As a wildfire photographer, Kari Greer doesn’t respond to fire like most of us — instead of fleeing to safety, she moves in for a closer look.
An exhibit of Greer’s work opens Friday at the Prichard Art Gallery in Moscow.
Greer works for the National Interagency Fire Center based in Boise as a self-described “documentarian.” Her photos provide documentation and typically end up in archives, training materials and elsewhere. They’re also used in newspapers and other venues to communicate with the public about wildfires.
“People don’t know unless they see. They need that visual,” Greer said in a phone interview. “Otherwise people don’t have an emotional connection or a concept of the vastness of it.”
But fire isn’t just her bread and butter, Greer said — it’s her first love. She got her first taste of wildfire while working for the Forest Service one summer. By chance, she was transferred from the trail crew to fire crew.
“You love it or you hate it,” Greer said of wildland firefighting. “For the people who love it, it gets in your blood.”
As a film and photography student at California State University in Sacramento, Greer took photos that first summer with a small camera that she packed around. It didn’t take long for the two interests to merge.
“Photography was what I wanted to do,” Greer explained. “The fire was just a summer job. And then I realized I wanted to photograph it instead of fight it.”
After graduation, Greer got contract work photographing wildfires. One contract after another, Greer now has 20 years of photographs in her portfolio. This is the first time they will be exhibited in this type of gallery setting.
“Visually, fire is just amazing,” Greer said. “You can’t deny that it grabs everyone — it’s kind of primal, I think.”
A single frame can’t capture a fire, she explained. So instead of trying to move away and fit it all in, Greer steps in closer. She takes more images to give people the full picture.
“You have to figure out how to make it look like it made you feel,” Greer said.
Her experience on a fire crew is an asset. Greer not only has a better understanding of how fire moves and what it does, but she knows fire crew protocol — where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them. These skills help her best capture a fire and the crews that are fighting it.
It’s work that she doesn’t see running out anytime soon. In terms of intensity, frequency and scope, fire activity is increasing and will be for the foreseeable future, Greer said.
“Everything is similar, except the fires are bigger, they’re scarier — it’s a fact,” Greer said.
Alongside Greer’s exhibit will be “Lookouts in Fire Detection,”by C. Rod Bacon which will feature views of and from fire lookouts in the Northwest.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Facing the Inferno: The Wildfire Photography of Kari Greer”
WHEN: Exhibit reception 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, exhibit runs through April 14; gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Prichard Art Gallery, 414 S. Main St., Moscow
OF NOTE: Greer will speak about her work at a lecture 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Borah Theater on the University of Idaho campus.