by Marc Wilson
Today we’re looking at The Last Stand, a long-term project on a combination of topics including landscape, memory and history, from photographer Marc Wilson.
The project documents some of the physical remnants of the Second World War on the coastlines of the British Isles and Northern Europe, focusing on military defence structures that remain, and their place in the shifting landscape that surrounds them.
Marc’s images immediately drew us in with their beautifully consistent subdued colours and lighting, appearing as if they were sets from a film. The lack of activity and the way the structures have been “taken back” into the surrounding landscape creates quite an eerie atmosphere in each location, and the fact that these images depict a real and true history only emphasises the feeling.
The Last Stand is a fantastic series with a lot of research and history behind it: read on below to find out more about Wilson and the project, and how you can purchase his book.
First of all, please introduce yourself.
Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve been asked that before as an introductory question! My name is Marc Wilson and I am a photographer. I combine both project work with commercial work, with the odd lecture thrown in. Born in London, I lived there all my life until about 9 years ago when I moved here, to Bath.
My first degree was in sociology, in Edinburgh. My final year dissertation led me to look at photography and from there I decided that was it. I went on to study photography at BA and MA level, and have been photographing ever since!
What’s the story behind The Last Stand?
I have always been interested in the idea of the landscape and the objects we place in it as holding the stories, histories and memories of the past. As the time beyond an event or era grows further, these memories, accounts or documents are all that we are left with.
The idea for this work came out of an older project of mine that had contained some locations involving wartime history. My European background and own family histories drew me towards a project on this subject matter. When I started the research it struck all the right chords with me, both in terms of the subject matter and the possible visuals. This was my main reasoning for making the work. To create a document of sorts; a visual trigger for reflection.
We love the photographs in The Last Stand; the subdued tones, mist and simple greyness in many of the images are very evocative, and nostalgic also. Did you choose ahead of time to shoot scenes like this, in those conditions, or is that something that came once you had started shooting?
It was very much a considered process, yes – thought upon during the research stage, and then confirmed during the initial test shoots. The images required a combination of elements: early morning for the softest light, and absence of people, the right general weather conditions, and the perfect height of the tides. Getting all three of these elements to combine was not always easy, but patience and planning helped a lot.
You’ve made a book out of the project – is that the end of this 4 year long narrative? What, then, are you working on next?
It is yes, as far as this subject matter is concerned. All my work looks at the landscape and the memories and stories it holds, so my new work again looks at that but on a different subject matter. I am researching it at the moment and have made one ‘test shoot’ at a location in France. I am going on a longer, two or three week shoot in a few months to four countries in Europe to photograph at five more locations. The complete work is looking like it will be set over eighty locations in about twenty or so countries… so another long term piece of work.
What were your inspirations for The Last Stand?
Most of my research for The Last Stand was fact based. I did, of course, look early on at Paul Virilio’s Bunker Arcaeology and also during the work I came across Topography is Fate by Matthew Arnold that I like very much. We know each others’ work, in fact. My general photography inspiration is quite far-reaching, from Josef Koudelka to Robert Frank, and Frank Gohlke to Christian Boltanski.
Finally, long-term projects are difficult and costly. What advice do you have for others taking on long-term projects, especially first-timers? What would you tell yourself on the first day of this project, if you could go back in time?
I’d say that you really have to be committed to your work to take on a long term project and make it successful. It’s fairly easy to dip your toe into something and make a piece of work, but to consider it, to research it, to photograph it in the way it deserves, to choose the right (not easiest) equipment, etc. – that is what takes commitment. Then of course you have to fund it. Whether it is outside funded, crowdfunded, funded from your commercial work (or other day/evening job in the case of many ‘first timers’), funded from your previous work, or more likely a combination of the above, again it is about committing to it. Without that it is unlikely to be successful, or at least as successful as it could be. On top of all of this, you really have to love what you are doing.
As for looking back, I try not to do that. I instead take things I have learnt into my next work.
The Last Stand is available as a photo book – a 2nd edition has just been announced and is available to backorder here.
Marc will also be giving away a free 6×9 print from the series with each purchase of the book, for a limited time only!