I found myself looking for the perfect title for this review of "Aberfan: The Days After: A Journey In Pictures" as I was so moved by the content of the book. I finally found it in the brilliant commentary by Jeni Williams in the conclusion of the book: she was absolutely correct. The photos in this collection, taken in the weeks after the Aberfan mine tip collapse feature searing grief, but also a quiet dignity that rejects victimhood.
Aberfan is a small Welsh village, and was built around the Methyr Vale colliery. On October 21, 1966 after substantial rain, a huge mountain of coal mining waste (the "tip", specifically tip number seven) formed a black avalanche which raced down into the valley where the village of Aberfan is located. Tragically, the first major obstacle the slide encountered was the Pantglas Junior School, which had just commenced for the day. 116 children died (of 144 total deaths) causing Aberfan to become known as the "town without children".
This book doesn't detail the immediate aftermath of the tip collapse, but deals with a longer-term focus and the emotional impact the event had on the citizens of Aberfan. The work was initially funded by "Life" magazine, and this book, written in both English and Welsh, was sponsored by the Welsh government. The medium is black and white photographs, and similarly to Ansel Adams, Rapoport is a master of dark and light, and knows exactly how to use shadows and contrast to best capture a moment in time. All the photographs in the book are brilliant, but my favorite is on page 10, which shows a young survivor standing at the corner of Moy Road, where the Pantglas Junior School was located. Clearly visible behind him is the slide crossing the road. It is one of the most brilliant photographs I have ever seen, and alone justifies the relatively high price of this book.
I now professionally study industrial system safety accidents, of which the Aberfan tragedy is a prime example. Of course the prime reason to study accidents like this is to curtail them in the future (and certainly mine safety has improved dramatically in the last forty years). Rapoport's book serves to remind us why such study is important, as it puts human faces on the citizens who have to deal with the aftermath of such a tragedy.
I absolutely recommend "Aberfan: The Days After: A Journey In Pictures" without reservation, but particularly to serious students of photography, and people interested in industrial safety.