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Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

“A wall of flames 40 feet high was sweeping its way up the canyon, 400 yards away. At that point, they would have had about a minute. Since they couldn’t get to the safety zone, they had to make one of their own. Andrew Ashcraft and Travis Turbyfill, the two sawyers, started attacking the brush with their chain saws, while the rest of the guys swung their Pulaskis, frantically doing what they were trained to do: move dirt, and move dirt faster.  They dumped fuel from their drip cans around the zone they’d created, then set the chain saws at the outer perimeter, so that when they exploded no one would get hurt.

[The team’s leader,] Eric, got on the radio. The Hotshots’ escape route had been cut off, he said, and they were deploying their emergency shelters.

Eric’s voice was calm – some said the calmest they’d ever heard him. At 4:47, he radioed his last transmission: ‘Deploying.’ And then, just like they’d practiced, the Granite Mountain Hotshots climbed into their shelters.

Finally, at 6:30 – an agonizing 103 minutes later – the helicopter was able to get on the ground. The onboard medic hurried to the site where they’d seen the shelters. As he approached, he spotted the metal blade from a chain saw and a pickax with the handle burned away. The ranch house was unscathed. Everything else was a smoldering moonscape.

Experts estimate that the fire burned between 3,000 and 5,000 degrees. In the end, there wasn’t much left. But what there was told a story.

The 19 Hotshots were all together. No one panicked, no one ran. Travis Turbyfill and Andrew Ashcraft, the sawyers, were at the edge of the group, closest to the flames. They were cutting lines up until the end.

When Juliann [ed – Andrew’s wife] got Andrew’s effects back, his boots and clothes were gone. His metal belt buckle didn’t make it. His pocketknife. The journals that he kept. There was a piece of Velcro from his watchband but not the watch itself. Even the metal plate and eight screws in his leg, from when he shattered it in a rappelling accident a few years back, had disappeared.

Two things, she discovered, had somehow survived the fire. One was Andrew’s wedding ring, titanium. The other, shrunken and black, was the rubber wristband that said: be better.”

–Excerpt from an excellent and comprehensive article The Last Battle of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, by Josh Eells, for Men’s Journal.

 

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

I initially created today’s image to be a companion piece for this photo of Katie and I, honoring the fallen firemen in Yarnell, Arizona almost a year ago.

To The Lost

To The Lost

A childhood friend of mine, Andrew Ashcraft, had been one of the lost.  As I do with most painful things, I channeled my grief into my art.

Though it always makes me cry to think about it, there is such beauty in the men’s calm acceptance of their sacrifice, their solidarity, that they were a complete, solid unit until the very end. Josh Eell’s article says it so wonderfully.  They stuck together.  In the face of immediate, certain death, they did what they could and then turned to each other for comfort.  Shoulder to shoulder, they stuck together until the horrific last.

That unity, that love, that solidarity and bravery touched me more deeply than I could, or can, express.  The only chance I had at touching on it was through art.  I set up a shoot with Katie and Bryce to portray the doomed but brave men.  It happened that some tree branches and very tall bushes in my yard had just been cut down, forming what appeared to be a huge, natural nest.  Thinking of the Hotshots as birds with broken, burned wings helped me find the metaphor I wanted to use, a way into the truth I was trying to get at.

It was an easy shoot, what with all the branches having been set up for me by the workmen.  I lit a few smoke bombs, snapped the frames and it was done.  I loved what I had gotten from this shoot as I looked at the images later.  All the same, I found I couldn’t face editing the image.  It took many, many months before I felt like I could emotionally handle editing working it up.

I didn’t consciously realize we were coming up on the anniversary of their deaths, but I must have felt it subconsciously.  I’ve been haunted by memories of Andrew recently and finally felt that it was time, urgently time, to finish this piece.  As I finally brought the files into Photoshop and started working on them, more memories flooded my brain.  Like how Andrew, as a young child, had always said “Jee Jie Joes” instead of “GI Joes” and frequently got tripped up between “brought” and “brung.”  The trip our families took to Mount Shasta together.  Their shelties, who seem huge in my mind, but who I know were actually smallish dogs.  Drawing together, playing in the sprinklers, going to the beach, sharing snacks, going to the park, getting into fights, crying and making up again… all the things children do.

I’ve said before that one of the things I mourn in this is that I missed out on getting to know Andrew as an adult.  I’ve tried to remember that lesson and have made a point to stay in touch, or get back in touch, with people in my life.  I won’t get another chance at Andrew, but I can try and apply the lesson to other friendships.

None of these men deserved their fate.  They were true heroes, actively running into the worst, most dangerous situations.  That is what the Hotshots were there for; an elite team of firefighters comparable to Navy Seals or Spartans.  The only thing I can try and do about it is make an attempt to honor them and their sacrifice.  I know that I will always fall short in this goal, but it’s important to try nonetheless.  I am also keenly aware that this is not about me or my pain.  The pain of Andrew’s family and loved ones is something I can only imagine.

