Faces of the Old Fire (Photo Essay)

Posted by - July 11, 2016 - Issue No. 16.2

Documentary photographer Eric Larsen’s photo essay on the men and women who fought the Old Fire shows how differences dissolve when lives are on the line.

Artist’s Statement:

I wish I could find a way to describe the emotions I felt while creating these photographs.

I had made the decision to evacuate early.  On the way out of the canyon, I saw all the trucks and the firemen on break sitting on the side of the road. I drove slow enough to see their faces, most covered in soot. In an instant, I was pulling over and grabbing my camera.

I’ve been a documentary photographer for years, but I had never photographed people like this. They were tired and focused, and all I had to offer was a hand shake and a thank you, and in return, they shared their stories with me.

There was the firefighter from Brooklyn who grinned when he noticed my NYPD hat.  The lone woman, still having to break barriers. The convicts who cheered when the fireman in charge gave permission for them to be photographed — many of them longing for the opportunity to show their families that they were contributing to society.    The senior firefighter — I never heard him speak, but every one of his fellow comrades pointed to him as “The Chief.”  One fire fighter who was on his first day on the job. And so many more.  All so different they likely would have never met in real life. All working together, all putting themselves — literally — on the line.

As the sun set, I noticed that my right hand was charred black from all the hands I’d shook. One fireman went to take off his gloves before offering his hand, and I told him no, I work for a living too.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER:  Eric Larsen credits his passion for photography for a long list of adventures, including backpacking through southeast Asia and Japan with one camera, one lens, one pair of sandals, and boots for 5 months, during which time  he met an Australian woman in Bangkok who taught him his most important life lesson: “You will meet people, and have one hello, a dinner, a day, a week, or an adventure and then it’s gone, and then you will have to let them go forever.”  Eric lives in Topanga Canyon and is looking forward to his next photographic adventures in Central America and East Africa. His website is www.ericlarsenimages.com.