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Current Exhibits 

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June - August 2022

Fire as omen and elemental force, as metaphor and searing personal experience—these are the subjects explored in Facing Fire, an exhibition opening June 2022 at the St George Art Museum, an exhibition curated by Douglas McCulloh and UCR ARTS: California Museum of Photography. California’s diverse ecologies are fire prone, fire-adapted, even fire-dependent. In the past two decades, however, West Coast wildfires have exploded in scale and severity. There is a powerful consensus that we have entered a new era—nature unbalanced, the end of the stable world. The artists of Facing Fire bring us incendiary work from active fire lines and psychic burn zones. These artists are like poets who enter a burning building and bring back reports of majesty, fear, and flame.

In 2008, Anna Mayer placed a dozen unfired ceramic sculptures into valleys and hillsides along the Malibu coastline. She intended them to be fired by wildfire. A decade later, the Woolsey Fire burned 96,000 acres, destroyed 1,643 structures, killed three people—and fired six of Mayer’s sculptural pieces. 

In addition to artists obsessed with the elemental, the exhibition features work by California’s top acknowledged fire photography specialists. Together, they face fire, sift its aftermath, and struggle with its implications. Throughout is the uneasy sense that wildfire is a stand-in, a site of displacement for more immaterial fears, for the amorphous anxieties of the age.

About the Artists

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Norma I. Quintana

Norma I. Quintana, artist of the "Forage from Fire" collection in our Facing Fire exhibit, builds a photographic memorial to her house and studio consumed by Napa’s 2017 Atlas Peak firestorm. She registers her loss by documenting seventy charred objects sifted from the powdery ash—charcoal husks of cameras bodies, slumped remnants of rings, a bisque doll hand. In the end, though, what Quintana chronicles is spirit, resilience, and the abiding persistence of memory.

Norma I. Quintana is an American photographer and educator based in California. Born in Cleveland Ohio, she earned a Masters in Social Sciences from Case Western University and worked in human resources during her corporate career. Quintana began her career in documentary photography in the late 90s, attending Napa Valley College for a photography degree completed in 2001.

Quintana has also studied with such influential photographers as Mary Ellen Mark, Shelby Lee Adams, and Graciela Iturbide from Mexico. She works in the tradition of social documentary—primarily in black and white, analog photography. Collaboration is essential to her process. The images, Quintana insists, would not be possible without her subjects’ willingness to reveal themselves.

Website: https://normaiquintana.com/

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Christian Houge

Christian Houge spent seven years collecting taxidermied animals, often rare trophy specimens. He mounts them on English wallpapers from the era of colonial conquest. Then he burns them. “Conceptually, the series comprises a performance, a totemic ritual. Existentially, I’m setting the animal free, I’m closing the circle. And physically, I’m destroying an object and thereby removing it from the market.” The project, of course, also casts light on worldwide issues of environment and climate.

Christian has this to say about his work as a photographer:

"I have been making photographs for twenty years and new worlds are still opening up to me. By exploring the relation, and conflict, between Nature and Culture, I get a better understanding about Mans condition and where we as a human race are. Mans ego, consumer society, the last remnants of pure Nature and identity are recurring elements in all my work. My work is often very visual and at the same time uneasy. An underlying feeling of that which is lost often plays an important role. I like to explore work which emanates a cognitive dissonance in the viewer to reveal deeper truths.

Looking at our actions and place in our environment, which we are so dependent on, is a recurring theme in all my work throughout the past twenty years. For me, photography is not just about stopping time, it is a window to look through; into myself in a way i could never have dreamed of and having the chance to invite others to look into themselves. I like working with juxtapositions in all my work and can use everything from digital cameras to large format panoramic analog cameras for specific projects."

Website: http://www.christianhouge.no/

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Anna Mayer

In 2008, Anna Mayer placed a dozen unfired ceramic sculptures into valleys and hillsides along the Malibu coastline. She intended them to be fired by wildfire. A decade later, the Woolsey Fire burned 96,000 acres, destroyed 1,643 structures, killed three people—and fired six of Mayer’s sculptural pieces. 

