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...