The Hotshots were trapped; birds unable to fly away.  There was no escape from the flames.  But what remained was love. Love triumphing over the flames by preserving Andrew’s wedding ring and bracelet with his personal motto.  Love for the people they were protecting, though they would never meet them.  Love for their families, though they left them behind in the line of their duty.  Love for each other.  Love for humanity.  Just love.

That love is what I wanted most to capture in this image and I hope it shines through.

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

Singed Wings - detail One of the three smokey roses scattered through the photo.  I used an image I had taken of beautifully carved roses on a tombstone, which felt so fitting.  The delicacy and beauty they add are still tinged with sorrow.

Singed Wings – detail
One of the three smokey roses scattered through the photo. I used a photo I had taken of beautifully carved roses on a tombstone, which felt so fitting. The delicacy and beauty they add are still tinged with sorrow.

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

My heart goes out to the family and friends of all 19 fallen heroes especially as we approach the anniversary of this tragedy.  I’m sure it’s an extremely difficult time for all of them.

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As a continuation of my last post, this one will also be talking about Andrew Ashcraft, the boy I played with when I was young who grew up to be one of the fallen Hotshot heroes from Arizona’s recent fires.

I created a photo to work through my grief, as I often do, but it didn’t feel like enough.  I kept thinking about Andrew’s poor widow, left with their four very young children to raise, all on her own.  And then I’d think about the families of the 18 other firefighters and how would they get by, and I had to do something.

So, 75% of all profits made from any sales of To The Lost will go to directly to the families through the donation program set up This applied to anything and everything To The Lost appears on.  I have, of course, my extremely beautiful and archival fine art prints, and also blank cards, stickers, clothing, Ipod, Iphone and Ipad cases.

There are 19 families left without fathers, husbands, providers.  The last thing they need while they’re still reeling from the profound loss is to worry about how the bills are going to get paid.  Let’s give them some of the aid they need.

Image

To The Lost

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It was last Tuesday, July 2nd, that I found out about the tragic deaths of the nineteen firefighters in Arizona a few days earlier.  At the same time, I discovered my childhood friend, Andrew Ashcraft, was one of those lost.  It took a while to sink in.  Andrew, who I had played with for years, was gone.

Not only Andrew, but eighteen others of Arizona’s finest firefighters were lost.   They were called the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew; essentially the Navy Seals of the fire world.  They were trained to go into the deadliest, most dire situations and kick the fire’s ass.  They went in to make a fuel break for the devastating forest fire when the wind changed and trapped them.  There was no escape.

My heart breaks for Andrew’s widow, left to raise their four very young children, the oldest of whom is merely six, by herself.  It breaks for Andrew’s mother Deborah, who has to bury one of her children.  It breaks for the eighteen others families in the same situation.

Andrew with his family

Andrew was only 29.  He had been named the 2011 Rookie of the Year in the Hotshot crew.  He’d had to really work to get into the crew.   That was what he wanted to do.  He chose to be the best, bravest, most worthy of men.  I am in awe.

It’s important for me to state that it had been a long time since I’d seen Andrew… I was probably 13 or so.  But he and his brother TJ were a big part of my childhood.   Our moms were friends and would frequently trade babysitting, so for years my brother and I saw and played with the Ashcraft boys several times a week.  My brother was the oldest of us, TJ was next, then me and Andrew was the youngest, even though only four years separated us all.  It was just enough of an age difference that the older two boys would want to go off and do Secret Older Boy Things together (mostly involving GI Joes, as I recall) so Andrew and I were often our own group… which sometimes consisted merely of sulking about being left out of Secret Boy Things.  But we made our own fun.

I can't find a photo of th four of us together, but here's a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

I can’t find a photo of the four of us together, but here’s a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

One of the clearest memories I have of the four of us is arguing heatedly over who played which character when we would play Batman.  My brother, the oldest, was naturally Batman.  When he and I played it at home, I was Robin, and I felt that was my part.  But TJ’s slight age difference made a good argument in the logic of children for him assuming the role of Robin.  The debate was settled when we found out about Batgirl, who I would obviously play, leaving Robin to TJ.  But poor Andrew was always forced to play Alfred or some random henchmen; he never got to play a really good character.  I had laughingly told this story to Geoff quite a while ago, not realizing the irony that was to come.

Andrew grew up to be a real, living, actual hero.  He lived his heroism more than any person I know of.  He went out doing what he loved, with the men he loved, and if he ever felt fear, he never let it stop him.  I am so sad his family has lost him.  I am sad that the world has lost such an amazing person.  And I am sad that I never got to know Andrew at this age, that we lost touch, and I only discovered what an incredible person he was second hand.  The world is nineteen wonderful souls poorer.

As I cried into Geoff’s chest the day I heard the news, one of the first things he asked was how I was going to work through my feelings photographically.  This is just one of the many reasons I love him, because I was already mentally hard at work trying out different concepts and trying to figure it out.  As I was working through my grief and trying to put my feelings into a visual form, I was also talking a lot with Katie, who had recently experienced a similar kind of loss.  It was a great comfort to have her and other people in my life familiar with grief to talk to.  Katie and I already had a shoot planned in a few days, so I told her to just expect that we would shoot something to honor Andrew and the other firefighters.

