In this weeks Interview, Collective Owner Samuel Fradley speaks to photographer Marc Wilson about the future release of the 3rd edition of his extraordinary photobook, The Last Stand

Synopsis of The Last Stand:

‘Photographed between 2010 and 2014, The Last Stand aims to reflect the histories and stories military conflict and the memories held in the landscape itself. The series is made up of 86 images and is 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. Many of these locations are no longer in sight, either subsumed or submerged by the changing sands and waters or by more human intervention. At the same time others have re-emerged from their shrouds. Over the four years 23,000 miles were travelled to 143 locations to capture these images along the coastlines of the UK, The Channel Islands, Northern & Western France, Denmark, Belgium and Norway.’

You can preorder the latest edition Here

My first question really is to find out about how this idea came to fruition? What inspired you to visit the former Second World War Coastal Defences around Northern Europe? 

The work grew out of an old idea and in early 2010. I began to research into the subject matter and start making test shoots. The first of which was on the North Norfolk coast, the first of the more than 100 locations I would visit over the 4-year period until 2014 (that initial location, later photographed again, did not make it to the final edit).

I worked quite simply, researching a location, visiting it to recce the overall landscape and thus the exact composition I wanted, in balance with the correct time of day, type of weather, height of tide and would then photograph it exactly that way. It was quite a rigid body of work but I think the manner in which I photographed it, sensitively, I hope, whilst still factually, allows it to breathe and become much more than simply what is put in front of the viewer. More than a document of a structure, a landscape, a time, but a key to the stories behind them all, the memories of both individual involved and us as a people, as humanity.

With The Last Stand I was attempting to combine memories and the landscape, backed up with factually correct historical research text about the locations. The work was an attempt to make a document of these locations at the specific time they were photographed. It was very much about how they are now, as opposed to how they were at the time these structures were created for their specific purpose of defence from invasion. Of course, that now has already become a past as both human and physical elements change these landscapes…but that’s the point to me. To create a document of a period of time.

Hayling Island, Hampshire. England. 2013 the south west collective of photography ltd
Hayling Island, Hampshire England. 2013

Fantastic, that’s quite an extraordinary journey seeing these structures of the past. There is obviously a lot of traveling with this project. How did you fund the work? Did you pitch the idea to any organisations to try and secure some funding? Have any members of the military or veterans responded to the work?

Thank you. Travelling is a large part of all the work I do. I enjoy it which helps, staying in strange and obscure hotels and apartments and seeing these countries from the road.

For this work I travelled over 24,000 miles in total and that, coupled with the work being made on sheet film, and the costs that entails, meant I needed funding yes. This work was part funded by myself but mainly funded through 2 crowdfunding campaigns which were not for the book but to make the work itself. Of course, the great thing about this is it allowed me to build up an audience for the competed work along the way.

(My new work is funded in a different way, but I guess that’s for another time.)

Two of the first places the work was exhibited was at The Royal Armouries museums here in the UK. The response from the veterans and serving members who saw the work was really positive and often very emotional.

Marc Wilson the last stand, the south west collective of photography ltd
The Last Stand 3rd Edition Cover
Marc Wilson the last stand, the south west collective of photography ltd
Spread from The Last Stand.

The traveling and strange hotels must have made for an interesting experience on the road especially due to the narrative of your trip. When we think back to the war, especially the structures that remain, the scale of it becomes clear and I think that’s something a lot of people don’t understand, the brutality, the bloodshed and destruction that this war unleashed from land, air and sea. The likelihood that someone was killed in some of the structures you have photographed, especially in France, is sobering. I think that really adds another layer of depth to The Last Stand, because in Europe it really was a last stand for Germany when the Western Allies successfully invaded.

 When you are stood on and around these structures, how did you feel as the photographer and spectator when there is such a spectacular and bloody story in front of you? Did your own emotions have an influence on the work when you were shooting, especially when you think of the likes of Robert Capa, who had graced these landscapes during the conflict?

I am never in any doubt of the events that have taken place at the locations I visited for this work (and for all my work in fact). So yes this certainly both informed and affected my emotions and my ways of working. In this work perhaps less immediately so than in my latest work, A Wounded Landscape, did the location’s history have such a strong, obvious and immediate emotional impact on me at the time, but the type of photograph I made forThe Last Standcertainly reflects my feelings whilst I was at the locations. Feelings that were born out of not simply my being there but the knowledge of the location that I took with me. Sombre without the need to add dramatic effect. All the drama was already there.

And it is these feelings that I hope to communicate with my photographs. Those of a past in the landscape where people are walking now. A ‘now’ that in many ways is only possible because of what those who have gone before us fought for and sacrificed.

Studland Bay, Dorset, England. 2011 Mac Wilson the last stand the south west collective of photography
Studland Bay, Dorset, England. 2011

I find the notions of walking on a landscape where a battle has occurred to be quite an intense feeling. I would even go as far to say I see it as a way of accessing that part of the brain that you don’t always use, in the sense that you have to imagine the chaos as you have no physical way of experiencing the history in that moment, all you have is the structures that remain ahead of you, something that is prevalent in the book.

What I really find interesting during the current epoch is the similarities being drawn with our situation of daily life in Coronavirus lockdown compared to daily life during WW2. Of course in reality, they are incomparable in many ways, but in some, similar in terms of the political discourse being used in the media and by the government. Has the situation now with the outbreak of the virus and your work surrounding the war changed you as a photographer in anyway? Have your attitudes or way you view the world changed and if so how? 

