Between the Sea & the City

Johnnie Chatman, a student from the New York School of Visual Arts, showcases his photography from his recent project ‘Between the Sea & the City'.

When I grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs, war seemed as much a non-existent reality as the icy tundra of Antarctica. It was something that existed on TV, in faraway lands. But upon arriving in San Francisco as a young adult in 2011, I was for the first time confronted directly with war’s immediacy and implications. Although ‘San Francisco’ and ‘the military’ are rarely put together in a sentence, the city has one of the best-preserved World War II landscapes in the lower 48 states. Hidden around the bay coastline like a treasure map lay a series of coastal artillery batteries, forts and lookouts built to protect the bay from foreign threats. With the outbreak of World War II and the deteriorating diplomatic relationship with Japan, the bay was primed for war. As soldiers stood with their eyes on the horizon, missiles were primed and long-range artillery guns adjusted their barrels towards the sea. But the war ended, and the battle never came. No lives were lost, and no blood stained the shores. The installations were decommissioned and were left to deteriorate between the sea and the city as a silent reminder to how close we came to confrontation. My photographs of these forgotten facilities reveal a side of the Bay Area on the fringe of our day-to-day lives. Military installations built, stationed and manned 70 years ago reveal a history that will soon cease in living memory to become something we learn about only in history books and deep internet dives. In these locations, nature and structure compete for the light.

Extract from Between the Sea & the City:

It’s 6 o’clock, and I just discovered there’s a radio tower hidden in the hillside of Marin Headlands off a disintegrating fire road. I rush to beat the sunset, hoping a little bit of light will stay to illuminate my way. As I walk along the path, I find myself eerily isolated. No cell phone service, just my camera, my thoughts and myself. As the path curves up to the left like a long drawn out switchback, I look up the path to see a box of a building looming above, drawing closer with each step. No windows, no doors. Just as the sun tips over the horizon, I finally make it to the top. The landscape looks different from up here. I’m much higher up than I had thought I would be. I can see past the hills that face the city, the Golden Gate Bridge peeking into sight. I watch as the last flicker of golden light bathes the city and the fog begins to tuck it in for the night. The network of batteries and structures begin to stand out from the terrain. The landscape begins to feel less like wilderness and more like a carefully calculated chessboard.

Words & Photography: Johnnie Chatman