The Front Room gallery in Williamsburg can be easy to miss if you aren’t looking, though the current show, a selection of images from photographer Sasha Bezzubov’s latest series Wildfire, is certainly worth seeking out.
Bezzubov’s large format prints hang in this tiny space in an impressive, though decidedly quiet manner. The work documents ravaged landscapes on the West Coast following devastating wildfires. That is, rather than capture the fires themselves, these images show what is left in the wake of such trauma — charred remains of homes, smoldering tree trunks, scorched earth. Two pairs of burnt palm trees in “Wildfire #15” Witch Creek Fire, San Diego County, CA (2007) frame a desolate, ashen landscape totally devoid of any trace of man, as if this place was abandoned and then forgotten in the wake of the cataclysmic event. Heavy silence fills each frame, but this tone also lends the viewer a chance to pause and meditate on these images of loss.
Wildfire might be considered a sequel to Bezzubov’s earlier project, Things Fall Apart in which he documented the effects of natural disasters in both the U.S. and abroad. In his artist statement for the series he wrote, “Using the genre of landscape photography, a tradition born with and used to celebrate industrial expansion, these photographs evidence the fragility of the man-made as it is transformed into dreamscapes of apocalyptic proportions.” These words certainly apply to the current exhibition as well where soft light, shallow depth of field, and scenes eerily absent of people remind the viewer of nature’s power over man with great poignancy. “Wildfire #86” (2007) shows a burnt wreckage of a car, now at the bottom of a ravine like one of many boulders resting there in a pile of ash, and in “Wildfire #78” (2007) the spiral staircase of what used to be a home reaches skyward against the backdrop of a setting sun.
These works are quietly dramatic through their documentation of disastrous events, yet their beauty is highly disturbing. Bezzubov’s technical prowess is evident, though to questionable effect. Such “dreamscapes” for Bezzubov were, in fact, true calamities for those whose homes were destroyed and lives turned upside down. This show treads a thin line, then, in coupling documentation of a disastrous phenomenon with such understated beauty.
Sasha Bezzubov’s Wildfire continues at The Front Room gallery in Williamsburg until February 14, 2010. Bezzubov’s Wildfire series is also available as a book of the same name that was published last year by Nazraeli Press (Amazon).