Marks of Conflict
My passion for landscape photography, which began in the 1990’s, has been driven by a fascination with the marks made by man on the landscape and nature’s innate ability to reclaim these sites for itself.
The South of England has been the defensive front line of the UK since the iron age when the Roman legions landed at Richborough in Kent. Since then, successive conflicts have left their marks on the landscape in the form of earthworks and structures. Many of these sites present a multi-layered history of conflicts over hundreds of years, for example, Grain Fort, which started life as a fort to defend the Medway estuary from the Dutch Navy, supported naval guns in WW1 and an anti-aircraft battery in WW2.
The photographs, a mixture of digital and 4x5 film monochrome images, are part of an ongoing project exploring how these structures have marked the landscape and how the landscape is reclaiming them.
The project started in 2012, but crystalised in the final year of my degree course in 2020. Researching 2nd world war structures led me to the Extended Defence of Britain Overlay to Google Earth, made available by the Pillbox Study Group. This huge database contains details of the tens of thousands of installations still extant and the extent to which they are still visible.
The images depict some of the more obvious installations along the south coast, but also explore less obvious features, for example the WW1 rifle range in Ashdown Forest that has been reclaimed by nature so that you will miss it unless you know its location, pill boxes hidden in undergrowth along the river Medway, now ad-hoc shelters for sheep and cattle and scenic ponds that were originally WW2 bomb craters.
I feel a strong sense of the presence of the men who manned the installations over time when photographing these sites. Many of the men who served in these locations left their own marks before moving on. The WW1 training area in Ashdown Forest has a particular significance for me as my great uncle trained there before going to France in 1915.
Kent has been associated with the production of gun powder and munitions since the 16th century. The marshes along the Thames and Medway are pockmarked with derelict buildings and docks, associated with the production of munitions until they were abandoned at the end of WW2. These places, once hives of industrial activity are now silent remains occupied only by birds and sheep.
The Marks of Conflict project was the subject of two exhibitions at the Trinity Gallery in Tunbridge Wells and the Kaleidoscope Gallery in Sevenoaks in 2022.