Newsletter #145: August, 2017
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
In Honour of Those Who Lost
In the fires of 2017
This is my 145th monthly photographic Newsletter; the beginning of my 13th year without missing a single month! Enjoy.
Our goal at the Chris Harris Gallery is to share photographic adventures and inspire others in the creative process. Please share this Newsletter with friends. We appreciate your interest and continued support for my work.
The story behind this Newsletter
As a photographer, I have always admired those photo-journalists who choose to do their work on the front lines of war, or who cover natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods in order to remind us of our human condition and fragility. In this newsletter I find myself as a photographer covering such a disaster.
As a result of sharing my personal wildfire evacuation story in my photographic Newsletter # 144, I received a Facebook invitation from a local gentleman named John Forman, who invited me to photograph his home that he had just lost to the wildfire. It was in that home that he and his wife Linda had spent 26 years bringing up their family. I felt honoured and somewhat humbled. I accepted and communicated with John to get directions to his property.
This is the story of my experience; of first photographing their home, and then having the pleasure of meeting the very warm, friendly, and welcoming Forman family in person.
The journey along the Forman’s driveway
With directions and camera gear, I drove to the Formans’ property. Accustomed as I am to searching for the beauty in the natural landscape, I had no idea how I would respond to this assignment.
I felt emotionally charged as I slowly drove up their driveway, thinking of how they must have felt when they first drove to their home after hearing it had burned. The scarred landscape evoked deep thought.
How I approached my assignment, photographically
At first, I entered without a camera
Without my camera, I entered the property respectfully. My approach to photographing this story was important to me. As I walked about the property, I listened to my emotional response, making notes as I went.
The heaping remains of the main house, which I thought was the main story, was pulling me toward it. I quickly realized, however, that the main story was a human story, not the house.
In preparation for a family gathering
John later told me he put this wood here a few days before the wildfire. It never burned.
Family garden patch
Linda’s favourite place to sit in the garden
Not knowing the Formans, my walk around the property provided me with an insight into their family life; children, possibly grandchildren, family activities, and hobbies. Small details such as a fork, a pop can, a melted garden hose, and a pair of plyers provided smaller paragraphs to the unfolding family story. The smell of smoke added to the emotional journey I was on.
Eventually, I began to photograph
The Forman home
After an hour of contemplation, I was ready to photograph. I went to the home where the basement had become the ‘catch-all’ for a million stories of family life. It was a small story within the universe, but a very large story within the Forman family.
The firefighters arrive
While I was photographing, firefighters arrived on their continuous job of putting out hot spots, which were still popping up everywhere. I asked if I could photograph them and they said “feel free”.
They swung into action
Hot spots were still everywhere. They located them in seconds
Thoroughly, they extinguished them
In over 30° temperatures, it was not an easy job
These firefighters were a friendly and professional group of young men from Edmonton. It was wonderful to photograph them at work.
Linda Forman arrives unexpectedly
While I continued to photograph, Linda arrived with some family friends. It was the first time we had met, so we introduced ourselves and had a chat. I was immediately taken by how upbeat, and accepting she was of her situation.
Linda and Tailynn look into the basement of debris
At first I let them explore the remains alone, but when I heard them chatting, laughing, and telling stories, I joined them, photographing as I listened.
Feeling Linda’s positive attitude, I felt more upbeat myself. My mood changed. I felt freer to express myself and take my photography to a different place. I had documented everything and now I wanted to become more expressive, creative, and artistic.
This time I used my photographic tools in ways to express inscapes; images based on a combination of imagination and years of working on my craft.
Linda’s bench – artistic rendition
Kids bicycle – artistic rendition
House remains – artistic rendition
Family cars – artistic rendition
Looking inside – artistic rendition
Rear wheel & gas tank – artistic rendition
Abstract photographs are non-representational because they don’t represent anything. There is no context. The compositions are comprised of line, form, colour and texture in and of themselves. Any form of reality is not recognizable. For myself, they represent art that I would enjoy hanging in my home. The following three abstracts are the result of fire and extreme heat.
When I first walked around their property I saw and felt what was special to each and every member of the Forman family. I heard their laughter and I felt the plethora of emotions that went into their life there.
When I later made arrangements to meet the Forman family, I discovered that I had previously met John (some 25 years ago) when he worked in Bowron Lake Park where I guided canoe tours. We met again eleven years ago when he was managing a controlled grasslands fire and I was photographing it for my book Spirit in the Grass. Our get together was like a reunion.
If I ever lose my home, I will remember this experience, especially the resilience of the entire Forman family. They had already placed an offer on a new home and were excitedly preparing for a new adventure together. They were an inspiration.
It was a privilege to be invited to photograph the Formans’ home. Thank you John and Linda, and the members of your family, Alexis, Kelly, Ricky, Nicole, Charity and Tyson.
I recorded your property as a photographer, I felt moved by your situation as a human, and I expressed how I responded as an artist.