| 03.18.2018

A collision of art and science

United States wildfire photography featured in Prichard Art Gallery’s latest exhibit


Boise photographer Kari Greer has been taking wildfire photos under contract for the National Interagency Fire Center since the late 1990s, but she never thought she would see her work featured in an art gallery.

University of Idaho Prichard Art Gallery’s latest exhibit, which opened Friday, did just that.

The exhibit, which will continue through April 14, combines scientific graphics from UI Professor of Forest Resources Penny Morgan, writing from award-winning author Stephen Pyne and an array of photographs from Greer’s work throughout many states. This is the first thorough exhibition of Greer’s work, which is most often a supplement to various words and reports.

Greer’s photos depict smoke and flame but also the emotion of firefighters on the job. Her work serves to show fire in a way that isn’t just destruction.

The exhibit acts as a bridge between art and science, telling a story through images to help us better address what living with fire is like, said Roger Rowley, director of the gallery. Rowley said the gallery provides a place for contemplation.

“If we’re really going to change our view, humanities need to be involved,” he said. “Science is only going to get us so far.”

Rowley said he chose to feature Greer’s work for two reasons  — the powerful images and the increasing prominence of fires. Rowley said Greer’s photos are incredibly amazing in terms of wow factor, but we also have to live with fires and learn how to adapt to them.

Greer said she has always loved photography, being a child of a television and media culture where image illustrated life, and she knew it was what she wanted to do.

She said she happened to be a firefighter as a college job and the two went together so well it was “undeniable.”

“My favorite part is having a front row seat to a phenomenon this spectacular and being asked to be there,” Greer said.

Because Greer’s work is done under contract and not typically displayed by itself, she said she loves having a new opportunity to use her work in a way she hasn’t previously, and she is hopeful that it is something she can keep doing.

“It feels very validating to see that it’s well-received or that it resonates with people,” Greer said. “But it’s my life and my passion and something I would continue doing no matter what.”

It’s important to combine art and science in a place where the amount of fires is increasing, Greer said. This is a fire community and an art community and the two mold, she said.

“(Art) humanizes it,” Greer said. “It makes it applicable to real life. It’s visceral. It’s reality in your face. But maps and writing give a greater sense of reality. This could be anyone’s backyard.”

Greer said her work honors people who have been impacted by fire and the work firefighters have done on the ground. It gives credit, she said.

“I hope people will take away a sense of the boots on the ground effort by firefighters, that they care and they’re doing a difficult but rewarding job in public service,” Greer said. “And I definitely hope people learn the importance of fire as well, that it can be good.”

Jordan Willson can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

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