Our book ‘Bunker Research’ happened after years of cycling around the southern Alps, seeing the abandoned concrete WWII installations and asking, why? It seemed bizarre that these remote and beautiful landscapes just above the Mediterranean Sea, which are now explored by cyclists & hikers, could once have been strategically so important. So I began to research why the bunkers were there and, little by little, a hidden history of modernism in the mountains emerged. Camille McMillan, a photographer who lives in the Pyrenees, joined me in documenting them, and together we made this book.
The bunkers were built by the French government in the 1930s to defend the mountain passes on the Italian border against invasion by Mussolini. They are known as the ‘Alpine Extension’ to the Maginot Line, the system of forts that protected France’s eastern border. But as they crumble into dust they are losing their warlike aspect, and some of the ruins feel like a gigantic piece of Land Art, something dreamed up by Michael Heizer or Richard Long.
We explored by bicycle first, over many separate trips riding further and higher until one Easter we found ourselves on unpaved tracks, carrying bicycles over snowdrifts towards forts guarding a border that no longer was. We ranged wider as our targets became more focused, narrowed down to precise GPS coordinates. The highest fortifications were at over 2.700m, overlooking key passes and valleys close to the border. Some of them are close to roads; others are up on rough supply routes, and some of the smallest lookout posts were several hours up steep hiking trails. The squat modernist shapes of the bunkers contrast starkly with the soaring peaks around them. Some look like UFOs, just landed from an alien planet, yet others seem to exist in harmony with these incredible landscapes.
Find out more about the history in our book.