A new gig

July 2nd, 2015 by Cris

On 1 July I started a one-year stint as an Affiliate Artist at the Headland Center for the Arts. I think this is a fabulous development.

My model for landscape study is strongly shaped by positive experiences in the South Bay, a landscape with visual intrigue and a rich backstory. It has become clear that the South Bay study benefits from frequent, iterative engagement – a repeated blend of photography, research, and time spent simply experiencing the place. This process was inspired in part by the Lake Project, David Maisel’s fine study of the Owens Valley landscape.

After retirement, with more time available for photography, I started formulating my next project. My South Bay work is constrained during the summer half of the year by nesting season restrictions. Over the last few years I have experimented during the off-season with a couple of landscape projects in collaboration with the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI). These involved forays to more distant subjects – wagon train tracks along the Hastings Cutoff Trail in Utah (near Sun Tunnels) and cold war aerial resolution targets in the Mojave Desert. While these were fun, distance prevented the nuanced engagement of landscape I have experienced in the South Bay. I faced similar limitations while photographing Sea Ranch for Donlyn Lyndon’s book.

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May 5th, 2015 by Cris

It has been a while since I have posted on Coastal Defenses. The project is still very much in my mind as I have been caught up in other work. I will endeavor to post more often.

It is always nice to get work out in the public view. Of late I have been pleased to get an article placed in Discourse, the fine online journal of the Drachen Foundation. Also in print is a brief but insightful review of my book Saltscapes in the Berkeley Science Review. I have lent images to the BSR over the years and it is fun to have my work appear there.

discourse cover

The cover of Discourse, always an interesting read.

If you are in the Bay Area this week I am one of the presenters in the Exploratorium’s May 7th After Dark event, which has a photography theme. I will be conducting a show and tell with my KAP equipment and images in the East Gallery from 6:30 to 9:30. Stop by and chat if you have a chance. The event will also feature the camera obscura I worked on a year or so ago on the Observatory Deck.

In early June I have “On Approach,” a solo show of 24 South Bay images going up in the San Francisco International Airport’s Connector Gallery (Terminal 2 North). Interestingly, the SFO Museum was the first museum in an airport to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. They do a great job and working with them has been a pleasure. The show will run through August.

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I am ready for my close up

October 13th, 2014 by Cris

On a fine early October afternoon I met journalist Wayne Freedman out at Battery Mendell in the Marin headlands to do a video interview. It is always fun to watch a pro at work so the afternoon proved entertaining as Wayne set up a variety of shots to support the interview narrative. Cameras were strapped to my camper for trips through the old Ft. Barry Tunnel, footage was shot of me schlepping backpacks and assembling gear, and so forth.

Battery Mendell

Your author on the wrong side of the camera.

When it came time to fly the camera the day’s dense fog dissipated as though on command and the breeze sorted itself out after some variability (two-kite day). I then spent an hour or so flying around the century old Battery Mendell while Wayne shot process footage. This post includes some sample images from the session.

Battery Mendell

Battery Mendell gun station. Click through for more aerials from the session.

Edit: The segment is now available online. I think Wayne put together a sympathetic and informative piece. As a side note it could also serve as the textbook illustration for “bad hair day.” Just coming off a camping trip I was way behind on getting a haircut and doing the interview after four hours of sweaty kite flying was probably a bad idea. Yikes.

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Marin Headlands – Tennessee Point

September 4th, 2014 by Cris

Tennessee Point - August 2014

The view southward from Tennessee Point (a stitched panorama).

After a pleasant day lawn bowling at the venerable SFLBC in Golden Gate Park, Claudia and I made our way out to the Marin Headlands through bumper-to-bumper Labor Day traffic. We were welcomed by a fantastic afternoon – hardly a trace of fog and a gentle sea breeze. From the Rodeo Beach parking lot we took a late day hike north along the coast. Instead of climbing up toward Battery Townsley and Wolf Ridge, our common route, we opted for the low road walking a bit less than a mile to where the trail ends due to steep bluffs. At the terminus we found Tennessee Point itself – a curious, flat, bare plateau perhaps 100 feet above the surf line. Here Claudia paused to read while I flew the camera. I am curious about the history of this bare, flat patch. Surely it was once used for something.

Tennessee Point - August 2014

The view north along a rugged coastline to Tennessee Valley.

