A Photo That Matters

This photograph isn’t fake. There’s no photoshop trickery involved. It was taken by a woman named Kristi McCluer. She captured this moment of men playing golf as the Eagle Rock, Oregon, wildfire raged behind them.

There’s a piece on McCluer, from FORTUNE, explaining the circumstances of the photo, which I will include much of, below. She is not a professional photographer and has no formal training.

But before we get to that, I want to talk about the photo a little more. It’s one of those images that seems to mean many different things to many different people. None of which are good. The surreal indifference of the men as the world burns. It’s hard to believe such a thing could be true.

Please, take a moment to really look at it for a few minutes. Let your own thoughts and emotions come forward. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel. Let it connect. Let it work on you. Bring your own astonishment, fears, angers, outrage, whatever it may be, to it. Just take a moment and feel something.

Then again, maybe it’s fake after all. Maybe we can dismiss it in a confusion of contradictory claims and just throw our hands up in the air, helplessly. Declaring that our inability to act is based on being unable to know what is true and what isn’t. Such seems to be the way of our times.

Some background about the image from an article written by John Patrick Pullen in FORTUNE. It was published September 7, 2017.

McCluer’s fire story begins before the smoke started rising from trees in Eagle Creek on Saturday, Sept. 2. “I saw it while skydiving,” says the airborne adrenaline junkie. McClure made five jumps that day, and on the third dive she saw a huge, vertical smoke plume rising to the east. By the time she made her next jump an hour later, the smoke had gone horizontal. “You could see it spreading across the sky,” she says. But visibility was still good, so she and her friends got one more skydive in, before calling it a day.

On Sunday the sky was awash with ash, so McCluer was grounded. On Monday, visibility was even worse, so instead of staying home, she grabbed her camera and drove off towards the gorge on the Washington State side, since Oregon’s I-84 was blocked by downed, burning trees. McCluer’s plan was to drive to the Bridge of the Gods, the span closest to the fire that connects Washington and Oregon, and capture images of the burning forest.

But the bridge was closed to traffic, and nearby McCluer saw what she thought was a huge parking lot, full of people watching the blaze. Only it wasn’t a parking lot—it was a road, and the Washington State Police ordered her to stop taking pictures, get in her car, and go find a safe place.

While trying to turn around and head back west, McCluer ended up in the parking lot of the Beacon Golf Course in North Bonneville, Wash., where a few golfers were still on the course. “And I got out and I started taking pictures,” McCluer says. “I thought, ‘This is a good spot, nobody else is around, it wasn’t crowded, there were only two or three other cars and some people golfing.’”