George Harven

Name of interviewee: George Harven
Date of birth/age at interview:  February 25, 1921/72
Interviewer:  Lance Metz
Interview date:  June 11, 1993
Interview location:  Landsford, Pa.
Interview length:  1 hour, 21 minutes
Time span discussed:  1920s through 1950s

Summary:  George Harven took remarkable photographs of miners and mines in the 1950s during the last days of tunnel mining in Eastern Pennsylvania. His oral history opens the door to the miners, the union vs. management struggles, and the life of a photographer who trained his eye as a soldier in World War II and the Japanese occupation. STHS has this well executed recording in its collection to illustrate the starting point of the coal that fed the canal boats for so many years.


Time markers:
00:00:00 – introduction; always aware of coal mining, father mined coal for 40 years; collected coal and filled bins as child
00:03:15 – how as a child mined coal from outcrops, dug small holes; during Depression sold extra for 25 cents a bag
00:06:32 – photography, sister photographer, drawn to in high school
00:08:43 – first pictures at local boxing club, thrilled with development and printing first ones
00:11:27 – self-taught, no classes; influenced by Walker Evans and others
00:14:33 – photographed scenes in mountains; joined Civilian Conservation Corp
00:17:40 – repaired airplanes, after Pearl Harbor volunteered to work in Hawaii, drafted in Hawaii
00:23:50 – in hospital, started photography for Army Air Force; Japan
00:25:00 – new camera like heaven; after war head of photo lab in Japan; drawn to the street scenes and the people
00:27:38 – experiences in Tokyo, visit to the undamaged Imperial Palace, photographs of Prince Akihito’s 10th birthday; two years in Japan, hundreds of photos mostly of people
00:32:29 – train wreck before discharge, offered job with Associated Press; almost had to go to Hawaii for discharge
00:35:50 – returns to Pennsylvania, job in Landsford with Allentown Morning Call; candid photos not liked by editor
00:43:55 – best assignments: air crash near Centralia; President Truman in Pottsville, PA; President Kennedy in Hazleton, PA
00:46:35 – two years at Morning Call; quit after photos of striking miners at #6 killed by editor
00:52:28 – own business about 1949, freelance for coal company, access to Coaldale mine #8; photographs of miner’s faces, coal seams, and underground mines
00:54:38 – affinity for the miners, took extra pictures after official commission, help from fire boss
00:56:38 – lighting for photographs, technical problem; sometimes worried about situation in mine
00:58:20 – extra pictures at gallery show at Lehigh University, opened eyes to mine life
01:01:30 – photographed dealers’ groups at mines;
01:03:24 – shocked when mines closed; photographed failing mine businesses in the mid-1950s, mine closings, mass meetings
01:05:50 – lost account; other freelance work; applied to Bethlehem Steel
01:06:58 – approached Lance Coal, time running out, spent all spare time there; other mines over lit, bad for pictures
01:13:55 – Lance Coal Company reopened deep mine #9 as a miners’ co-op; workers proud of job
01:19:43 – others never realized danger of mining, fortunate to photograph it

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