UofL Libraries displays historic photos of the life and times of the region’s coal miners


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The University of Louisville’s Archives and Special Collections presents “Coal – 1979,” a collection of black and white photographs by local photographer Ted Wathen.

    More than 50 photographs Wathen took while working on President Carter’s Commission on Coal during a particularly tumultuous era in the energy sector will be displayed Jan. 14 – March 17 in the Photographic Archives Gallery of the Ekstrom Library. The public is invited to an opening reception from 5-7 p.m., Jan. 14.

    Wathen’s work has appeared in the International Museum of Photography, the White House, the Speed Art Museum and numerous local galleries, as well as in “Time-Life Photography Series,” “Fortune,” “Forbes” and “Newsweek.” He co-founded and has served as partner of the commercial photography firm Quadrant Inc since 1986.

    After earning an master’s of fine arts degree in photography from the University of Florida, Wathen launched the Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project in 1975, which entailed visiting each of the Commonwealth’s 120 counties to create a visual record. He was then tapped by President Carter’s administration to serve as the principal photographer for the Presidential Commission on Coal, a 1979 study initiated after a 110-day national coal strike.

    “President Carter sought to stabilize the coal industry that had been plagued with wildcat strikes, union corruption and industry intransigence,” Wathen said. “Coal was seen as our national energy solution. The United States had a 300-year supply of coal. If properly developed this would be our answer to the OPEC oil embargo. Both the United Mine Workers of America and the Bituminous Coal Operators of America wanted to stabilize production.”

    The project required Wathen and four other photographers to document the living and working conditions of coalminers. Wathen photographed in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Illinois.

    Many of the photographs were published in the Commission’s report, “The American Coal Miner: a Report on Community and Living Conditions in the Coalfields.” They were also exhibited at the White House, the International Center of Photography and the exhibit prints and negatives are housed in the National Archives.

    Wathen had access to his negatives for about a month and was able to make the prints that will appear in the exhibit before turning them over to the National Archives.

    Exhibit hours are 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Mon.-Fri.

    For more information, contact Elizabeth Reilly, curator, photographic archives, at 502-852-8730 or eereil01@louisville.edu.

    Cindy Hess
    Cindy Hess has more than 30 years of experience in communications, marketing and investor relations, including more than a decade at UofL. She is "sort of" retired but happy to come back to the Office of Communications and Marketing to help with special projects and assignments.