Lead Poisoning

I set up the moth trap in the woods next to the Garden Station in Northumberland again the other evening and returned next morning to find over 100 moths of 39 different species. There were 31 new species to add to the 44 I had recorded as part of the installation I did there two years ago. This gives me enough to be able to complete the “Shadow Castings – Northern Wood” piece that I started back in 2009. The process involves drawing the moths, cutting them from a cardboard stencil and using the stencil to make a candle smoke print, in this case on a sheet of rusted iron rescued from the station’s allotment garden. I have also been working on another “Shadow Cast” this time based on moths trapped over a three year period in our garden and printed on paper.

“Shadow Castings – Northern Garden 2008-11″

I see the process as a primitive form of photography, the trap as the camera which uses light to capture the subject, the stencil as the negative and the smoke as the chemical process employed to make the print.

I was talking to Mike who runs the Garden Station about lead mining as the station was built to service the Langley Lead Smelting Works nearby. The lead ore would have come down from the Alston mines by pack horse and then by rail. He said that the ducks who used to swim on the pond in the wood near to the remains of the old works had all died and he had brought in a scientist from Environmental Health to investigate. They found that the area was heavily contaminated with lead ore and that the patch of soil that had served as the station’s allotment contained over three times the permissible lead levels. Consequently he doesn’t grow his own veg!

He also told me that the lead company got fed up with paying compensation to farmers for dead livestock and built a mile long flue from the smelters, up the hill to a tall chimney to carry away the poisonous smoke. They found that lead and silver residue would collect on the walls of the flue and, always with an eye on a profit, employed local children to crawl up the tunnel to scape it off. Children were cheaper than cows!

Stublick Chimney (the flue carrying the toxic fumes came in from the right hand side)