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Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Devil In The Details


Entering the the unknown.

On a hot, steamy August morning in 2008 I approached the Quartermaster's Warehouse at Fort Andrews on Peddocks Island.  As I trudged through the gigantic almost pre-historic looking weeds and ferns I noticed the ground had become quite muddy due to the rainstorms the night before.  I had never in seven summers of going there seen a single mammal on the island, not even a squirrel, but as I looked down that day I noticed cloven hoof prints in the muddy path leading up to the warehouse. "Deer?" was my first reaction, "Or the devil!" was my second. (This being Peddocks I had learned over the years that it was a wildly different kind of place and to expect virtually any realization in this world of altered perception.)  Despite my trepidation about encountering the Prince of Darkness himself I proceeded to enter the building.  The warehouse was actually two separate buildings connected together to appear as one large brick structure.  The other half was the Corps of Engineers warehouse.  The Quartermaster's portion of the building was where a large mural of the USS North Carolina had allegedly been drawn by Italian POWs who were interned here during World War II. This was located in a very dark office on the second floor.  Though I had been in the office in years past it was so dark that I didn't know the drawing was there until years later when after hearing about its existence I went to deliberately to search it out.  Such was Peddocks where in the shifting light things appeared and disappeared almost as though in a dream.

I had been photographing and documenting the drawings in the office on a number of occasions that summer.  The main culmination of this was a photo I called Between The Windows of The Sea which depicted the North Carolina image. I also recorded the two smaller crests in the room; the 241st Coast Artillery Corps unit insignia and the Coast Artillery Corps insignia as well.  And as shown above I shot numerous videos of entering the building and finding the office.

On this particular day I wanted to closely examine the remarkable detail of the North Carolina drawing.  This was  outside of my usual operating procedure as I always tried to not get to sucked in or preoccupied by some distracting detail  as while Peddocks was a magical place I always realized that it could kill you too if your head wasn't screwed on about going there.  These were dangerous buildings that had not been maintained in nearly 70 years.  A careless step could be disastrous.  My relaxed attitude about entering the building for the fourth time in a couple of weeks led me to not "clear the building" as I always did before conducting operations. This would come back on me a short while later.

 As I intently perused the picture the silence was shattered by an incredibly loud bang from the third floor. It sounded as though something extremely heavy had slammed to the floor though I knew no large objects existed in that floor. With my heart still racing from the initial shock I hurriedly gathered all my gear which I had casually laid around the room.  My first inclination was to immediately abort the mission and head for the exit.  But then I was overcome by a feeling of resolve to "hold the position"..  I felt I had taken the building and I was determined to not be driven out no matter what.  I headed to the other end of the hall where there was a large warehouse room.  I dropped my gear and lit up some smoke, waiting for what or whoever made that noise to make themselves known.  I left at my own speed eventually, but I never went upstairs to see what it was either.  When one ascended those stairs their heads would be the first thing exposed at floor level...and I had seen those horror movies.

You can now purchase beautiful 13" x 19" prints of  my new portfolio, Endless War, at my new shop at www.facebook.com/donfeeneyphotography/ as well as on my website at www.donfeeney.com

Monday, May 9, 2016

New! Endless War

Blood In The Water

My journey through the ruins of World War II has taken me to many unexpected and unusual places both physical and metaphysical.  No journey has been more transformative though than that which found me emerging from behind the camera to appear as the subject(s) of my photographs. This through-the-lens progression started innocently enough with my adopting more and more actual military gear as the clothing and equipment I used while photographing out of practicality.  I had written about this a while back in an earlier post entitled, The Lost Year and the Commando Raid.  I then started to portray a solitary figure as a result of an aborted project a friend of mine had wanted to do involving an armed hooded figure.  I liked the idea and decided to try to do it myself.  I had not been accustomed to photographing the figure at the time so it was an interesting challenge to pursue. I did a small series based on this concept, but soon was confronted with the limits of  constantly depicting a single individual.  Some time passed where I was not inspired do any figurative work, but concentrated instead on a series based on projecting images in the rooms of the bunkers.  I still like to incorporate this device into my latest work at times.

Last Fall I decided to once again attempt to re-approach the beast I had known as Photoshop for a third time.  My two previous forays with the program were fraught with confusion and frustration, but I knew I had overcome this in order to take my work to a higher level as I am always striving to do,  This time I broke through the barriers that previously existed and came to grips with the demon. It enabled me to expand my vision in the direction I had first conceived when I started taking pictures which was to photographically create the kinds of scenes that I had done using found images and painted backgrounds.  This caused me to change the way that I worked immensely.  I can now populate my scenes with multiple characters.  I no longer rely on happenstance in a stream of consciousness kind of way, but rather I approach creating each scene more like shooting a movie. There is an entirely new set of demands both visually and physically that must be accommodated. For one thing, whereas before the idea was to infiltrate and flow with the nature of the location, now each scene has to be "scripted" and performed, as it were, and then extensively edited to make it visually compelling.  I still rely greatly on the spectacular natural light found in the forts, but I have also started to augment it with the use of a flash at times.  I have also now discovered the virtues of cloudy weather for its wonderfully even light and ominous feel.  In the past I would seek out the sunniest days to infuse the structures with the most vibrant, lurid color.  All of this I feel has reinvigorated my work and opened unlimited possibilities. 

