Camp Fire devastated Paradise, a town of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California, in November 2018. This mega-fire killed 86 people and pushed 20,000 others to flee across the United States. Far from being an isolated phenomenon, it ranks at the top of the largest fires that regularly affect California and no longer spare any region of the globe, as recently witnessed in Brazil and Australia.
I heard about Paradise a year later and departed to meet some of the 2,000 souls who are rebuilding their lives there. Its name caught my attention as a symbol, which could become common: idyllic places we are used to living in, suddenly becoming inhospitable. Paradise is a fable about the effort to revive a world from the ashes. A feverish activity that is reminiscent of that of the gold diggers who, according to the legend, came to play at Pair o ’Dice, the saloon that the city is believed to have been called after. There is a certain charm in looking for Eden on Earth there, but none of the majestic trees remain, nor any of the 19,000 houses nestled comfortably under their thick twigs. The pioneers who embark on the (re)conquest of a ravaged nature remain aware of the increasingly tangible risks to which they are exposed.
I wanted to explain this insistence on refusing the limits, even imposed in the most brutal way by nature and flames. As the days went by, I photographed the traces of a still visible recent past, in order to make a portrait of this place and those who have returned. They chose to rebuild their wooden house there to escape another hell, that of pollution, of overcrowded cities. I decided to give a personal vision and suggest the collective hallucination experienced by its inhabitants, forced to flee and leave their lives behind in less than two hours. Using a color film process now almost extinct allows me to capture the light beyond the visible, in the infrared spectrum, on the devastated landscapes that still bear the marks of the fire.
Paradise suggests the next place, Australia or another, which will have to go through this slow process of healing after a natural disaster. 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?