Capturing the Aftermath of Wildfires in France

Every summer aswildfires rage, photojournalists flock to document them. The scenes they capture are devastating, but familiar: Flames engulfing forests, lighting up hillsides, threatening neighborhoods. Firefighters and air tankers battle the blazes, dumping bucketloads of retardant the color of cherry Kool-Aid.

Most photojournalists go home when the fires die, but that's precisely when Arnaud Teicher shows up. For his series Wildfire he visited fire-ravaged landscapes in southeast France months and even years after the fact, documenting their slow renewal. "The forest stands its ground, fights back, and survives," he says.

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France lost 60,000 acres to wildfires last year, most in the southern Mediterranean rim. That’s a slight rise from previous years, thanks to drought, extreme heat, and old-fashioned human carelessness. As alarming as that may sound, wildfires play a natural role in the functioning of the region's ecosystem, and trees have adapted to survive. Flames melt the resin that seals pinecones shut, releasing seeds for a new generation. Oaks sprout anew from the stumps of their ancestors. The forest bounces back ... so long as it only happens a few times in the same place each century. Though this summer has been rainier and quiet, scientists warn that Mediterranean fires could become more frequent by 2040 due to the effects of climate change.

Teicher has watched the flames draw closer and closer to his house in the port city of Marseilles each year. He began visiting affected areas in late 2016, showing up anywhere from two weeks to two years after the fires occurred. He wandered forests and scrubland for hours, pondering the changes occurring beneath his feet. From time to time, he stopped to take a photograph with the large format camera he carried with him into the forest. "It takes several minutes to install the film, set the framing and measure the light," he says. "It comes closer to the work of a painter."

His quietly stunning images record the landscape at varying stages of recovery, from sweeping scenes of blackened trees to detail shots of flowers popping through the soil. They demonstrate the powerful effect wildfires have on the landscape, while gently reminding onlookers that they are not necessarily the end of the story, but often just another beginning.

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