The culmination of this transformation is now available for viewing in a new portfolio entitled, Endless War.  You can view and purchase these new images at my website: www.donfeeney.com and on my Facebook page,  All of the images on my website are available and are custom printed in various sizes from 4" x 6" up to /16" x 24".  You can also view and follow the photos on Instagram. Please contact me at donfeeney@donfeeney.com if you have any questions or requests.

Update: You can now purchase beautiful 13" x 19" prints of  my new portfolio, Endless War, at my new shop at www.facebook.com/donfeeneyphotography/

Thursday, September 10, 2015

This Hard Place


 For the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to travel out to Boston's Harbor Islands, most notably Georges Island, Peddocks Island and Lovells Island.  Georges Island and Fort Warren have been transformed into the hub of the Harbor Islands State Park and thus has been rendered a tourist destination as opposed to the once idyllic getaway it could be just a few years ago. Peddocks, my favorite, has suffered a worse fate as  most of what once was Fort Andrews has either been torn down or boarded up. The magical home to my first photographs, my World War Wonderland has been snuffed out.  So I was left with Lovells Island as my location of choice this summer.  Lovells is a hardscrabble strip of land facing out towards the outermost harbor and the Brewster Islands. It sits across from Fort Warren along what was once the main shipping channel entering Boston. It's shape has been severely reconfigured by erosion since WWII though. As a testament to this a large communications bunker lies in a massive heap on the beach having been ripped from its original hillside location by the savage winter surf.  Unlike the other islands I mentioned nothing really has been done to despoil this rugged place which on a blazing hot summer day can bring to mind some desolate Southwestern Pacific island in 1944...if one is so inclined.

I had not been to Lovells or the concrete remains of Fort Standish for about five summers.  Any time I traveled to the Harbor Islands I would opt to go to Peddocks as even in its diminished state there were certain challenges yet to be conquered. (See The Summer Campaign blog below)  In fact this year my first visit was to Peddocks where it became abundantly clear that the challenges were pretty much exhausted.

The part of Fort Standish that I find most compelling is known as Battery Terrill or Battery Terror as I prefer to call it. It was originally a triple six inch rifle battery and it managed to survive in service until 1943 when its sadly antiquated weaponry was removed and replaced with more modern armaments.  Now it is wildly overgrown and crumbling like so many of my locations,,,only more so.  Its great appeal is that it is a wonderful spot to occupy for hours as one can watch the sadly beautiful light change from lurid green to golden yellow and pink with shades of blue as the afternoon progresses.  It is a subtle but spectacular shift in tones to witness particularly in late August.  The light at that time is most like that which used to inhabit Peddocks Island in its luminescent heyday.  The other very notable quality the rooms of the emplacement have is a remarkable sound quality with an extraordinary echo developing the deeper one ventures into the bowels of the structure.  On certain days the sound of jet engines at Logan Airport is amplified in such a way as to sound like the rumble of an angry volcano constantly on the verge of erupting.

 I was fortunate to get number of "picture perfect" days for my travels to the islands this summer, but three of the days suddenly ended with thunderstorms, one of which was particularly nasty. On the day the photo above was shot  as the violent storm approached the vibrant colors that illuminated the bunkers became dark with shadows and drained of coloration. I had attempted to shoot the image above another time, but it was too bright even in the seemingly darkened casemate to get a clear projection. While the thunder rumbled ever closer I worked feverishly like a camouflaged Dr. Frankenstein to set up the shot. I knew I couldn't rush things but I soon had to get back to the boat which involved an arduous hump across the island. This included crossing a significantly large enough wide open area that it seemed like it could called Lightning Alley under such circumstances. The oncoming shitstorm became an ideal time not only to get the right lighting effect for the shot, but also it created the  perfect setting to create an image of a war criminal about to be executed.

 

Saturday, August 15, 2015


The Cottage

video

A place collapsing under it's own weight

During a sultry July morning in 2004, on the day that my father was to have heart bypass surgery, I stood in the Fort Commander's Station of Fort Andrews on Peddocks Island. Inside the crumbling two story brick tower the heavy, humid air felt literally "full of monsters" as thunderstorms brewed in the firmament over the horizon.  I was possessed by the the most curious urge to visit what had been a caretaker's cottage on the other side of the East Head of the island.  I had not visited this location for two years as it did not seem to fit with the feel or the architecture of the fort's other structures. Also it was impenetrably boarded up and overgrown when I had last explored there. But on this day it was almost as if a voice implored me to go back.

