Scott Herring is an artist behind a lens. He's not looking to simply take a picture.

Instead, Herring is using photos to tell the story of our region.

For the past forty years, the Tamaqua native has used two gifts - the technical capability of a camera and his limitless ingenuity - to paint a timeless mural of a rich culture and a disappearing landscape.

The end result is The Hardcoal Chronicles Fortieth Anniversary, a canvas that captures the life and times of the anthracite coal fields and the essence of the hardworking people who built America.

Since taking his first snapshot in 1973 - an image of Central Railroad of New Jersey's #1554 engine as it pulled coal cars - Herring has been motivated, not just by photography, but by a greater calling. Herring believes that the legendary anthracite region is much more than his home, it is something special in the country. So special that its story needs to be preserved.

Sparked by that motive, Herring has amassed what is believed to be the largest individually produced and funded body of work of its kind in the region's long history - some 150,000 images in 242 portfolios-in-progress.

His work is untainted by commercial motives. In fact, Herring insists his project be completely self-funded to guarantee artistic license.

Herring's devotion to the region is tied to family lineage. His father was a bootleg coal miner, and his grandfather, a welder for Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company's #14 colliery. Thus, the coal and railroad industry is in his blood.

Technology has changed in four decades and Herring was forced to adapt.

For instance, the method of capturing images has evolved dramatically since the days of black-and-white film processing inside a dark room. The first major change was a trend toward color film. Next came the switch from film to digital. Herring stayed atop each transformation, but considers those earliest pictures some of his most valuable.

"I started with 35 mm slides and would go to the drugstore to get prints made," he says. He recalls using 126 mm film inside "an off-brand Sears camera."

Even in those earliest days, he shared his images with Tamaqua townspeople.

"I'd run into Gem Jewelers to Mike Manderlick and he'd ask about the pictures I was taking." Herring also would visit Myrtle Menhennit, clerk at Weller Brothers Candy Store, and many other friends and neighbors and show them his shots.

Chasing the whistle

Herring's fondest memory of childhood is hearing the trains from his grandparents' house high atop Dutch Hill.

"I'd go running down Market Street when I heard the train. They got to know me. They'd even let me jump aboard, those Lehigh & New England guys."

Motivated by his fascination with coal and mining, Herring went on to study geology at Ohio State and Ohio Wesleyan University, and would become a familiar face around the mines and railroads of Pennsylvania and beyond.

Pursuing his passion, Herring earned unprecedented access to geological and industrial resources, a key to amassing his collection of images.

Interestingly, Herring manned a camera around the clock, capturing a wealth of nighttime images in addition to the more standard workday pictures.

"The lighting is much different at night," acknowledges Herring, 52, life member of the Tamaqua Historical Society.

Herring's career allowed him to travel extensively. For a time, he worked in lumber commodities and for the Transit Authority in Texas. He is now employed as a capacity expansion planner in the mining industry.

Making Herring's archives even more valuable is the reality that two-thirds of the subject matter he has documented on film already has disappeared. Moreover, a significant portion of that two-thirds represents the only images of the subjects known to exist. This is part of the reason why Herring is widely regarded as 'The Last Anthracite Photographer.'

"Scott Herring's superb photographs between 1973 and the present serve to document and preserve the heritage, culture and icons of our area and the anthracite region," says Dale Freudenberger, anthracite region coordinator, Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

"Many of these icons from previous generations such as coal breakers, generations of miners, railroad sites, town scenes and more have been lost since Scott first started documenting them. We are grateful for his contributions to preserving the heritage and culture of our anthracite region in his photographs," Freudenberger adds.

Herring is proud to say that "none of these images have ever been sold for any personal profit - instead, they are exclusively available in support of the many worthy hard coal cultural heritage and historic restoration efforts throughout the Coal Region and eastern Pennsylvania."

In February, he donated a print to Tamaqua SOS. It depicts a railroad scene captured in front of the depot in 1975. The framed image is now hanging in the dining room of the Restaurant at The Station.

The Hardcoal Chronicles Fortieth Anniversary formally will be launched January, 2013. Fittingly, it will debut in Herring's hometown of Tamaqua, southern Gateway to the Anthracite Region. Another show will follow in Pottsville in April. The local shows will kick off a full series of showings throughout Pennsylvania. More information is available at coalpix@yahoo.com.

Ultimately, Herring's presentation serves as a salute to the people who made it possible.

"The images and information presented," he says, "are dedicated to my extended family - the monumental men and women of the hard coal region who mine the coal, run the trains, make the steel, and build the America we represent."

It's a story that needs to be told, he says. And Herring feels honored and humbled to have a part in telling it.

He introduces 40 years of greatness with five simple words:

"This is our family album."