Coal Man

All around the world, charcoal is made by an ancient process of carbonizing wood through controlled burning under mounds of earth over a period of weeks. The resulting coal is the only affordable source of fuel for families in many parts of the world. As a result, charcoal making has contributed to rampant deforestation and environmental destabalization in the Caribbean and elsewhere. While I wish to honor the history and tradition that produce this way of making charcoal, I am conflicted because of it’s destructive potential.

This subject matter has a deep personal resonance for me; my grandfather was a coal man. I remember as a youngster helping to gather wood for the pit, and carrying the charcoal away for storage once the pit was excavated, or “hauled”. I also remember being badly burned by the hot soil thrown from the mound during this dismantling process.

Making charcoal is backbreaking, dangerous work for the men and women who do it. The man seen in these images, Cuthbert Clarke, is one of the last remaining coal men on the island of Nevis in the Eastern Caribbean. In fact, he was taught the science of the pit by my grandfather. These images document Mr. Clarke in various stages of the arduous task of preparing the coal pit for the month long process of carbonizing wood into charcoal.

Terry Boddie’s work as a photographer and multi-disciplinary artist explores the historical and contemporary aspects of memory, migration and globalization. The images often blur the distinctions between photography, drawing and painting. Boddie received his BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in 1989 and an MFA from Hunter College in 1997. Recently his work has been exhibited in “KREYOL Factory” at the Parc La Villette in Paris, France and in the show “Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art” at the Brooklyn Museum. His work has also been exhibited at the Smithsonian, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the Philadelphia Museum among other venues. Awards and honors include the Studio Museum of Harlem Artist In Residence, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, The Center for Book Arts Artist in Residence, and Marie Sharpe Walsh Artist in Residence. Terry Boddie received a 2009 NJ print fellowship from the Brodsky Center, a 2009 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a 2011/2012 photography grant from the George and Helen Segal Foundation.

Terry Boddie was an artist in residence at CPW in August 2002