The megafire Camp Fire devastated Paradise, California, on November 8, 2018. Most expensive disaster of 2018 in destroyed assets, it killed 86 people in less than four hours and spurred 20,000 others to flee across the United States. It ranks at the top of the fires that affect California every year and no longer spare any region of the globe. I went back to Paradise two years after the events to understand the motives of those who decided to rebuild their “paradise”, as a fable about the effort made to revive a world from its ashes.
As the reality of a landscape petrified by the fire was impressed on my film, I chose to distance myself from the straight documentary photography in order to capture the intensity of the emotions perceived during my conversations with the survivors of Camp Fire. To immerse in the eyes of those who lived through this ordeal, and propose a photograph of their stories. So as to enter their intimacy with modesty, I alternate the portraits made during these encounters with a personal vision of the fire: I use an infrared film which blazing colors give me the freedom to reinterpret our relationship to this element. Like a hallucination engraved on their retina, experienced daily as they rebuild with the fear of the next fire. A back and forth between awake and a bad dream that they cannot escape.
Beyond the imaginary and the emotions that this blood-red can arouse, it also reveals more of the photographed surfaces than what our bare eye can perceive. Totally stripped bare, our ideal of control over the natural world is undermined. For the fire, elusive, is only fleetingly visible but now constantly present in the mind of the inhabitants of this fallen Eden. For long man’s best ally in his quest for power and security, it now seems to be turning against him: mega-fires, these gigantic fires, are increasingly more frequent, unpredictable and uncontrollable, a veiled threat that keeps confronting us to our fragility.
“Paradise” gives us a glimpse at the next place, Australia, Brazil, Siberia, or elsewhere, which will have to go through this slow process of healing after a disaster which causes are, increasingly, human. This fable suggests our ever greater disconnection from nature, our hubris of wanting to go against it at all costs. Paradise, a prophetic, apocalyptic place?