By Bill Stamets
Ruins signal simultaneously an absence and a presence," writes art historian Salvatore Settis. "They show, they are, an intersection of the visible and the invisible."
Richard Marin's infrared photographs of World War II wreckage capture that point of intersection. Shooting through bloodred filters, Marin documented the relics of the Pacific war, creating a netherworld of black skies and tropical jungles that radiate a ghostly white aura. Rusting plane wreckage rests in the quiet like skeletal remains. "You're knocking out the vast majority of the visible spectrum," explains the 43-year-old Evanston photographer. "The film is recording light you cannot see."
This week, to commemorate Veterans Day, Barnes & Noble is releasing the first U.S. edition of War of Our Fathers: Relics of the Pacific Battlefields, a collection of Marin's landscapes and studies of relics. Rendered by Varouj Kokuzian, senior printer at Gamma Photo Labs, Marin's black-and-white photos are meditations on nearly erased horrors. War sites are memorialized with photo captions that carry terse notes like "bombed 1942," "assaulted 1942," "sunk 1943," and "destroyed 1943." The book includes portraits and remembrances of American veterans. Marin wanted to pair them with Japanese vets until he realized how hard it would be to find survivors: the battle of "Bloody Tarawa," for instance, took the lives of 900 Americans and 4,700 Japanese.
Marin's father was in the U.S. Army Air Force during the war, and as a kid Marin met three generals his father had served with in the Pacific. After returning from the war his father had started the advertising firm Allan Marin and Associates, and he brought Marin along to photo shoots at the loft of Japanese-American photographer Woody Kozumi. Later Marin read William Manchester's war memoir Goodbye, Darkness, which "clued me in to the idea that there was all this stuff laying around there that you don't see in Europe because it's all been cleaned up." In 1984 he approached Life magazine with the idea of a photo story documenting Pacific war relics. Various anniversaries--the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima in 1985, the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 1991--failed to pan out as story hooks, but in 1991 a Japanese publisher embraced the project. "It was rejected by a breathtakingly broad and deep group of American publishers," observes Marin. "In the wake of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan the conversation just seemed to change."
Originally Marin hoped to get the U.S. edition out in time for Father's Day, but his own father's death delayed publication. Marin is keenly aware of what his father's generation endured. "My project was all done in the safety of an air-conditioned room in Peleliu with high-quality insect repellent and a lot of immunization shots," he admits. "I'm moving maybe 20 pounds of photographic equipment, compared to a marine, who carried a field pack of 75 to 125 pounds and had inadequate nutrition and dysentery."
With the exception of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and Fort Bonifacio in Manila, the U.S. government has created few memorials to the Pacific war. "I've attempted to stay away from the politics on my nine trips to Japan," says Marin. "But they're a lot better than the American military and public about actually building a monument and paying someone to cut the grass."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.