Susan Moffat is a photographer and educator based in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Her fine art and social documentary images explore culture and humanity. The current work, Vanishing Coal, is based on memories and images of the coal industry and her family's past coal mining company in northeastern Pennsylvania. The ongoing project deals with the after-effects of mining and social interactions in that environment.

She's drawn to humanity and the social struggles therein and searches to capture those moments in a striking light.  Working in both analog and digital photography, she has an extensive background in teaching photography and photo history in schools in the USA and overseas. Throughout her photographic career, her imagery has included foreign culture both outside and within the USA.

Susan Moffat has studied under Maggie Steber, Emmit Gowin, Olivia Parker,  and many others. She has exhibited in galleries in the USA; Quebec, Canada; Lisbon, Portugal; and Canary Islands, Spain.

The Work

Vanishing Coal is a personal interpretation and search to discover and make sense of my roots. I went back to my homeland, the coal country in northeastern PA. My grandfather was one of three brothers who owned Moffat Coal Company. They inherited it from their father, who began as a coal miner in 1906. He worked hard to build the business and, while waiting for a trolley in Atlantic City in 1926, my great grandfather was struck by a car and killed. I never knew my grandfather or his brothers as they passed away before my birth.

Taylor, home to the ruins of Moffat Coal Company, is a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania, which is where I based most of my photographic work. During this project, I had the feeling of stepping in and out of a dream. The coal company's shell of the past is a symbol of the post-economic decline, typical in many small US cities. Sitting in the center of 90 acres at the top of a hill in Taylor is an indestructible ruin made of concrete and steel beams. Through the lens, the work shows the area's struggles and strengths and examines both sides, including the beauty of crumbling historic architecture and landscape, and the hard lines etched into the faces of the people.

I had hoped to photograph miners who lived back in the day when coal was the primary source of heat and get a sense of the reality of my mythologized ideas. My memories remain of radios playing a jingle that ended with "You'll enjoy the best in heating, live in comfort day and night... Moffat Premium Anthracite." I remember driving past the massive culm dump in Dunmore on the way into Scranton, the sulfur smell of it burning a place in my memory.

When asking the daughter of one of Moffat's miners how she felt about the history of coal, she said that even though her father died of black lung and had, at one point, been buried by a landslide of coal breaking all of his ribs, it was a job and she said that that was the way it was. 

Most recently, I was able to connect with and photograph active surface-miners. No longer deep mining, strip mining is less dangerous for the workers, but more visible to the land. However, there is effort to reclaim the land and replant. I continue to unveil for the story.

Susan Moffat © All rights reserved.