8 November 2018, the megafire Camp Fire devastated the town of Paradise, California, in four hours. It destroyed 18,800 structures and killed 89 people, casting many others into a state of precariousness.
In all symbolisms since the myth of Prometheus, mastery of fire has given man power over the rest of the living world. But megafires no longer spare any part of the globe: increasingly frequent and uncontrollable, they continue to confront us with our own fragility. Fires now surround Paradise every year. The North Complex Fire burned a few miles away in summer 2020. The Dixie Fire, active from July to October 2021, ranked as largest in the State’s history and consumed 963,000 acres of land.
Maxime Riché travelled to Paradise in 2020, and in the summer of 2021 he returned to meet those who had decided to rebuild their ‘paradise’ in a place that now seems brutally inhospitable. All slowly take stock of the new reality, midway between the desire for the conservation of the place they cherished and for a new relationship with a landscape wounded at its very heart. To account for the intensity of emotion he heard in his conversations with them, the photographer uses an infrared film, the blazing colours of which break into the tenuous normality of a life they are trying to rebuild. ‘Flashbacks’ of the inferno they went through, they serve to recall the memory of the flames, seared on the retinae of the survivors as they rebuild in the shadow of the next disaster.
Navigating the boundaries of documentary and fiction, the tale of Paradise gives us a glimpse of the next place that will have to go through this healing process in the wake of a disaster, the causes of which are – increasingly – human. But it also shows our strength: faced with challenges, we keep adapting relentlessly. These landscapes could be ours. Decked with the colours of fire – carmine reds, yellows and blacks – they appeal to our universal and physical experience of fire. They tell the story of our journey: that of our resilience, of our own human condition.