Upon initially viewing the color photographs of Jane Fulton Alt’s aptly title photobook “The Burn”, I was feeling more than a bit conflicted. First, her photographs are poetic, surreal, mysterious as well as lyrical. As aptly stated by Deborah Gribbon in her essay, “Alt has a keen eye for gesture in landscape….the burn photographs are richly visual and invite a lingering inspection that both challenges and rewards the viewer….the majority of the works are vignettes; trees, wildflowers, prairie grass and cattails….the photographs seem mysterious and otherworldly because they confound the usual cues for perceiving space and scale.”
Regretfully living in Southern California, these same photographs also speak to a much darker narrative, that of the Western wild fires. Wild fires can quickly become savagely destructive, literally destroying thousands of homes in one fire season. Even when control fires are needed, like those photographed by Alt, these have not always burned as planned, one of which that went out of control burned thousands of acres and a few homes.
Thus I view these photographs with mixed emotions. But for me, that is a hallmark of a good body of work, that it can stir memories, activate the senses (I can almost smell and taste the dense smoke of a wild fire) and yet be visually interesting.
As an object, this square book is an image-wrap case bound book with four color printing on a semi-luster stock. It is of a medium size that makes handling and reading delightful. The essays are provided by Jane Fulton Alt, Deborah Gribbon, Gary and Anastasia Friel Gutting and Michael Weinstein.