I arrived at the cottage to discover that the hoarding that had prevented entry into the building had been since torn off and one could gain access  to what remained of the front porch.  From there I could look through a shattered window into the house to see a chaotic scene of destruction and decay.  In the midst of this sea of rotting trash and deteriorating personal affects one pink easy chair lying toppled over on it's back stood out, eerily illuminated by a near nuclear blast of daylight coming in a side window.  In surveying this scene my first involuntary thought was, "Daddy's gone!" For me in a single moment it represented not only a commentary on the fate of this place's former occupant, but it was also a defiant, truthful rebuke to my father. The Colonel, who had for so long intimidated us with his authoritarian approach was suddenly vulnerable and his existence was hanging in the balance. Now I was the strong one who was there to record this bizarre confluence of events in a still image as we were, in a sense,  meeting at a distorted cosmic crossroads.

A few days later when I visited my father at the VA Hospital after his surgery he related a dream he had while recovering from the operation.  He told me he had dreamed of being in his brother's gas station (itself a ruinous relic of South Boston lore) when he heard repeated hammering coming from the back.  When he peered into back room of the station he saw a man hammering a coffin together.  Perplexed he turned to his brother and asked, "What's he doing?" to which his brother replied, "Don't you know?  He's making your coffin."  I never told him, but I knew that I was in this cottage at that moment having my "Daddy's gone" thought and that we were together in the same place.  It just looked different to each of us. 

I crawled through the remnants of jagged wood, broken glass and rusted nails that once was a window to enter the rabbit hole.  All of the windows save the busted one were covered with thick yellowing sheets of filthy plastic making for an unbearably hot and claustrophobic atmosphere.  The place was in complete upheaval with overturned furniture, mattresses and sundry smaller household items littering the floor.  The odd reminder of mundane existence - an iron, an old handbag, Christmas decorations, some crumbling beach chairs and a child's watering can were randomly tossed about while piles of magazines still neatly stacked lay melting into pulp on the floor where they had once been so purposefully placed.  One item oddly stood out - a jar of pickles that were desiccated, but weirdly preserved lay on the heap like a specimen.  But there was something not right about it all.  There was no rhyme or reason to it. Some things rotted while others were pristine with no apparent regard to time or conditions. To add to it there was an unsettling feeling that someone may have still been living there.

As I ventured further into the kitchen I wondered what that ticking sound I was hearing was. It turned out it was my heart pounding in my throat. I feebly called, "Hello?" not really wanting to hear what response I might receive. I squeezed through the kitchen door that was permanently frozen slightly ajar and entered the room.  The strangeness continued.  A potful of what appeared to have once been white rice sat on the table while half filled cardboard boxes seemed to indicate the original owner had been in the process of moving out when time stopped. Dishes were still carefully placed in a corner cupboard while plastic gallon milk jugs full of water and marked "RAIN" were scattered around the room. I thought, "If these jugs had been here for, say twenty years, the water surely would have evaporated by now."

I retreated back to the front parlor to capture the photo I naturally would entitle, "Daddy's Gone" while trying to find steady footing on the foul mountain of old mattresses and seat cushions. I was not intrepid enough to chance going upstairs.  That would wait for another visit.  When I turned to go I found to my chagrin that front door was in fact wide open so I was spared the ordeal of contorting myself to exit through the front window.  But after having been so enveloped by this dark and twisted space it was as if I were silently being allowed to leave.  I departed as a vivid bolt of lightning sliced the sky across the bay.  A storm was coming.


Monday, February 9, 2015

A Ghost Is Born




This past Spring I had the good fortune to, by chance, visit Fort Burnside in Jamestown, Rhode Island.  I had not made an excursion to there since the infamous day 3 years before when my camera was smashed at Fort Wetherill by a gust of wind.  On past missions I have felt at times there was some sense of a premonition about exploring a particular location and this was the case in this instance.  I was rewarded for my curiosity when I discovered Battery 213 - formerly a Series 200 6 inch gun battery - was open and accessible. This was especially a thrill for a bunker enthusiast like myself as it represented the first such emplacement I had gained entry to in all my years of "bunker diving" as I call it. (I can hear the gasps of envy from here.)  These were World War II era designs that were the smaller caliber brothers to the massive Series 100 16" inch gun battery casemates of the renowned 1940 Modernisation Program of Harbor Defenses.  Once inside I quickly discovered that the town had been using the bunker for some sort of fire training. The walls were blackened by smoke and had been drenched by fire hoses which caused the black soot to drip down the fading yellow concrete walls. The hoses were strewn across the floors and some shell rooms were packed with hay and wooden palettes in preparation for the next conflagration. The interior rooms which comprised the former command center for the battery had been arranged like an apartment with musty, waterlogged old furniture, I suppose to train firemen on navigating a smoky environment in a fire. The dampness and years of fires made the bunker smell rancid, charred and dank.  Altogether there was feeling of the place being haunted by some distant tragedy, an odd sensation as the battery was never remotely in combat.  But like all the World War II era emplacements I've visited there is an aura of that colossal tragedy that pervades them.  I've never encountered a ghost in my travels and because of that I don't put much stock in such things, but this place certainly felt like it was somewhere one could.

