Lucy Goodhart, Solstice Fire
Text by Heather Snider
The gradually yellowing skies over San Francisco were the first eerie indication that something was amiss. Following reports of freakish mid-summer thunderstorms we soon learned that lightning had set hundreds of fires ablaze throughout the state. Some of these fires were in the not-so-far countryside, and here in the City we lived under a hazy sky and gentle dusting of particulate for weeks: anxious reminders of the fiery battles just beyond our horizon.
One of the most devastating of those fires in the summer of 2008 occurred in Big Sur, San Francisco's most famous outlying coastal wilderness. The Basin Complex Fire, as it was eventually named, destroyed over 160,000 acres making it one of the largest fires in California history. While the media streamed images and details towards us, seeing a fleck of ash settling onto the city sidewalk was as close as most of us came to the fires.
Lucy Goodhart's Solstice Fire series of photographs bring us to the heart of Big Sur in the midst of this devastating but natural event. Many San Franciscans and tourists visit Big Sur but it is a place that few know well. The terrain is dramatically beautiful, wild, and sparsely populated. Impressively impenetrable, Big Sur nonetheless leaves an indelible mark on any visitor. It also seems to draw artists to itself with an engulfing, Calypso-like allure and through their work Big Sur is brought to us in human terms.
Goodhart was originally drawn to Big Sur from her native England by a feeling of deep connection to the land. She lived in Big Sur as caretaker of a home on Partington Ridge and spent several years photographing the people and landscape there before relocating to San Francisco in 2005. Perhaps not so coincidentally she was back on Partington Ridge for a return visit the day the fires started last June. Watching the dark storm clouds roll in from the ocean she witnessed the lightning strikes sparking fires that eventually consumed the house and adjoining canyon where she was staying. She photographed the early stages of the fire before joining the swell of residents fleeing ahead of the fire.
The photographs shown here explore the emotional impact of the fire upon its arrival and in the decimated wake of its departure. Through Goodhart's eyes we see the first smoldering clouds on the hillside, the slowly changing atmosphere, and the sun setting calmly on the eve of momentous change. We also see fragments of the aftermath, made during Goodhart's return visit to the same skeletal site a month later. She leads the viewer through a moonscape exploration of shadowy remains including a hastily written message, a hose left gaping in dry nothingness, and an artifact of the Esselen natives who once inhabited the area and undoubtedly experienced fire in their own time on this land.
Goodhart brings her insightful sensitivity to this portrait of Big Sur during its passage through physical transformation. She seems to search for signs of meaning while accepting the abstractness of what she finds. Her photographs are reverential but not sentimental, peaceful and poetic though they speak of destruction and loss. Through Solstice Fire Goodhart records the human scale of a dramatic moment in Big Sur's history, one that reminds us of our place in the vast cycle of life on Earth.