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Antiaircraft defenses on Wolf Ridge

July 28th, 2014 by Cris

Wolf Ridge, a rugged spine of coastal grassland and low chaparral, is the divide between the Rodeo and Tennessee Valleys in the Marin Headlands. In the years leading to World War II the “1937 Project for the Harbor Defenses of San Francisco” led to the formation of Fort Cronkhite and the construction of Battery Townsley with its massive 16” guns. The maturation of military aviation in the two decades since World War I caused fundamental changes in coastal defense. Coastal artillery needed the concealment and cover provided by casemated construction and antiaircraft guns were positioned to defend the batteries.

Marin Headlands - Wolf Ridge

Wold Ridge – downtown San Francisco is visible on the far horizon.

Wolf Ridge was the location of Antiaircraft Battery No. 1 consisting of three 3″ Antiaircraft Gun Model M1917 and their mounts, a storeroom, a power plan and aiming stations. In a 1993 assessment, the GGNRA concluded that Antiaircraft Battery No. 1 is the finest surviving example of an antiaircraft artillery emplacement of the World War II era in the system of seacoast defenses that protected the San Francisco Bay area.

Marin Headlands - Wolf Ridge

A view toward Battery Townsley and the entrance to the Golden Gate Straight.

While hiking along Wolf Ridge one encounters remnants of defensive positions, some quite modest, that still convey the sense of urgency that must have dominated preparations precipitated by the attack on Pearl Harbor. An attack on the West Coast was not out of the question. Along the ridge are several gun positions constructed by stacking hundreds of cement bags. I imagine, but have not confirmed, that these held 50-caliber machine guns. Elsewhere there are level platforms for larger guns.

Marin Headlands - Wolf Ridge

One of several guns positions contracted by stacking cement bags.

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Batteries Smith-Guthrie & O’Rorke

July 24th, 2014 by Cris

On an overcast Sunday afternoon Claudia and I headed out to the Marin Headlands for the Headland Center for the Arts Summer Open House (always fun.) After touring the studios and a tasty lunch in the HCA galley we headed out to take some photographs. We elected to visit Batteries Smith-Guthrie and O’Rorke, Endicott-era gun emplacements on the coastal ridge at the southern end of Rodeo Beach. Battery Smith-Guthrie once boasted four six-inch, rapid-fire guns on barbette mounts while Battery O’Rorke had four three-inch guns. Both defended minefields north of the Golden Gate. Winds were light for this time of year at around 10-12 MPH. The Sutton Flowform 30 proved just adequate for my new lightweight Canon EOS-M cradle.

Battery Smith-Guthrie

A view of the batteries from the southeast toward Rodeo Beach.

I have photographed these batteries before and given the dull overcast I did not expect much new out of this session. The highlight for me was a series of very low level KAP shots (< 6 feet high) taken at Battery O’Rorke. These were taken just after I launched the cradle having retrieved it for a few moments to make a few adjustments. Like many of the other Endicott-period batteries, Battery O’Rorke is slowly returning to the earth. In this low level series you can see the blast apron slightly separating from its adjacent concrete paving with a neat line of opportunistic grass accenting the gap. I have read in old c. 1890’s reports the mention of “granolithing,” a form of concrete pour that mixes cement with crushed granite aggregate. These photographs have me wondering if the smoother surface is granolith.

Battery O'Rorke

Blast apron detail. The two planes of concrete are slowly separating.

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Marin Headlands – Fort Barry

May 1st, 2014 by Cris

Before 1900, San Francisco’s coastal defenses were concentrated abreast, and just inside, the current day location of the Golden Gate Bridge, which spans from Fort Point to Lime Point. This is the narrowest part of the Golden Gate Straight. As the Endicott period defenses arrived in the late 1890s, breech-loading, rifled guns enhanced the accuracy and extended the range of shore batteries and ships alike. This circumstance called for new gun batteries to protect the entrance the Golden Gate Straight. Thus was born Ft. Barry on Point Bonita, the seaward extremity of the Marin Headlands side of the straight.

Fort Barry 1928 and 2014

Views of Fort Barry from 1928 (courtesy of John Martini) and 2014. The earlier view was taken from a higher altitude than my kite view. Still, the comparison is interesting.

