The Giving Trees | By Angela Boehm
During a drive through the mountains in British Columbia, a winding scenic route we typically follow on the way to our favourite lake, I realized I was traveling through a timeline of forest fires. There had been many fires in this area over the last few decades since we started these summer excursions, and today what I saw was a forest in many different stages of regeneration: tufts of foliage, vibrant green, seedlings racing upwards, thick populations of young trees surrounding their charred elders.
This transformation is fast, vibrant, thick and surprising. One could even describe it as forceful. I understood that what I was seeing was not pure devastation and loss, but a message of hope. I was witnessing the resilience of nature, the tenacity of a forest to live. So, I began to photograph these burned lands, to celebrate the forest’s renewal.
Appreciating fire is part of nature’s process: “good” fires, I have since learned, are an integral part of forest life. As a documentary photographer, conveying this positive message is my motivation for this project. I carefully photograph forests in various stages of regeneration, following fire – from recent burns to those that have occurred years ago. The photographs in this series are all from uninhabited areas of the forest, and all from lightning strikes.
I ventured out into the forests during the pandemic, staying close to home. But the forest drew me in for other reasons. Three personal losses of people close to me preceded this journey. I see these fires and the recovery of these forests through a world struggling to make sense of the monumental pandemic losses we have faced together – the loss of life, of ways of life, and the ways of approaching life – as well as through personal tragedy. These are places of silence and regeneration, once ravaged, again thriving.
I am grateful to those who have contributed their considerable time and wisdom to this project. Academics at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary provided me with science-based insight into the long-term impact of fire. Fire management personnel in our Canadian Parks system informed my understanding of policy and practical aspects related to fire management and behaviour. In recent times, we have learned that the oral histories of Canada’s indigenous peoples contain vital insights into fire as part of forest, nature and wildlife management. Interviewing those with knowledge of indigenous fire practices has informed my perspective on “breathing good fire into the landscape.” I’ve come to understand that fire is yet another habitual process in nature, with its own unique beauty and logic. It is part of the life cycle of a forest and the start of much new life.
It’s my hope that through this exhibit, viewers will come to appreciate how fire is a part of nature, how fire is not the end of life in the woods, but the beginning of a renewing process that will inevitably spark rapid growth of many species, even some that need fire to be born. It is my hope that when people hear of fire occurring in a nearby forest they will pause and consider the life that will spring forward when the fire clears.
Angela Boehm is a documentary photographer who focuses on long term projects. She is known for her exploration of generations; teenagers, midlife and seniors. In building these projects her emphasis is on creating empathy for those she collaborates with and their stage of life, quietly exposing what it’s like to be in their world.
Angela grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan and holds a degree in Business. After retiring from a successful career in business and philanthropy, she turned to photography. Angela is largely self-taught and has supplemented her learning through the International Center for Photography in New York.
During the time of Covid 19, Angela turned her focus to the forest, documenting the recovery of forests following fires.
“The Giving Trees Part 1” 2022 Exhibition at Holy Grill in Calgary from now until February 2022.
Photo Essay edited by Alejandra Martínez Moreno