I Mark My Territory
11 Oct 2009
The Japanese lighthouse on Saipan (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Micronesia) was built in 1934 as one of several similar structures. It served civilian maritime needs but was erected with future military applications in mind.
Abandoned since the US invasion of Saipan in 1944, the lighthouse found some adaptive reuse as an expensive Italian restaurant from 1990-1994. For this, the building underwent some minor modification with some structural additions.
Since then the lighthouse has again fallen into disuse. The building is structurally sound and, built to Japanese civilian specifications, was built with high quality concrete.
The fact that the lighthouse is abandoned, and located in a largely non-residential area means that youth have unlimited access and use the place as a hang-out.
As a result it is heavily marked with graffiti. The most telling one, from my perspective, gave rise to the title of the essay: I MARK MY TERRITORY."
Others, who have shot images of the lighthouse, deeply deplore the presence of the graffiti. Unlike them, however, I see graffiti as an expression of current trends in society. Thus both individually, and collectively, the graffiti highlight some trends in the CNMI youth.
The various layers of the graffiti are a palimpsest of ownership marks, mementoes of visits, abuse and obscenities, semi-encoded messages directed at the visitor--who, in the eyes of those laving the graffiti, are their peers, rather than outsiders who come to view the historic structure.
I have shot the views of the lighthouse with a Nikon D300. With the exception of a couple of outside views, and the title photograph, all other images were taken with a Sigma 8mm f/4.0 EX. The resulting heavy fish-eye effect provides an encapsulated vision of the reality, and creates a distorted world in which the graffiti is ever present.
Digital darkroom work with exaggerated contrast and de-saturation was used to create a sense of alienation from the reality and provide for an artistic distance.