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COLIN REMAS BROWN

May 3 - 18, 2008 at drkrm. gallery, Northeast Los Angeles

by Margarita Nieto




"Hanging Deer," 2007,
color photograph.






"Widow," 2007,
color photograph.






"Coke Bottle," 2007,
color photograph.






"Untitled," 2007,
color photograph.






"Untitled," 2007,
color photograph.

Anyone driving across Los Angeles on the evening of May 8 last year, be it on the 5, the 101, the 110, the 210 or even the 405 freeways, would have seen the reddish sky above the hills north of Hollywood and the thick, black clouds beginning to cover the entire basin. In this land of sunshine and noir, another major brushfire was burning. This time, it was the 4,210 acres of our urban refuge: Griffith Park was aflame. This paradise of hiking trails and wildlife, with its Greek Theatre, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles Zoo and Travel Town was engulfed.

Appalled and fascinated, we watched on television, or from the surrounding hills and freeways, anticipating and dreading the loss of the zoo, of the theatre, of the observatory and planetarium, that gateway to the cosmos. We shared in the anguish of possible lost homes. We feared for the lives of the firemen fighting the blaze in such rough terrain. Homes were threatened, people displaced. Yet, our cultural monuments survived, although the next day, we sorrowfully surveyed the blackened and barren hillsides filled with tangled branches of bushes and trees.

What we didn’t acknowledge or even think of, was is what we now view in these large format digital color photos that Colin Remas Brown shot just days after the devastation. Evidenced in these images are the countless lives that were lost, the visible horror of a landscape strewn with skeletal remains of the victims of this disaster. Like the scattered detritus of an ancient archeological site, remains of coyotes, deer, rabbits and squirrels serve as a mute and powerful reminder of the fragile life that exists around us and which we so often ignore. These photos deliver these victims into our consciousness. Seeing them we try to conjure, or imagine, the swiftness of the flames that caught them in mid-flight from the flames.

Repellant and moving, these photos situate us within the disaster itself. We move through the minutiae left behind. In “Moonscape,” tangled branches, vestiges of trees are stark witnesses of the devastation, while “Hanging Deer,” simultaneously horrific and fascinating, feels like a simple homage in which a skeletal form hangs sculpturally in the midst of the charred grounds. A glimpse of color illuminates the skeletal remains. The rest of the image is black and white. This is not a photographic gimmick: the color of the landscape itself is black and white. This effect becomes apparent in “Widow,” where the survivor, a lone golden coyote, glistens in a landscape of broken branches against the absurd contradiction of a limpid blue sky. A lone silvered and blackened leaf lies against the silver-gray and black rocks on the scarred soil, a poignant reminder of the power of the flames.

Other images suggest a glimmer of hope, of continuity in something as simple as a flock of crows returning to forage among the ruins (“Crows”). Birds perch on the burnt branches. A green leaf sprouts through the blackened rocks, startling us with its verdant strength. Even human imprints abound: a real or evaporated shadow of a coke bottle rests gently where it was discarded.

Terrifying and awesome, this fire reflects our worst nightmares, living as we do off the beguiling promise of constant water in a space that is but three generations removed from having been a desert. The aesthetic impact here reminds us that we live in a mirage, an illusory ecological environment. Our sunshine casts dark shadows. Gazing at this detritus, these remains portend and warn us of what might lie before us. Like these victims, ignored until now, we too are in a daily confrontation with the apocalyptic vision of destruction by fire.

This park, this land, this space whose history resonates with stories and myths of curses and spells, has now witnessed three fires during the last eighty or so years, in 1933, 1961, and 2007. The October, 1933 fire killed 29 firefighters and injured 150 more. These images remind us of that tragedy even as we gaze at the forgotten victims on this anniversary of last year’s fire.