Kari Greer was the type of kid who was always running around with a camera. She knew that she wanted some sort of career in photography. What she didn’t know was that her photography career would mainly involve her hiking through a forest of flames.

Greer became a wildfire photographer, and on Friday night her gallery was put on display at the Museum of Culture and Environment in Central Washington University’s Dean Hall. The gallery will be on display until March 14. For the opening of the gallery, Greer gave a short speech on her experience photographing fires.

Greer does what she does because her work shows people now and forever the war that firefighters face when battling these types of blazes.

“The main purpose is really providing the historic record,” Greer said. “I think it’s a real-time need where you want to provide immediate information to the public, but you also want to record what is happening here and now in our point in history.”

She said that her main goal is that 100 years from now people can look through her achieves and see what the history of firefighting was like.

“One single picture doesn’t really tell a story, but a giant series starts to paint the pictures,” she said.

Greer travels with the firefighter to the fires, and she digs in with them, spending weeks at a time with them on site. Her description of an average day of wildfire fighting sounds like a war story. Morning briefing at 0600, where you are told what the plan is to combat the fire. After the brief, you are sent out to the front lines.

She goes out with the firefighters and stays close behind them, taking shots of them in action without getting in their way or making them pose. She wants her pictures to feel natural and real, and to bring out as much emotion as possible. If she is doing a good job, the firefighters will hardly be aware of her presence.

Aside from the obvious dangers of being in the middle of a forest fire such as smoke and flames, a large danger for Greer and other firefighters are the dusty, unfamiliar roads. They also have to worry about the wildlife in the area, especially anything that stings or bites. She said that a danger that people don’t realize is the potential of falling rocks. Many rocks are held in place by vegetation, which is destroyed in a fire.

One of Greer’s most memorable experiences was 20 years ago, when a textbook fire was affected by the weather. Greer described the event as a fire that suddenly folded over and ran, upgrading the blaze from moderate to extreme in a flash. The sudden change sent a blast wave that knocked her down from over 100 yards away. “I thought to myself, ‘respect this beast.’”

She said that after a two-week assignment she will likely have 20,000-30,000 photos. A part of her job is cutting down the number of photos to a gallery that is a practical size for someone to enjoy.

Greer said told the college students in the audience that if they have a strong desire and they know what they want to do, that something will fall into place. It might take time and they will fail but, “the universe will have your back.” She suggested that people follow their desires and do what you love. She also said that finding a mentor is extremely important, because it is impossible for one person to know anything, and a mentor can help guide people into the career that they want.

Many of Greer’s photos can be found at her online gallery at wildland-fires.smugmug.com.


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