Marc Wilson

Triplekite Publishing, 2014

ISBN 978-0957634558 Hb


The British and German coastal defence structures of World War II – pillboxes, gun batteries, anti-tank blocks, anti-submarine defences, radar stations and so on – which survive in large numbers around Britain and north-west continental Europe are perhaps the most visible relics of the war, although they remain rather overlooked as historic sites. Marc Wilson’s study sets them in their historic context and reminds us not only of their existence but of their extent and variety and the story of unparalleled international struggle that they evoke.

            The book reaches beyond documentary, however. Sites are generally photographed as wide-open landscapes, in which colours are muted and weather conditions are flat and still. The images have a quietness, along with a level of large-format detail, that encourages slow looking and underpins the contemplative qualities inherent in all ‘aftermath photography’, in which sites are depicted where traumatic events have previously taken place.

Although some structures – such as those at Les Grandes Rocques in Guernsey – are represented in a way that emphasizes their still-awesome scale and strength, the majority connote the transience of human experience and effort. Most are shown as patently derelict, relatively small within the frame and sometimes partially concealed by folds in the land. In almost all images, no other artefact or human trace is shown. The structures are therefore distanced from any role they might play in contemporary life – say, as tourist destinations, or waymarkers, or stock pens. What appears to matter here is their fragile survival within their greater landscape setting. The concept of ‘military sublime’ might sometimes be taken to signify representations of the charisma of military power; but here it reflects the opposite: our being brought face-to-face with the utterly insignificant impact of the most devastating war in history on the twin vastnesses of Nature and Time.