had been a housewife and essentially apolitical in her views. Following Spud's first arrest, however, she rose to become one of the leading lights of Woman Against Pit Closures (WAPC) movement. As spokeswoman of the Barnsley group, she was often seen on television and regularly received calls from the British actress and political activist Vanessa Redgrave. She was an impressive figure and a rousing speaker. Thanks to Spud and Marsha, I was able to photograph meetings and rallies to which the press would never have been invited. Spud introduced me to the rest of the striking miners with the words: "This is Michael. He's from Germany, and he's a mate."