This was another shoot done on a non-budget.  It took just a few big, yellow smoke bombs and the fresh flowers.  Also, HUGE thanks to Geoff for being my human shutter release!

Usually I edit things in order of them being shot, as that seems fairest, but this got bumped way up in line.  I really wanted it to be released today, the day of the big memorial service in Prescott.  You’ll see that Katie is playing the role of the rescuer, pulling me to safety, but not far from the danger herself.  The smoke wrapping around my body and throat actually happened exactly like that, straight out of camera, and seems to want to pull me back and not let go.  Katie is carrying nineteen large orange, yellow and red flowers, symbolizing the fallen heroes, and I like that there are smaller yellow flowers connected to the stalks; they seem to symbolize the fireman’s family.

When I searched for a title for this photo, I immediately remembered what Jimmy in Boardwalk Empire says before each drink instead of the standard “cheers” or “bottom’s up;” he says “to the lost.”  For Jimmy it was about his lost comrades during the war, but it seemed to fit here perfectly.  This is also only the second time I’ve ever done a square crop on a photo.  For the most part I stick very strictly to my 2×3 ratio.  This photo just called for something else, so I went with it.  There are some detail shots of the photo below.

I hope Andrew’s family heals as quickly as it can, along with the rest of the families.  There is nothing I can say or do that can make it better for them.  How I wish there was.  All I can do is try to honor the fallen heroes, with my words, my photos, and my many, many tears.

Andrew was a badass… but the very best kind, who hasn’t lost his softer side.  He was a true hero, like Prince Lir.  We didn’t know that Andrew was the biggest hero of us all.

He should have been Batman.

You can donate directly to Andrew’s family here.

To The Lost

To The Lost

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

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“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”

-Peter S. Beagle in The Last Unicorn.

I have recently become fascinated with the character of Richard Harrow in HBO’s acclaimed drama Boardwalk Empire.  Richard, the World War One sniper who survived the war, but lost half his face in the process.

Still from the show.

Richard: equal parts ruthless killing machine, kind soul, tender and careful with those he loves, and loyal to the bitter end.

Still from the show.

His facial disfigurement leads him to constantly wear a tin mask over the left side of his face, a wound which pushes him to the fringes of society.  Small children become horrified and scream when he unwittingly allows them to see him maskless.  Society brands him a monster and few will engage with him in any meaningful way.

To the people who befriend him in spite of the society which dictates he should be ignored, he is fiercely devoted.  Killing bad men to keep them safe?  No problem.  Richard is, after all, a highly trained and exceptional marksman, especially considering he’s only working with one eye.

Still from the show.

But despite his ability for brutality, he is gentle and kind.  He keeps a secret scrapbook of his dreams… having a little family, falling in love and having a quiet, happy life.

Despite our very dissimilar backgrounds, I started identifying with his character early on.  He feels he is an outsider, I often do too.  He is shy and reluctant to speak, I am too (blogs are another beast altogether and really don’t count as speaking).  We both have inner demons to battle.  While I have had no training with any kind of serious weaponry, I would protect my friends and family to my last breath.  And of course we both contend with wounded bodies.  His hurts are larger and much more obvious than mine, but it’s close enough for me to bond with him over, and also inspire myself with in times when I’m tired of dragging my uncooperative body along through yet another day.

Still from the show.

Through the past three seasons of Boardwalk Empire, Richard has come more and more into my focus.   I found myself hoping for more and more Richard scenes each episode.  And while the show is too rich, detailed and engaging to ever become solely “The Richard Show” to me, it veers that way often.

And after last season’s heart-in-your-throat-the-entire-time finale?  Oh my god.  I will refrain from saying anything in detail so I don’t spoil it for anyone who isn’t there yet… but OH MY GOD.   WHAT RICHARD DOES.  I already loved him but now he has shifted into my permanent mental file of characters to draw upon in times of trial and peril.   Characters who inspire me to keep on when I want to give up, with their purity, love, devotion, strength, tenacity and selflessness.

For anyone who has already seen it, this is what I’m referring to.

Richard has obviously had a huge impact on me.  And as usually happens with things which have a big impact on me, I wanted to turn it into a photo.  I crafted a bandage to cover my left eye, with symbolic blood droplets on it (as a side note, I am nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other, and having the bandage covering just one eye for the 20-30 minutes it took to shoot this was AWFUL  for my head.  I finally stopped because I knew a migraine was just around the corner if I didn’t.)  My very generous brother lent me his (sharp!) dagger and I posed in front of the dollhouse my dad built for me when I was about five.  That seemed like the perfect symbol of innocence, as well as being personally meaningful to me.

bandage

dagger

This is my tribute to Richard; his strength, loyalty, fierceness and protection of innocence.  And hey, Jack Huston, if you somehow came across this, have your publicist contact me!  🙂

Protection Of Innocence

Protection Of Innocence

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