As Wendy Pearce Nelson, owner of Blue Fox Photography, watched the Waldo Canyon fire’s horrific events unfold, she, like so many in the community, wanted to help.
So, she felt compelled to use her photography skills to tell the story of those who lost homes in the fire, and she recruited the help of longtime friend, former Gazette marketing vice president Liz Cobb, to help.
The two collaborated on the photography and storytelling project called Faces of the Fire, which opens March 1.
They talked to the Business Journal this week about their work.
What is Faces of the Fire and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Faces of the Fire is a photo, video, story and artifact exhibit honoring families who lost homes in the Waldo Canyon fire.
The Waldo Canyon Fire was not just a news story on CNN. It was a disaster that affected 347 diverse local families, their friends, neighbors and the greater metropolitan community. Our entire community will live with the lasting effects of the disaster for years to come.
We hope our project will serve as one vehicle to inform, encourage, illuminate and ultimately celebrate the tenacity of our city’s human spirit.
What was the experience like working on the project? Did you learn anything that you didn’t expect to?
One of the most rewarding parts was the actual witnessing of these families’ stories. We knew what the facts were and the basic timeline that the fire victims experienced but to actually sit with those affected, hear their testimony and see it through their hearts and eyes, was moving and emotionally challenging t at times.
The process has been long and challenging at times. We were committed to honoring the feelings and dignity of the people who lost their homes and therefore decided to only approach our subjects through first person introductions. We did not want to cold call or cold email anyone in pursuit of an interview. We thought that approach might possibly create added discomfort for those who had already suffered so much. We reached out to our many friends and acquaintances for referrals. We believed that if a friend asked a friend to participate in this project, it would be much easier for that person to say no, if not able or interested in participating. It was absolutely the best way to gather our Faces, but it took much longer than we anticipated.
Finding a location for display also was quite challenging. In the end, the folks at Gold Hill Mesa felt strongly that they wanted Mountain Shadows residents to share in the Gold Hill Mesa community while they are rebuilding their own community. It became the perfect location.
Is there any one portrait that stands out as a favorite of yours? Why?
Every story was unique, compelling and incredible. They range from seeing the fire coming toward them to the horrifying experience of evacuating, remembering treasures that were lost to the gut-wrenching memories of returning back home. And every portrait conveys a universal human emotion that speaks volumes – shock, horror, fear, grief, loss and hope.
Why is a project like this so important to the community?
Our entire community will live with the lasting effects of the disaster for years to come. It is not an event that can be forgotten simply because the one-year anniversary rolls around. We need to pull together now as a city to help rebuild, mitigate and support each other through these rough times. We hope our project will serve as one vehicle to inform, encourage, illuminate and ultimately celebrate the tenacity of our city’s human spirit.
Faces of the Fire exhibit
Noon to 5 p.m., Wednesdays — Sundays
March 1 to Aug. 31, Gold Hill Mesa Community Center
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VIP opening reception, 5 p.m., Feb. 28
Cost is $50 per person.
E-mail FacesOfTheFire@yahoo.com with VIP Reception in subject line.