Just stuff

Just stuff

When we stayed in Sorrento, our bedroom had a view of Mt. Vesuvius. Every morning when we woke up, Sam would look at it and say “that’ll kill ya.” Shortly after the fire — our fire — I began to see our house as my personal Pompeii. Not the actual destruction, though. What was left behind. Walking through Pompeii, I recognized the devastation that took place and marveled at how well preserved some things were and how others were utterly annihilated. These were artifacts left behind of the way people lived before Vesuvius erupted. Some things struck me, but many others were part of a history that I could walk through. That’s how I saw our house only two or three days after the fire. Looking at most books, most of the art, the furniture, the electronics — they were something I once owned and now were part of a story of a fire. They had become things and were no longer possessions. And I didn’t mourn them. There were some objects in the soot and ash that made me sad. Some photo albums, printed only from film, were irreparably gone. But the photos that were digital were safe on a hard drive in our fire safe (that included all of our wedding photos). Those can be reprinted. The ornaments on the Christmas tree (we were slow to take it down) are lost for good, and some them have a high sentimental value (the ornaments that Sam painted me can never be replaced). I panicked briefly that our passports hadn’t been put away. Fortunately, they were also safe. It...
A universe that conspires

A universe that conspires

Fire may not be alive, but it brought an organic, living quality to many parts of our house. These soffits descended from their home along the edge of our house, almost as though they were trying to escape. And maybe they were. Out of control fire has a tendency to inspire that kind of reaction. The fire department arrived in time to keep the destructive force from going out of control. The universe may have conspired to take out house, our stuff, and a lot of barriers away in the form of a fire, but it also arranged for a heavier than expected snowfall. This resulted in a car accident five minutes away from our home, which the Hooksett fire department was responding to. The truck left the scene of the accident to fight our fire. According to the fire chief, it saved ten minutes of driving and that — and my own attempts at suppressing the fire — saved our house from complete destruction. On February 5th, we were supposed to get two inches of snow. We got eight. But it worked out in our...
Art becomes art

Art becomes art

We had a good number of photos around the house. Not as many as I would have liked (I’ve always had a hard time “finalizing” a piece for hanging), but the ones that were up there were some of my favorites. Photo paper does better with heat than regular paper. But only slightly. The photos that were in the heat zones - and that depended on the room - were changed. In some cases, that change was simply destruction. In others, it left behind a new beauty, shaped by the environment. This particular photo of Waiamea Bay on Oahu was warped into something new. The color changed, taking on a pinkish hue, and the melted sections (some of which stuck the glass that partially protected the image) left ochre and soot colored changes dead center. The frame itself became something more — with the blackened broken glass and a soot-charged wooded frame, it now offered a segueway into the gray and bubbled latex paint surrounding it. It tells a different story than the original photo below. That said, it adds to our own story just as the original...
A little meta photo

A little meta photo

When you see a fire on television, it focuses on the dramatic destruction and chaos it brings in the moment. But that moment of flash and flame is just a moment. When the soot settles and the water dries, that’s where the damage starts. When you’re allowed back in your home after a fire, if you’re lucky, you’re in shock. I use the term lucky and shock loosely here. We were and it put us back a few steps from really understanding what had happened. So, we saw the “stuff” in our house through a glazed lens, and it distanced us from the contents of our home being ours. We would look at items and think “I used to have that book” or “I had a coat like that.” But other items brought us back to stark reality. This camera was my grandfather’s and my grandmother gave it to me in the late 90s. Up until the fire, I could still take amazing photos with it. But here it is, soot corroding the glass, ash jamming the mechanisms, and heat melting the film that was inside it. It cannot be repaired, and it is impossible to replace it — not because I can’t find a Graflex Graphic 35. This is a piece of personal history. Its destruction underlined what was important and what was not. We removed (and they are still in my car in garbage bags until I have the space to go through them) the few things that were important to us. Our wedding albums, our passports, hard drives with photos embedded in them, a guitar. And...
Fire inspires

Fire inspires

On February 4, 2016, we went grocery shopping. We bought a pineapple. On February 5, 2106, our pineapple was roasted, but we couldn’t eat it. We had a house fire that changed the way we live and the way we look at our lives. I channeled the grief and frustration I felt into creativity, and the shell that was our home became a still life subject for a new photo project. Beauty is subjective, but we can find beauty in many places. Our perception of beauty is based on our experiences, our cultures, and our village of people we surround ourselves with. I believed I would be one of the few people who could see the beauty in the remains of our home. I was surprised to find I wasn’t alone. Comedy and tragedy are universal concepts. Fire, too, resonates across the world, for both its use and its destructive power. Change is the norm for everyone. And the hope that goes along with rebuilding is something everyone should experience, whether it’s personal change or something physical. I didn’t have to wait 2000 years to see what happened and find beauty and truth under the ash and soot, but this is my personal Pompeii. And I have the advantage of rebuilding for the...