Anna Mayer's art practice is sculptural and social, with an emphasis on hand-built ceramics and another molten material: bronze. Her methodology emerges from site-specific analogue firing projects and critical engagement with pre- and post-petro culture. Mayer revels in the fact that ceramics historically has been used to create highly functional items as well as intensely symbolic objects. Her work is part of this lineage, with equal concern for the future and a dramatically shifting climate—ecological and political.

Website: https://www.annamayer.info/

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Richard Hutter

Richard Hutter was shooting photographs from a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter when the craft crashed on El Toro Peak near Camp Pendleton. The disintegrating main rotor came through the front bubble and killed the pilot. A landing strut punched through the wing fuel tank. “They said I was so soaked in jet fuel that I was actually burning underneath my Nomex fireproof flight suit.” In the years since, Hutter has made photographs that appear distressed, dissolved, eroded. Many seem linked to fire, to trauma, to retrieving the self from the edge of obliteration.

“The docs estimate I was in the flames for over a minute. My parents are told I will die. Medics call me ‘Crispy Critter.’ But the docs do not know that Marine Corps sergeants are the toughest, baddest animals that walk the planet. Fourteen months later, I exit the hospital and return to my photographic life.”

With the exception of fire and flame, Hutter’s biography is similar to many photographers born and raised in the analog era. He was fascinated by his parent’s Kodak Duaflex twin lens box camera. He took photographs through a microscope and took top prize at the junior high science fair. He was a newspaper and yearbook photographer in high school.

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Stuart Palley

Stuart Palley is deeply aware of the issues. “Wildfires are the most acute effect of drought, climate change, and human sprawl in California.” But from the start he has also aimed his cameras at something more ethereal—the effects produced by long exposures at night. To date, Palley has photographed more than hundred fires. He opens his shutter for a second to four minutes or more. He bathes the sensors in the unique radiant light of fire and moon, smoke and stars.

Palley is based in Southern California and specializes in environmental, art, editorial, and commercial/corporate subjects. Stuart received a bachelor of business administration and bachelor of arts from Southern Methodist University, studying finance and history and minoring in photography and human rights. He holds a master’s in photojournalism from the University of Missouri.

Website: https://www.stuartpalley.com/

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Justin Sullivan

Justin Sullivan has photographed wildfires since 1998. “I’m a journalist. I don’t know whether it’s global warming or not. I’m not paid to decide that. But I will say that these fires have gone from pretty serious to insane.” Sullivan commonly teams with Noah Berger and Josh Edelson. The partnership is part camaraderie, part safety. “We all have a deep relationship with wildfires. We go deeper. We spend more time. But it’s inherently dangerous. It could cost you your life, so it’s safer to travel together.”

Sullivan is a staff photographer with Getty Images based in San Francisco, California. “In the 1990s I was studying to be a paramedic,” he explained. “But one day I made the decision to pursue photography instead. I had been taking pictures during ‘ride-alongs’ as an EMT, and found that I enjoyed the rush of not only racing to wherever the action was, but capturing those moments, too.” In the two decades since then, Sullivan has covered more than a dozen wildfires, most of them in California, many of them among the deadliest and most destructive on record.

Website: https://www.justinsullivan.org/

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Luther Gerlach

Luther Gerlach roamed the massive 2017 Thomas Fire burn area with an 8 x 10 view camera. He collected alkaline ash and sulfur-laden water from natural hot springs at the fire’s Ventura County origin point. As the prints develop, he applies slurries of ash and acidic water. They conjure a unique swirl of ghostly effects. It’s as if the chemical catalysts “carry a memory of fire,” states the artist.

Gerlach works in a variety of historic photographic processes, highlighting the hand-made, tactile connection between the artist and his work and the role of constraint in creative production. Known for portraits and urban scenes of downtown Los Angeles in his early career, more recently Gerlach has pioneered the re-emergence of plein air wet plate collodion landscapes. His detailed images of the natural world, particularly the trees, seaweeds, and grasses of Southern California emphasize pure light and line, endowing his images with a subtly abstract quality.