I’ll be honest and say that making The Last Stand did not change my perception of things, to the ways in which I work. I think this was because it was a very structured project and working method. By this I mean there were no surprises in its making, in emotional terms at least. I knew what I was going to photograph and I knew to a limited extent the histories of these locations. And from this I knew threw emotional response the work was likely to create…the response you have mentioned when looking at and reading the book. I wanted the quiet to speak. What I did not necessarily have at all these locations was that direct human connection.

Once I started my next piece of work, A wounded landscape, then, yes, everything changed. Through necessity born out of the stories I was following and the ways in which the locations ‘spoke’ to me when there was seemingly nothing to photograph, I found myself changing as a photographer. I let this happen, let the work wash itself over me. I do not think it changed me as a person as that was always there, but I had not really let it express itself though my photography, up until July 2015.

As for our currently national and global situation and the Covid-19 pandemic. As of today (Easter Sunday) I have yet to find a way to represent it and my feelings photographically. I have used words and older images from last year but have made nothing new yet, well nothing of any substance. Maybe this will change tomorrow. I really do not know.

Portland, Dorset, England. 2011 Marc Wilson The Last Stand The South West Collective of Photography
Portland, Dorset, England. 2011

You are about to Self-Publish the 3rd edition of The Last Stand. Could you tell us how this edition differs from the last? And secondly, could you tell us what challenges you have faced self-publishing? Why did you go down the self-publishing route rather than working with a publisher for example?

 This new revised and redesigned edition is being made in a slightly different format, with a number of new images and still with all the original location research. The new design, by Robert Shaw at Northbank, is great and suits the work so well. It has been a real pleasure to work closely with Rob on this 3rd edition, looking at layout, fonts, paper stock. We have gone through a number of different specifications and to be honest finance (money for printing costs) helps shape the initial decisions on that but these change and transform as you see what works and what does not, what is important and what is less so.

For example, the final production specs are more expensive than the original ones but that is based on increasing the specs simply because that is what the work and the book needed. And of course, the current Covid-19 crisis has forced decisions upon us, such as where the book is printed. We have wanted to work together for some time, so this was other perfect opportunity. This format has allowed me to make the book a bit more affordable, which is something I wanted to do with the later editions, to open the book up to a new market, as well as the existing one.

I’m not running any Kickstarter as it’s not a new book but am still relying on pre-orders to partly fund the production cost, and so far, it has gone well. I am learning a lot about self-publishing, on the job as it were, but so far, it’s been a very positive experience. As well as the design notes mentioned above, I have made great contacts with a number of printers both here in the UK and abroad which will all prove important for future books.

To me self-publishing is not necessarily about being more in control as working with a designer is, to my mind, still imperative as it helps not only in terms of their skills as a designer but for editing, sequencing, etc also, specifically for a book. It brings another set of eyes to your work, which you can choose to listen to or not of course. But the elements of control you do have by self-publishing does allow you to set costs, etc in terms of how much you want the book to cost, in this case by keeping the price down, yet still of course being able to make some money from it, which although not always openly spoken about, is something to consider. It allows the photographer to potentially make some money from their book, and I see nothing wrong in that, but that said, it is not the reason to make a book of course, and it is certainly in no way the reason ever to make the work in the first place. If you’re making personal work, or a project as such, to make money, then you’re doing it all wrong, and it will show.

Arromanche - Les - Bains III, Normandy, France. 2012.
Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland. 2011 Marc Wilson The Last Stand the south west collective of photography
Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland. 2011

After the release of the 3rd edition of the book, what are your plans for the future?

“I’m busy. There is always lots of work to still do after a book is released, in terms of press, promotion, etc but also of course the initial sending out of the 200-300 books sold during pre-order, including getting prints made, for special editions, signing copies, packaging, etc.

At the same time that this new edition is in production I am also working with a designer on the dummy for the book of A wounded landscape, the work I have been making for the last 5 years. The dummy design process is incredibly exciting and parallel to this I am still in production mode working on transcription and research. Once the dummy is complete, I need to scan / process over 500 images.

I am also starting to work on the concept for the book of my Hotel Rooms photos that I made on my travels over the last 4 years. Like the new edition of The Last Stand this will certainly be self-published so I will be able to take everything I am learning now into that book.

I also have a number of new projects I am thinking over and potential collaborations but right now, these are just possibilities to think and talk about.

Sainte-Marguerite-sur-mer, Upper Normandy, France. 2012 Marc Wilson the last stand the south west collective of photography
Sainte-Marguerite-Sur-Mer, Upper Normandy, France. 2012

The brand new 3rd edition of the Last Stand is available to order from Here: https://www.marcwilson.co.uk/book-print-sales/the-last-stand-book

-Sam

Marc Wilson

Marc Wilson’s photography documents the memories, histories and stories that are set in the landscapes that surround us.

Marc works on long term documentary projects, such as his previous work, completed in 2014, ‘The Last Stand’ and his current work, ‘A wounded landscape’.

Marc tells stories through his photography, focusing at times on the landscape itself, and the objects found on and within it, and sometimes combining landscape, documentary, portrait and still life, along with audio recordings of interviews and sounds, to portray the mass sprawling web of the histories and stories he is retelling.

His work was one of the winners at The Terry O’Neill award in 2013 and

‘The Last Stand’ was published as a book in late 2014. It has sold out of the 1st and 2nd editions and a completely revised 3rd edition will be published in 2020.

Solo exhibitions include those at The Royal Armouries Museum, Focalpoint Gallery and The Anise Gallery, London. Group shows include those at The Photographers Gallery and the Association of Photographers gallery, London, and internationally at The Athens PhotoFestival, 2015 and Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2018.

His work has been published in journals and magazines ranging from The British Journal of Photography and Raw Magazine to Wired and Dezeen

Interview by Collective Owner Samuel Fradley.

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