The Last Stand

The Last Stand by Marc Wilson Image copyright Marc Wilson

The landscape around us has been shaped by successive generations, moulded to our needs be it for agricultural, economic or transport reasons. Yet within it there are traces of the past that surface from time to time, yet one past trace that I'm sure those of us who live in the British Isles have all seen are the coastal defences rapidly constructed during World War II.

The remains of a network of pillboxes and gun emplacements can be found at various coastal locations around the country and a short trip across the English Channel will ensure you come face to face with the Nazi Atlantic Wall that was there to stop the Allied forces returning to mainland Europe, something it failed to achieve.

These constructions may lack architectural glamour yet they are important parts of our recent history and do have a certain beauty, and a fascination for many especially as children.

Photographer Marc Wilson has been busily recording these structures before many of them are reduced to rubble or swept under the waves. His delicate pictures contrast with the rough construction and the planned use of each site where men hid, ready to kill the approaching enemy.

"This large body of work came out of a project I photographed about six years ago that included in its locations two of these coastal defences," says Wilson. "From this my interest was sparked and further research into the subject matter in 2010 led me to realise the importance of producing this work, both as a document to the physical structures and their place in the shifting landscapes surrounding them, and as a stimulus for thought and reflection on the histories, and memories of these places.

"Underlying all of this, and shared by many others I am sure, are also my own connections to this period of history and its effects on individuals, families and whole cultures."

Image copyright Marc Wilson
Image caption Portland, Dorset, England, 2011

Wilson is working with a researcher on the history of the sites which will be shown alongside the images when they go on show at the Royal Armouries exhibitions.

Wilson works with a tripod based 5 x 4 large format camera and colour negative film. He tells me, "this type of camera was chosen due to its ability to shift the planes between lens and film and thus keep vertical lines straight, and drop or raise the image when shooting from the base of a structure or a high cliff edge. As well as its large size screen for composition. This size and type of film also allows for incredibly detailed and subtle imagery which was always an important aspect for me and the intended use of the photographs as prints for exhibition and a book.

"Working in this way does mean a very considered and slow approach is necessary, but this suited the subject matter. I do not feel that these are locations that can be rushed into and snapped but rather are ones that demanded reflection from me as I travelled to and photographed them.

"With each sheet of film costing nearly £7 to buy and process (and then a further £25 to produce each high resolution scan for printing) I photograph only what is needed. For the 42 final images from the 75 locations visited I have used just under 200 sheets of film. So an average of three shots at each location, not many when you have travelled over 1,000 miles to get somewhere."

So far he has travelled more than 10,000 miles by road plus a little by sea and air but he's not done yet. He recently had some success in the Terry O'Neill Award and the prize money from which will help him travel to Orkney to photograph five more locations, and if he can secure further funding he will also be photographing in Denmark, Norway and along the Western coast of France.

Image copyright Marc Wilson
Image caption Studland Bay, Dorset, England, 2011
Image copyright Marc Wilson
Image caption St Marguerite Sur Mer, Upper Normandy, France, 2012
Image copyright Marc Wilson
Image caption Cramond Island, Firth of Forth, Scotland, 2012
Image copyright Marc Wilson
Image caption Orford Ness, Suffolk, England, 2012
Image copyright Marc wilson
Image caption Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 2012
Image copyright Marc Wilson
Image caption Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland, 2011

You can see more of Marc Wilson's work on his website.