Review: Hidden in Plain Sight – a photographic journey into Cornish Mines by Claire Wilson

hidden in plain sight review

“Cornwall is hollow. Centuries of mining has created a honeycomb network of tunnels that criss-cross beneath the beautiful Cornish landscape . . .”

The evocative opening lines of Claire Wilson‘s book Hidden in Plain Sight hint at the strange subterranean world which her new collection of photographs reveals. A world hidden from view but one also deeply relevant, undeniably connected and historically important to us above.

Claire Willson hidden in plain sight

This book explores the legacy of Cornish mining above and below the surface. It takes us into the hidden labyrinth of underground workings that weave through our landscape, built in order to plunder the Cornwall’s minerals, and now abandoned by their creators. But Claire’s book is also a study of the tenacity of nature and it’s ability to reclaim and in turn exploit these man-made scars on the earth.

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“Cornish mines have been here for so long that it’s practically a part of the Cornish blood and Cornwall population has grown around and even over the mining landscape itself.”

Hidden in Plain Sight is full of exciting and unusual images. From the bizarre above-ground photographs of exposed adits, poking through the earth like wooden skeletons, to the macro shots of fungi living where you would think nothing should or could. For any one interesting mining this is a must but it is also an incredibly interesting book for anyone living in or visiting Cornwall. It really does opens your eyes to a whole other world!

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Undoubtedly the images are the star here but Claire has also filled this book with fascinating and thought-provoking facts about the mining industry.

“Whole towns are built around and on top of mines . . . Mine explorers tell of some tunnels where you can look up and see the floorboards of homes, and perhaps the owners have no idea what’s below them . . .”

Interview with the Author:

Claire Wilson is a professional photographer and writer who has lived in Cornwall for most of her life, but I was particularly interested in what made her want to venture into these dark spaces. What drove her to create this beautiful book about places that most people would never know existed? She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions:

  • How did ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ come about? How did you start, what made you want to photograph underground!?

“I have been working on the idea of a book for the past 10 years, gathering images of wildlife and mining landscapes but I didn’t have a fixed vision for it until October 2018 when I returned to some of my old childhood haunts.

I was brought up in one of the most heavily mined areas in Cornwall, and this was an inspiration to studying a degree in Geology at the University of Leicester.

Returning to the former mining areas with all the experience and understanding I have gained throughout the years made me look at things differently. I realised that there was so much of Cornish mining that is overlooked. We tend to focus on the ruins of an industry without realising that much of Cornwall is a post-industrial landscape.

So, I researched the subject, and found people who showed me how to look at what is hidden in plain sight. These same people told me that I could go underground with them! And it was then that I knew how I wanted to develop this book.”

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  • The old mine workings must be a pretty challenging place to be. What was it like working in that environment, did you feel claustrophobic?

“The first time I went underground was almost my last. Part way into the tunnel I felt the panic of claustrophobia suffocate me. I didn’t even know that I suffered from claustrophobia!

Hyperventilating my way through the tunnel, expecting it to collapse on top of me at any time, I came across a scene that was breath-taking. The colours that you can see underground can be astounding, and I took my camera out and, while the stress never went away, I was able to control my anxiety enough and I was gripped by this subterranean world.”

  • What were the main issues/ challenges to overcome to get the images and put this book together?

“One of the main issues putting this book together was making the choice of what to include and what not to. The subject is huge, something that could go on for many books let alone just one.

But I knew that I wanted to have a complete story to try to give as much justice to the overall subject. I was also very passionate about making sure to include things such as the environmental impact (both positive in terms of nature, and negative in terms of pollution) that our mines have on our county because we often don’t think about these things. It took me a long time to think about how I could incorporate it all without one part of it overwhelming the rest.

My biggest challenges were with photographing underground. More so with the macro photography of the nature growing in the darkness. It is incredibly difficult to focus a lens in the dark! And getting the lighting just right can take a long time… which is hard enough on the surface but in a small space while I’m stressed because of claustrophobia, produced some of the most intense moments of my photography to date.”

  • What most surprised you about the landscape/environment in the mines?

“There are so many things that surprised me, not least the acidic nature of many of the mines. But the thing that most surprised me was that there was so much colour underground. I imagined it would be dark and dingy but there are places underground where the water flows down the sides of tunnels, depositing minerals with intense colours. Yellows, blues, reds, orange. It’s breath-taking.”

hidden in plain sight

A Cornish Collaboration

As well as exploring a topic that is so close to every Cornish person’s heart Hidden in Plain Sight is also a real collaboration of Cornish people and businesses. The book was made possible through Crowdfunding, some of the images were shot at Rosevale Mine and Ben Sumpter at Cornwall Underground Adventures was Claire’s guide in some of the underground spaces. The book itself has been printed locally by Leopard Print.

Buy a Copy!

If you would like to purchase Hidden in Plain Sight it is currently available at Waterstones HERE and direct from Claire’s website HERE.

*Note: I am not paid for any of my reviews but I was gifted a copy of the book.

Further Reading:

The Cornish Mars

The Iconic Wheal Coates

Levant Mine and the Tin Coast – Rising Fortunes & Going Underground!

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