The photographs in the Wildfire series were made in California from 2003 to 2007. The work began as part of a larger project titled Things Fall Apart (2001-2008), which took me to different parts of the world to make landscape photographs in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Wildfire was published by Nazraeli Press in 2009 with an introduction by the writer and environmental activist Bill McKibben.
Every fall California burns. These wildfires can no longer be called a “natural disaster”. Each season, these fires are more and more difficult to fight. Over-development in California is so rampant that the only sound solution - to let the fires burn themselves out – is unfeasible. Human-caused global warming is rendering the fire season longer each year. The longer fire season means that the wood becomes dryer, which makes it ready to ignite from the hundreds of thunderstorms that scan the American terrain every day. Add to this tinderbox the proximity of man with our campfires, grills, automobiles, atvs, and the occasional pyromaniac and you have an environment where human habitation and that which threatens it, coexist in a state of chronic catastrophe.
It is this landscape that Wildfire attempts to describe. A landscape of charred ruins equally frightening and beautiful. A landscape that we humans have created following our desires to live in the mountains, forests, canyons - to be closer to nature. And a landscape that is not only contemporary, but a landscape of the future. A future that we will dwell in with a much less cooperative nature.
Photography plays a remarkable role in this. It was in big measure thanks to photographic representation that the West was so appetizingly packaged and so quickly settled. The great 19th century American landscape photographers and the geological surveys that employed them utilized the power of the photograph (under the guise and with assistance of scientific exploration) to sell the land. The implication that ran through these powerful images of vast stretches of terrain, new rail lines, mountains and valleys and streams inhabited sparsely (if at all) by subjugated natives - was “come and settle”. In Wildfire I attempt to both pay tribute to those earlier photographs, but also to bring them and the landscape they helped to fashion into question.