Quesnel photographer Nicole Johnston is presenting her Wildfires 2017 Project this month at the Quesnel Art Gallery. Lindsay Chung photo

Wildfires 2017 Project features photographs of the aftermath of devastating fires

Photographer Nicole Johnston presents her first show at the Quesnel Art Gallery

This month’s show at the Quesnel Art Gallery features dramatic photographs that show not only the destruction of the 2017 wildfires in B.C., but also the rebirth that comes after the fires.

Wildfires 2017 Project is a photography exhibit by Nicole Johnston of Quesnel, presenting a series of prints that document the aftermath of the 2017 wildfires in places like Soda Creek, Ashcroft, Green Lake and Green Mountain. This show, which is sponsored by West Fraser Mills, runs until Aug. 30.

Johnston was inspired to do this project after driving through the Soda Creek area after the fires in 2017.

“It impacted me obviously when the fires had started because I was living here,” she said. “We weren’t on evacuation alert the summer of the 2017 fires, but we were the summer after. I was kind of inspired by the project because my husband had just left, so I was alone with my three kids and kind of struggling with my own personal life, and when I saw how the people in B.C. recovered from such a devastating loss with the wildfires and how they were able to pick up their lives and continue on, that inspired me to pick up my own life and carry on with my kids. I was kind of intrigued by how quickly things bounced back.”

Johnston remembers driving through the Soda Creek area just a few months after the fires and seeing that there were already green shoots coming up.

“The land was already recovering, and people were already starting to rebuild homes in the Soda Creek area,” she said. “I was really impressed by that. And then when I went through the Ashcroft area, I noticed they’d already put up new fencing for the cattle. So the response from the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association was amazing, and I was impressed by that as well because it had only been a couple months since the fires.”

Johnston was also impressed with how many homes the firefighters were able to save that summer.

“There’s a picture in [the show] of how the fire went through the Elephant Hill area, and there are two houses in the middle of nowhere, and everywhere around there is charred black — but they were able to save those two houses,” she said. “It was impressive.”

With her photographs, Johnston is hoping to show that land and people can bounce back from devastating events.

“Basically, in these pictures, I wanted to show that while it was catastrophic and devastating, things bounce back pretty quickly, and I felt like the people were pretty resilient and helped each other out through the crisis and were able to get back on their feet pretty quickly,” she said. “Even going through the Soda Creek area that initial time, there were already people rebuilding their homes, and it only would have been a couple of months. I know if I lost my home, I would be crushed and probably not able to pick up the pieces that quickly. I couldn’t believe people could recover that quickly from something that tragic.”

Johnston chose 25 photos for this show.

“Some of them just kind of struck me, so the one with the road going through there is kind of haunting how the trees are all burnt, and in that Green Lake area, all the topsoil is gone, so when you’d walk through the forest there, the ground would almost give out under you because the root system was completely gone and there was just nothing left,” she said of choosing which photos to show. “The other ones, where the green is in there, it was just showing how nature has a way of bouncing back from something like that and how it’s not such a bad thing to have fire go through like that.”

Johnston has been doing photography for about 10 years, and she typically does family photography in a documentary style.

This is her first show at the Quesnel Art Gallery.

“I don’t print my work very often, but it was a very rewarding experience because when you see it done up in prints, it’s nice,” she said. “It’s more dramatic than when you see it on your computer screen.”

Johnston’s Wildfires 2017 Project can be viewed Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Quesnel Art Gallery at 500 North Star Rd.

For more information about the Quesnel Art Gallery and Johnston’s show, visit quesnelartgallery.com.

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