Website: https://www.luthergerlach.net/

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Jeff Frost

Jeff Frost operates along what he calls the “creation–destruction” spectrum. His twenty-four minute video piece, California on Fire, was a five-year obsession. Frost took extreme firefighter training and gained full access to more than seventy fires across the state. He came away with thirty terabytes of image and sound and some 350,000 photographs.

Jeff Frost grew up in a remote corner of Utah hiking with his grandfather and has lived in southern California for the last 23 years. Time and sound are his two primary mediums, often expressed through a number of sub-mediums including painting, photography, video, and installation. Nearly all of the above are combined into short films exploring themes on the spectrum of creation and destruction.

Website: https://www.frostjeff.com/

Samantha Fields

Samantha Fields presents the viewer with images of mysterious manufacture. “I paint atmosphere with atmosphere,” she says. There is no touch of hand, no texture of paint. She sprays coat after coat of vaporized acrylic paint onto super smooth canvas. The wildfire paintings are based on her own photographs. “It takes hundreds of layers to create the paintings, which while photographic, deny the accuracy of that medium upon closer inspection.”

Samantha Fields was born in Cleveland, Ohio and holds a bachelor of fine arts from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and a master of fine arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles where she is a professor of art at California State University, Northridge.

Website: http://www.samanthafields.net/

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Josh Edelson

Josh Edelson thinks humanity needs a reset. “Natural disasters are dangerous, fast, and powerful, beyond man’s control. They make you feel humble, very, very small, and that seems very important at this moment. Natural disasters are the core driver of why I do photojournalism. It seems important to bear witness to the actual lack of control of almighty humans.”

Edelson is especially passionate and driven to photograph natural disasters and has covered dozens of wildfires, protests, flooding, and tornadoes, as well as the occasional CEO and celebrity portrait.

Edelson is a freelance photojournalist for international news wires and newspapers including the Associated Press, AFP/Getty Images, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.   He placed second in the National Press Photographers Association Best of Photojournalism competition for a wildfire image taken on assignment for the Associated Press and as well as honorable mentions for two other images from the same organization.

Website: https://edelsonphotography.com/

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Kevin Cooley

For the past fifteen years, Kevin Cooley’s work has centered on a phenomenological, systems-based inquiry into humanity’s contemporary relationship with the five classical elements – earth, air, fire, water, and aether. The resulting photographs, videos, and public installations seek to decipher our complex, evolving relationships to nature, technology, and each other. He strives to challenge his assumptions and deepen his understanding of our environment and materiality. His newest work questions the long-term sustainability of present-day living and reveals the struggles—both practical and psychological—of inhabiting a planet we are slowly destroying.

“Fire is a powerful natural force that we harness for the greater good. It is the only classical element we can create on demand, yet when out of control it has the potential for grave destruction.”

The Los Angeles artist has spent years exploring the ancient classical elements—earth, water, air, fire, and aether—photographing coiling columns of dense smoke and producing Surreal images of California wildfires.

Website: http://www.kevincooley.net/

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Noah Berger

Noah Berger’s fire photography addiction has been fed by one hundred and fifty fires. “I got hooked on the experience of being out here,” he says. “It strips off the mundane layers of life.” Berger’s California wildfire photographs earned him a 2019 Pulitzer Prize nomination. An emergency fire shelter occupies the back seat of his Nissan Xterra. In the fire zone, Berger never turns the vehicle off. There might not be enough oxygen to start it again.

Wildfires are a specialty, as are politics, natural disasters, and public protests. His work focuses on “staying open to new ways of shooting and thinking. . . . I have been a photographer for a long time, so when I take photographs, I imagine an audience residing in another city. I generally look for single images that convey the story as stand-alone photos.”

Berger is a freelance photographer who has spent twenty years covering California for editorial, corporate, and government clients. He works regularly for the Associated Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, Bloomberg News, The New York Times, and others.

Website: https://noahbergerphoto.com/