So, I've been at it a few days, photographing the remains of a whole town: Paradise, California.Though I am now here a year after the Camp Fire, the damage is no less impressive for there is so much, the extent of the fire so massive, that I still find it difficult to comprehend.
I drove farther east the other day, up through Paradise to the small town of Magalia, closer to where the fire started. Here the fire was spotty, some areas untouched just as some are a total disaster.
Trees are a powerful indicator of what that day in November 2018 must have been like. 50 mph winds pushing the fire ahead, throwing embers into the air, flames being fanned at times moving horizontally, trees on fire and singed then blown out as the firestorm moves on.
As I drove farther east up the ridge into the Sierras, the country opened up and became less inhabited.
I used a long lens to reach across the valley so I could describe for you how this fire behaved, its random nature hitting a stand of trees, only to move on and leave large areas untouched.
Getting lunch yesterday at a Taco truck (there are no restaurants open yet in Paradise), I spoke with an older man who lives in Magalia. He and his wife had evacuated east the day of the fire, away from Paradise, as the route down the main street called Ridgeway was blocked and people were gridlocked in their cars not able to get clear. He told me he left that day and wasn't able to get back to his home for six weeks, much of that time having no idea if his home was still standing or not. His home was untouched.
I also spoke with Robert, who lives on his property in town in a trailer as his house no longer exists. The day I spoke with him he was hoping to get electricity as he's been without for the past year. He said he will rebuild as he has nowhere else to go. He was carrying a sidearm and explained that looters have been a problem.
Most of the empty lots are sprayed with a kind of cover, much like what we see when a construction site is reseeded with grass.
This below from Ridgeway on the way down to Chico.
I've got one more day here in Chico and will spend it finishing up in Paradise, retracing my steps to make sure I've got all I need. Then tomorrow I head to Healdsburg to see what the Sonoma area looks like, the site of the Kincade fire in October.
Stay tuned. Your comments always welcome: here
I thought that perhaps Paradise would be coming back to life ten months after I was here the first time, two months after the Camp Fire. It is one year since the firestorm destroyed the town. To be clear, there are signs of renewal, some buildings are going up, some residents have returned, but the sheer scale of the job at hand is so huge, the destruction so extensive that real progress will need to be measured in decades, not months.
This above is contrasted with scenes like these:
Many of the homes and buildings I photographed in January have been demolished. What remains are whole neighborhoods of empty lots. And places for sale:
This being California where it is hot in the summer, many homes had pools. In an odd irony, they often remain, owners perhaps hoping to rebuild:
I've only been here a day so my sense of the place now is through first impression but as I was photographing one of the swimming pools, almost empty, I could hear water running and found some bushes and a little bit of grass being watered by a fine spray only to realize that the sprinkler system was still working, turning on each morning to water the garden.
Paradise is really a huge wound, scarred and devastated in a matter of a few hours in November 2018.
Safeway Market on Skyway, Paradise
Last January I went to Paradise, CA and photographed three months after the Camp Fire devastated the whole town.
PBS Frontline has an episode on the fire: https://www.pbs.org/video/fire-in-paradise-ncamrn/
I am going back in early November. I want to see how it looks now, how much they are rebuilding, how much evidence remains. I also want to get a sense of whether people are returning or if they have left.
Last winter I photographed the town on the ground and from the air: here.
85 people died from the Camp Fire in Paradise
I leave November 12 and will try to post to the blog during the trip. You can follow along by subscribing to the blog.
I am at the end of 1 1/2 weeks on Martha's Vineyard. House guests, great food, a three day Nor'easter, some work on the place and a few efforts at making pictures, as I have been on my own for the past four days. Back to the mainland tomorrow.
If you remember, last spring while here, I worked at Philbin Beach, where a stream was running down into the ocean, especially after it rained.
Some New Work
That stream this time, six months later, was not running down to the sea, but I found another one today, closer towards the clay cliffs:
Very often, after a storm, there is calm and today was exceptionally wind free. In contrast, this is what the south shore of the island looked like just a few days ago:
It was wild. The wind was coming from on shore so it whipped the water right off the top of the breaking waves.
There is a walkway to the beach from the parking lot at Philbin that is irresistible:
This isn't a camera review, but I did want to mention that I have been photographing with the Sony A7r mk IV this time here on the island and I am finding it really wonderful to work with. This is a far more mature and refined tool than the two previous versions. Mostly I am using the 24-105mm f4 lens.
The produce pictures are from the Farmer's Market in West Tisbury, the last market of the season.
I know, I am not breaking any new ground here but I am keeping my hand in and getting familiar with this new tool.
Trump made an appearance one morning at Lucy Vincent's Beach. No opinion, just the letters "Trump".
My friend Gail Hill was down from Toronto. Gail's a wonderful artist:
who greets you each morning on the Vineyard saying, "another perfect day in paradise."
And, you know, she's right.
I will miss the Vineyard until I return in the spring.
This will finish the series I've been writing on the photographs I made in June of the wheat fields of the Palouse in Eastern Washington.
I am pleased to report that the portfolio is almost complete and that it just needs a few more reprints and a final edit to be ready to present.
If you would like to see the prints you can come to my studio to see them. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a small thing, but big if you are a printer and make portfolios. My prints in this series are on Red River San Gabriel Baryta paper in 17 x 25 inches. Archival Methods makes portfolio boxes, among other things. They now make a 17 x 25-inch drop-front box, seen here and also a 17 x 25-inch folio case. This is good news for those of us that like to use this slightly larger paper over the more standard 17 x 22-inch size. As a benefit, the DSLR full-frame fits this size paper better as well.
The last few days in Washington followed the already familiar pattern of getting up, driving, photographing, driving, photographing, on and on.
The latter part of Day 9 I started working in Pullman and this carried over to the next morning, which was my last:
These connect to a project I did in 2009 called Mallchitecture (here).
2011 Yuma Palms Mall, AZ
Rhode Island, 2009
I finished the trip with a few hours photographing the greenhouses at the University of Washington campus in Pullman:
That concludes this four-part series. I have been photographing in the area for 25 years, with trips every year or two. Am I finished? Hard to say. I feel like maybe I am, but in a year or two the Palouse will pull at me, just as it has many times before. It is a peculiar place, charming and very beautiful. The area has purity and honesty to it in a world so lacking in integrity and so perverse as to be defeating at times.
If you go, you could take a workshop, as there are several. Personally, I would hate that, being carted along to "choice spots" by a guide. I like the freedom to choose my places, my own time of day and time of year.