Young Suh: Wildfires
Bay Area photographer Young Suh spent four years working on his photo-based series, Wildfires. Far from documentary shots, Suh’s lush and languid images take the viewer from the comfortable position of being just out of the fire’s path, to standing within feet of the source. The artist exploits these positions of perspective to play on natural human feelings of both compulsion to and fear of nature. This “anxious desire” is the primary focus of his photographs.
Although they are the output of a destructive force, smoke and haze are irresistibly beautiful. Suh takes full advantage of this romantic attraction by emphasizing ash-filled rosy skies and billowing white plumes. “Modeled after the 19th century American painters such as Bierstadt and Gifford, the picturesque sunset is enhanced by the haze of the smoke from a nearby fire. Like honeybees that are numbed by smoke before harvesting of honey, fire burns through the history of the representation of nature and tranquilizes our senses,” says Suh.
With an interest in the construction of natural sites, and the influence civilization has in environmental impact, control and management, one might expect Suh to focus on respondents, systems that are put into play when a wildfire happens, and the after-effects on communities. In fact, Suh is not interested in depicting trauma, institutional or individual heroism, or networks of response. For example, although firefighters appear in the series, there are at rest, or performing duties before or after the blaze. The dramatic nature of Suh’s photographs lies in a tense and eerie stillness captured on the fringes of Northern California’s most devastating fires, after the flames have subsided or in anticipation of its potential arrival. Suh elegantly communicates the balance between the tranquility of the moment and what is on the horizon.
10,000 Fahrenheit and Young Suh: Wildfires coincide with two San Francisco-based international gatherings that will focus on climate change: the Global Climate Action Summit in September and the World Cities Culture Summit in November. The SFAC Galleries is working closely with partners including: The San Francisco Department of the Environment, C40 Cities, and Autodesk.
Photo credit: Young Suh, Afternoon Dip, 2009 (detail).
For a complete listing of all Culture for Climate events please visit, SFArts.org.