Bonfire and Humanity

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If, as Keats so famously wrote, beauty is truth and truth beauty, surely a pertinent exemplification of this has to be the result of a simple but primordial chemical reaction, the product of which we named Fire. Fuel+O2+Heat incited by pressure, equals. Darkness into light; a way out of the malicious shadows, yet the creation of a state charged with it’s own instinctively vicious propensities. Bearing in mind the hypnotic and electrifying effects which fire continues to inspire in us today, in our info-heightened, over-subscribed, post-hacking world of anti-innocence, it is mind boggling to attempt to imagine the not just life-changing but existence-changing effect the unearthing of this awareness must have had on its discoverer. For unlike today, a Neanderthal person would not have been able to share an enlightening experience with their fellow earthlings across the way. Each community would have had to come to the knowledge in their own time, the technique passed down through generations for millions of years until the fateful day someone invented the match, reducing the skill of fire inception to merely owning opposable thumbs. Have you ever tried to light a fire using just a pile of brush and sheer will, imploring your hands to spin, spin those sticks faster!? It’s hard. I failed. An embarrassingly cliched product of my upbringing and environment, I soon scrambled off to find matches; the enveloping cold air surpassing my desire for that particular scouting badge.

The physical and psychological powers of fire are often tragically underestimated, lending an ominous counterbalance to its intense beauty. So why do we find it so mesmeric? Is it aesthetic? Or, as is more likely, it is rooted in our dependence as well as in our fear. We all know that fear and power hold a certain attraction, despite our protestations of distaste for that fact. Both embody an element of excitement, our adrenaline levels rising to combat a potentially dangerous situation. It’s sexy, it’s kind of taboo, it’s what drives almost every kind of pornography you can think of and despite your protestations dear reader, statistics suggest you are likely to be in some way a consumer of that particular industry. We fear it, thus we are entranced by it, it thrills us; car-crash rubbernecking. It’s also undeniable that we must have an instinctive basic attachment to something so key to our very survival. Although it is powerful, we often, as I said before, underestimate its speed, force and completely indiscriminate nature. We have ‘controlled’ fires, we use it for fun, it warms us and cooks our food; we believe we hold the power. But despite all of this, the visual spectacle of a flame, from the endearing initial flickering to awe-inspiring and terrifying explosion, continues to capture us in a unique way.

To photograph a flame, a fire, is fantastically easy or frustratingly difficult; satisfaction being entirely dependent upon the effect you’re after. A good while ago I gave up trying to portray exactly what I was seeing, when I realised that the outcome of my shots captured less the exact visual image I was perceiving and more the behaviour of the process and material. I now realise how much more interesting this is to me, the frantic jitters of the flames caught in a series of moments; the longer exposure tracing their journey back and forth, up and down, like trapped insects searching for freedom without knowing why. Colour of course plays a part, the brilliant purity of the red and yellow flame providing the ultimate contrast with the blackness of night. The scenes beg to be photographed, painted. As I’ve always said, Nature herself is most certainly an artist.

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2 comments
  1. njbdartford said:

    What I love about this post, in addition to the ‘stop and look again’ quality of the images [and the almost palpable heat emanating from the last image in particular] is the way it starts. Having spent hundreds of years developing any numbers of forms and genre for words and text, many of us bloggers seem to have forgotten much of that palette simply because we’re in a blog box. Many of us have fallen into a trap of journalistic, didactic, log-booky, prose. I’m one of them – and this post has reminded me to go and experiment with other ways to lay down words. The opening sentences, in particular, play with an almost poetic structure rhythm.

    Thanks for waking me up a bit – in several ways.

    Almost as an afterthought [it shows how we think in boxes I suppose] I remembered that my own analogy for the best use of social media [one that I share with Mark Earls of 'Herd']is the lighting of bonfires that invite, entice, people to gather round them. Then, whilst still half distracted by the flames, and warmed by them, these people start to talk to each other. This imagery appears in my blog and business cards – using a shot I took of people silhouetted against the Dartford bonfire a couple of years ago.

    • Hi Nick, thanks for the comment, really glad you liked the post, I enjoyed writing it! Love the analogy you use of the bonfire, it certainly encapsulates the whole concept and active positives of social media; how it can and should be used to link people and encourage a dialogue. I must admit my drive for blogging has been largely in part due to my love for language; the way it can be moulded and stretched. Writing a piece is often, if not usually, a really enjoyable challenge and each one an exciting opportunity for me to be a bit more playful, or poetic, or go on an angry rant! Whereas most bloggers probably write around their core idea, I tend to build the idea around my writing. For me, the language comes first and that’s a large part of what I love so much about doing it. Anyway, really glad that it hit a chord with you and sorry I couldn’t make it to the tweetup to meet you properly, next time definitely though. Thanks :-)

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