Point Bonita must have seemed a lonely outpost back in the day. Lighthouse keepers had occupied the point since the first lighthouse was established in 1855. The area also hosted dairy ranchers and the brave souls who manned the 1899 Coast Guard lifeboat facility. Then came the flurry of construction to build Fort Barry’s gun emplacements starting with Battery Mendell (1901) followed by Battery Alexander (1902), Battery Smith-Guthrie (1904), Battery Samuel Rathbone (1905) and Battery Patrick O’Rorke (1905). Construction of post facilities followed and by 1907 Fort Barry had a complex of Colonial Style headquarters, barracks, officer’s quarters, fire station and hospital sited along the perimeter of a horseshoe-shaped parade ground. The post was thoughtfully situated on the leeward side of Point Bonita’s hills and trees were planted to provide further protection from wind. Perhaps they benefitted from the accumulated wisdom of the lighthouse keepers.

Marin Headlands - Fort Barry

Fort Barry.

Fort Barry was active through World War I, went fallow between 1922 and 1939, and then became quite active again during World War II. After a brief post-war stint as a Nike Missile base, Fort Barry waned again before assuming its new life as parkland in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (1972).

Marin Headlands - Fort Barry

A panorama of the entire valley.

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Marin Headlands – Battery Wallace

April 29th, 2014 by Cris

Generally speaking the defense works at the Golden Gate had relatively short working lives. As new naval capacities were developed, shore batteries became obsolete or were reformulated to make them both survivable and effective. Located inland from Battery Mendell, Battery Wallace started out as a late Endicott Period open air gun emplacement. It was completed in 1919 to mount two 12-inch coastal rifles on state of the art Model 1917 carriages. The guns, mounted 420 feet apart, could fire their massive projectiles up to 17 miles seaward.

MarinHeadlands - Battery Wallace

Battery Wallace’s northern gun emplacement with Rodeo Lagoon in the background.

Twenty-five years later, as World War II approached, the Army redesigned Battery Wallace to provide overhead cover as a defense from attack by aircraft. This casemating of the battery, completed in 1944, provided a steel reinforced concrete enclosure for the guns as well as underground rooms for munitions, equipment and storage. The earth cover for the casemating provided both camouflage and blast protection. By 1948, long-range aircraft and the prospect of missiles rendered the battery permanently obsolete after 30 years of service – a relatively long lifespan for a coastal defense work.

MarinHeadlands - Battery Wallace

A view of the southern gun emplacement looking south to Land’s End in San Francisco.

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Marin Headlands – Three Sisters

April 28th, 2014 by Cris

As the 20th Century began Fort Barry underwent quite a build out with construction of troop barracks, officer’s quarters, command posts, and supporting facilities for the Marin Headland’s Endicott era gun batteries. Fast forward a hundred years and these buildings are now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Marin Headlands - Three Sisters

The Three Sisters, with the Nike Missile Base at far left.

If you have visited the Marin Headlands you have probably driven between the 1907 buildings known as the Three Sisters. The buildings tightly flank the road from Point Bonita and Battery Wallace to the valley floor. The largest building (Building 960, on the left in these images) sits above the Nike Missile Base and sports the geometry of a Quartermaster’s storehouse.

Marin Headlands - Three Sisters

The roadway tight between the buildings.

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Point Bonita hilltop

April 25th, 2014 by Cris

Pt. Bonita stands guard on the northern flank of the Golden Gate Straight. For well over a century lighthouse keepers, military spotters, rescue crews, and navigation aids have occupied these dramatic ocean bluffs. At the high point along the cliffs, between the Pt. Bonita Lighthouse and Battery Mendell, the hilltop has been scraped flat and here there are ruins from earlier occupations.

Marin Headlands - Point Bonita

Flying the kite from the hilltop.

The bluffs along this rugged coast break the force of the Pacific Ocean’s waves while the ridge running from north to south provides protection from the often-fierce wind. The lighthouse keepers built their homes in this buffered leeward zone and the trail out to the lighthouse enjoys its protection. The protected shore east of the ridge was home to piers serving the early days of Fort Cronkhite and Fort Barry. Here too was the 1899 Coast Guard lifeboat station that would launch boats to round the point on rescue missions.

Marin Headlands - Point Bonita

A stitched panorama showing the trail from the vicinity of the lightkeeper’s residence to the Pt. Bonita Lighthouse.

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