Jolly Mountain Fire
It's easy to want to be a photojournalist. It's difficult to do. Looking back on my very limited and amateurish photojournalism efforts, well...I realized a while ago that I need to reassess my "wants". I'm not giving up on documentary photography, but I'm never going to be an in the trenches, on the spot, on deadline photojournalist.
That takes skills, drive, and a fearlessness that I haven't got, or have never tapped into. I was in Libya before and after Qadhafi's fall. (Man, I hope Libyans get some peace, prosperity, and security.) Within the USG contingent, there's always some caché seeking (looked that up - think it should be cachet...probably using it wrong entirely), and like anything, it's a mix of good and bad. Go meet with X local council members in Y city, forever memorialized (is that a word?) in a report back to DC. We're going to Misrata. Planning, resources, logistics, and security, along with a bit of a swagger. All the while, freelance photographers were in Misrata two months before that. (Note to young, hungry, and new photographers - at a minimum, get mentors, solid contacts, redundant communications, points of contact, and field medical training.)
If I ever figure out a way to do some work with visual narratives, I think it will have to be slower, longer work. (That's a segue, not a comparison to the photographers in Libya. They definitely put in the time. I need to go back and look at the work they did. If you're curious and want a starting point, look up Tim Hetherington.)
We all have intuition and can use visual clues to recognize that something important is happening. But I'm more confident if I can get some additional context.
In August and September 2017 Seattle's skies were filled with smoke from the Jolly Mountain Fire (fact checkers - I'm not going back to check whether it was actually only September). I'm fascinated by western wildfires. Nature and her cycles, policy, climate change, small communities, expansion, etc.
I drove to Roslyn and Cle Elum (this state is beautiful) to see if I could get some photos that conveyed what those communities were up against. This is where we get back to skills and drive. I knew I wanted to go out there. I should have spent several days emailing local photographers and fire departments. Developing access. I didn't. I just went out there.
I ended up walking around Roslyn for an hour, taking a few meaningless photos. I figured it was a bust. I called it a day and went into The Brick, which I think might be one of Washington's oldest saloons. People were making signs, and I overheard them talking about a change in shifts for the firefighters. It was a long time ago now, so my memory is rusty, but I think I ended up talking to Roslyn's mayor, who explained that every evening residents gathered to make signs to show their support for the firefighters.
I went across the street and took a few photos I was happy with. Connections, or connecting, and context are important. I'm sure the people were worried about family, friends, and homes, but in that moment, they were there to thank the firefighters.
So much of the news I read is about our awful divide. I keep thinking that it doesn't have to be that way. I imagine that people in Texas during the awful freeze were more focused on what brings us together. That sentiment's hard to find these days outside of natural disasters. (Speaking of the freeze - I think the heat in my apartment shut off. I know I'm a wimp who grew up in Arizona, but I don't think the heat should turn off just yet. Hoping that was a mistake.)