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WWII coastal bunkers: Once symbols of strength, now aliens of the sea

“Casemate H667,” 2006, face-mounted chromogenic print. Courtesy of Gregory Keever.
(Jane and Louise Wilson / J. Paul Getty Museum)

Lying on its side on Omaha Beach in France, the toppled and cracked structure pictured in “Casemate SK667” was among the first of Adolf Hitler’s bunkers to fall on D-Day. Not far away in Cherbourg, the abandoned gun battery pictured in “Sea Eagle” resembles a prehistoric creature with a concrete beak and wings spread to fly.

"Casemate SK667," 2006, face-mounted chromogenic print, 70 7/8 inches by 70 7/8 inches.
"Casemate SK667," 2006, face-mounted chromogenic print, 70 7/8 inches by 70 7/8 inches. (Jane and Louise Wilson / J. Paul Getty Museum)

Beginning in 1940, Hitler ordered the construction of these and hundreds of other reinforced concrete bunkers to fortify the European coast against an Allied invasion. Seventy-seven years later, those Brutalist-style bunkers that stretched 1,600 miles from Norway toward Spain are slowly crumbling into the sea.

British twin sisters Jane and Louise Wilson have spent three decades photographing sites that shaped 20th century European history. Four of their large-scale photos of the World War II Nazi bunkers form “Sealander,” an exhibit on view through July 2 at the Getty Museum.

"Sea Eagle" looks ready to fly. Courtesy of Mark Fehrs Haukohl, Houston, from the collection “The European Woman of the 21st Century."
"Sea Eagle" looks ready to fly. Courtesy of Mark Fehrs Haukohl, Houston, from the collection “The European Woman of the 21st Century." (Jane and Louise Wilson / The J. Paul Getty Museum)

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“Having black and white photographs gives a sense of removal and mortality,” curator Virginia Heckert said. “With half the composition in the foreground, you feel like you can enter the pictures.”

Graffiti on the bunker pictured in “Sea Eagle” evokes “the preciousness of inlaid jewels associated with masks,” Heckert said, “It has a totemic feel.”

Three screens at the center of the gallery floor compare footage of the bunkers with video of vampire squids, which have their own defense mechanisms to scare away enemies.

"Noir Mont," 2006, face-mounted chromogenic print. Courtesy of Gregory Keever.
"Noir Mont," 2006, face-mounted chromogenic print. Courtesy of Gregory Keever. (Jane and Louise Wilson / The J. Paul Getty Museum)

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