Though President Joe Biden was just in the state making sweeping declarations of aid and such to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, fine art photographer Patricia Galagan makes a fair point:
“Once the flames start to go out, once the firemen leave and the planes land,” she says, “people forget.”
Indeed, as the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire reaches roughly 70% containment as of this writing according to fire tracking site inciweb.nwcb.gov, the news cycle has already started moving on to myriad other topics. But the people and pets displaced by fires in Northern New Mexico remain devastated, with many losing everything they’d built. This is precisely why Galagan and her fellow photog Carl Moore have joined forces with Santa Fe’s photo-eye Gallery (1300 Rufina Circle Ste. A, (505) 988-5152; photoeye.com) for Seeing Through the Fire, a special online and in-store benefit sale running through Friday, July 1 with an aim of turning fine art prints into donations for Santa Fe’s Food Depot and Humane Society nonprofits.
The idea is simple: Galagan and Moore used the aforementioned website to track the blaze, then they’d skirt around its perimeter by car, shooting photos as they went. According to Moore, local residents and volunteers helped them track down vantage points and, Galagan says, the results are a strange combination of brutal and beautiful.
Of the many shots they produced, photo-eye’s Gallery Director Anne Kelly and her staff selected six—three apiece from each artist—which will be sold as 11 by 14-inch prints at a mere $125 (which is absurdly low), the proceeds from which will go to those local orgs I was just talking about up there. Other than shipping costs and a cut to account for the gallery’s processing efforts, everything else will head out the door. This also means Galagan and Moore are eating the printing costs, though don’t expect anything other than high-quality reproductions.
“It was actually their idea,” Kelly tells SFR. “We had a bit of a discussion about where we’d donate the funds. We thought The Food Depot was obvious, and we were hearing about all the animals that needed help...we created this purposefully as limited editions, on a smaller scale, to justify the reasonable price point. We really just thought it would be a nice way for people to help out.”
Both Galagan and Moore’s shots are stunning, too, though less about fire and flames specifically, and more about lighting, atmosphere and impact. Originally, Seeing Through the Fire was envisioned as an exhibit of broader pieces, but when the fires started raging worse than any of us could have imagined, Moore says, he and Galagan decided it was odd to present a show that felt celebratory. As a benefit project without an exhibit component, it’s something more palatable. Even so, Moore’s series of shots featuring the sun, for example, express a dire urgency while remaining artful.
“I want to see deeply, so it’s all about the eye,” he says. “It’s about being willing to make new turns, to not just gloss over that picture, but to go back and get it in a way you want to share with others.”
This isn’t the first time Galagan has documented fire. In 2011, she and her late husband, Phillip Metcalf, took on the challenging task of shooting the Las Conchas Fire that began in the Jemez Mountains from two perspectives: its destruction and the area’s subsequent regrowth. That fire would ultimately cut through more than 150,000 acres before being contained, and it took Galagan and Metcalf seven years to gather the shots for their 2019 book Fire Ghosts, which tells the story in riveting visual detail. Metcalf died a month after its release, Galagan tells SFR, adding that she’s glad he had the chance to see and hold a finished product.
Moore, meanwhile, has only been shooting professionally for the last few years. A professor emeritus for Kent State University in Ohio (yes, that Kent State), he officially retired at 50 and picked up a camera in the following years, he says, as he watched his colleagues in similar situations succumb to boredom and a lack of activity. These days, he travels a lot, his trusty camera in hand.
Meanwhile, in the now, Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon continues to burn and had surpassed 325,000 acres as of this week. Galagan thinks of it like another entry in a series of warnings of which she first became aware while working on her book.
“I think that the fire season started earlier this year than it usually does, that there are so many fires now...when Phillip and I did Fire Ghosts, we had an ecologist named Craig Allen write the forword, and he said [Las Conchas] was like the canary in the coal mine—a harbinger of the way fires were going to develop, be bigger, last longer, be more ferocious; and by golly, they are,” she explains. “That was a big realization that he was right. The fire, the impact and the stories we kept reading about displacement and people losing everything...”
She trails off, but it’s apparent there will likely be no satisfying conclusions.
Order your Galagan or Moore prints here.