I had recently acquired a Sony Handycam video camera that had the added feature of possessing a very nice projector that could project either videos or images on the camera with great clarity. While preparing for this particular mission I had, as it would turn out, ironically chosen the general theme of children in war.  The command center turned apartment offered me the opportunity to project an image into total darkness from a doorway in the entrance corridor. I chose an image of a young cabin boy aboard the ill fated German liner, Wilhelm Gustloff as my first experiment. What occurred was extraordinary and was almost like bringing a ghost to life.  The image did not distort against the irregular background of decrepit furnishings, but instead hung in the midst of the room like a spectre.  It was as though the vague imaginings I had of a haunted, tragic place were given a plaintive face beckoning from another time. 

In the photograph shown above I added some very basic flash (keeping it raw) that I bounced off the overhead thus illuminating the details of the "apartment" while preserving the ethereal quality of the projected image.

I was able to make three separate forays to the location in the Spring, but in case one were inclined to make a trip down to see Battery 213 it is currently resealed by the forces of oppression and the Town of Jamestown.  On my final visit in September of last year the iron grates over the entrances had been returned to their hinges once again securing the ghosts of Battery 213 from public view.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Summer Campaign

Somewhere in the woods...


Welcome back. During these short, bleak days of December there's no better time to cast one's memory back to the events of warmer, sunnier times...like the invasion of Europe.

This past summer I was able to get to my favorite location and the seminal epicenter of this entire project, Peddocks Island and the (dwindling) remains of Fort Andrews on four fun'n'sun-filled occasions.   As recently as 2009 this place was a (somewhat) intact Army installation last used during World War II. Ironically its last use by the Army was as an Italian POW camp, though it is most widely known as the place where the 2010 Martin Scorsese movie, Shutter Island, was vaguely  purported to have taken place.  When I first discovered the fort by chance during the summer of 2001 I could not believe what an incredible find it was - an entire World War II era,  MGM back lot-style location was essentially at my disposal.  Now,  the "authorities" have stepped in and ruined things as always.  Most of the magnificently crumbling quarters and support buildings have been razed while the remaining ones have been sealed up.  Near the 6" and 3" gun batteries, in an area I used to call "The Bocage" after the Normandy battle zone because of its thick overarching vegetation,  there are now fucking things called "yurts".  World War Wonderland has vanished for all practical purposes.  America successfully buries its past once again.  Start busing in the slack-jawed tourists who have "never seen a seagull before", the bad music thumping through the wilderness from the flotilla of cruise boats and, of course the spray paint.

However there are still intriguing places to be found by those willing to pay the price where the modern age has not wiped out the last flickers of history and imagination.  Deep in the woods are located the remains of two fire control structures, one accepted into service on D-Day, 1944 and the other from World War I which is made from that wonder product of the age, cemestos .  There are also the ruins of a dormitory and one of the first radio stations in the Army - more on this in a later post.  Their existence is owed to the fact that they are virtually uncharted and are so overgrown that one can literally be 20 feet away and not see them.  Did I mention that one must go through a sea of poison ivy and deep waves of incredibly tough vines whose only purpose in nature is seemingly to produce huge thorns?  Now that I've told everyone exactly where it is I can finally reveal that this is where I love to spend my summer vacation.  The concrete WWII bunker-like structure which I had located last year after numerous attempts was my base of operations.  (It also makes for a great place to watch birds from, but better bring a bucket of DEET, those mosquitoes are hungry!) As a testament to just how isolated it is it, there is no graffiti and there is still glass in some of the windows - unheard of features in today's Coast Artillery environment!   From my historic hideaway I would go "on patrol" in search of the the highly elusive radio station and beyond. 

The overall search for these locations occurred over the course of multiple visits to Peddocks and took place over the span of at least four years.  Only after repeated attempts and extensive research of maps, photos and satellite images in addition to learning to use a compass and later a GPS device  - not to mention a machete - I finally took the top of the hill for good this year.   These are the kind of good, hardcore missions, the ones where you're sweaty, sore, banged up, maybe even bleeding a little as well as being visually exhausted by the end of it,  that keep this project going.  

After all, the best pictures are always in the worst places.

P.S. - If you're planning on visiting the bunker next summer please let us know in advance so we can set the Claymores.