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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.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Lost Year and The Commando Raid


It's been quite a while since I've done a post obviously.  Without going into long and tedious detail about the circumstances that knocked me out of action, I will just say that it was year that began with my camera getting smashed and went on to feature far too much involvement with my aging and highly dysfunctional family.  'Nuff said.

One photo "mission" (as I call my shoots) that may have been a turning point, at least in my own outlook, was a visit to the former West Reservation of Fort Greene and Battery 109.  It is located in what is now known as Fishermen's State Park in Narragansett Rhode Island.  When I had gone there in December 2012 I found that the bunker had been fenced off and that a good deal of the vegetation that had enshrouded it was being removed.  I was still able to gain entry though because I happened to notice one of the gates was left unlocked and there was no one around on frigid grey afternoon.  In January I returned with a sense that this might be the last time I would have personal unrestricted access to the unrestored battery. 

Battery 109 is a Series 100 bunker built during World War II to house two 16 inch guns - the largest guns in the U.S. inventory that were similar to those mounted on the top of the line battleships in service at the time.  These bunkers are massive earth covered concrete structures some 600 feet long and at least 35 feet high.  Battery 109 was never armed as by the time it was completed the threat from a coastal engagementwith large surface ships had long passed.  Now it stands vacant in the middle of a summertime tourist encampment surrounded by Winnebagos and trailers.  God knows what "They" are going to with it now that it has caught the interest of the authorities.

When I arrived at the park I discovered that not only had the bunker remained fenced off, but that there was a state work crew with a park ranger in tow doing something or other with huge cutting wheel in the rear of Gun Emplacement 2.  Though one can usually gain entry to these locations without too much trouble it is a good idea to exercise discretion when attempting to do so.  Battery109 is posted as "State Property - No Tresspassing!" after all.  So, with that in mind,  I was forced to climb the battery and traverse the length of it to see if somehow I could get in through Emplacement 1 at the far end.  I was able to slip behind the fencing from the top of the bunker in proceed down the slope and over the concrete retaining wall at Gun Emplacement 1.  From that end of the long corridor that connects the gun positions I was able to see that the crew was not actually working inside the emplacement, but were outside at the entrance. 

This is when one of those strange epiphanies or realizations that have been so much a part of this work came to me.  Over the course of time my own appearance while photographing had transformed.  I had gradually adopted more and more genuine, contemporary Army gear including a full camo uniform mostly out of these items' genuine usefulness for doing this kind of work.  (The rugged ACUs - Army Combat Uniforms - are really good for crawling around the sometimes inhospitable terrain around the various abandoned structures and the "Camelbak" water supply system that fits into one's backpack is a godsend!)

It occurred to me that as I had become outfitted in "full battle rattle" with uniform, black watch cap, tactical flashlight and three day assault pack, etc.,  that I could sneak, commando-like, down the dark corridor and into the power and ventilation rooms I was interested in shooting located in the center of the battery.   That particular moment of personal involvement, of stepping out from behind the camera and becoming like a character in my own own story at that particular time, led me to take the ultimate step towards full immersion in this project.  I would become a character who is the embodiment of these kinds of places, of the years of lies and violence that gave birth to what we have become today.

The mission that I later named "Operation Landlord" was an exhilarating success.  The next time out I would introduce "Mr. Skin" to the world.

Stay tuned, cosmoliners...


Friday, August 3, 2012

Welcome!

Welcome to the first post on my new edsel addams speaks blog.  In the coming weeks I'm looking forward to sharing some descriptions and background stories about my photographic work on the project, Cosmoliner
I believe this blog will add a compelling dimension to my photographs by helping to shed some light on  the circumstances surrounding their creation.  Over the past ten years there have been many strangely ironic occurrences and fascinating adventures while exploring and photographing the remaining Coast Artillery Corps fortifications - those ignominious artifacts of the last World War and our not-so-distant violent past.
  
I hope you will enjoy hearing about these experiences and check back frequently as well as visiting my website, donfeeney.com.