Monuments to Paranoia

Abandoned military bunkers on the Pacific Coast stand testament to a nation’s attitude to war.


For the last 12 years, the photographer Alex Fradkin has been documenting the hundreds of decaying military bunkers that dot the Pacific Coast near San Francisco, which date from the Spanish-American War up until the Cold War. “There’s no other place in the United States that has such a linear typology of bunker architecture, all located in one area,” says Fradkin, whose Bunkers: Ruins of War in a New American Landscape will be published by Radius Books next year. But although Fradkin originally trained as an architect, his interest in the structures is less architectural than metaphorical. None of these bunkers ever saw combat—the threats that their builders anticipated never materialized and, in any case, most of the defenses were obsolete by the time they were completed. (The damage seen in the photos was wrought by erosion, seismic activity, and vandalism.) For Fradkin, the bunkers thus serve as monuments to apprehension and paranoia and, as he writes in an artist’s statement, “now inhabit the landscape as silent metaphors of our current national mood.”

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