The global award in photography and sustainability

Carla Rippey

I started collecting images and working from the resulting archives in the late 1970s; one of the subjects that emerged with time was that of vanishing points, another was fire: the act of burning registered in reiterated images clipped from newspapers, magazines and later on, downloaded from the internet.

When laser photocopies were commercialized in late 1980s, I discovered that the toner from the photocopies could be transferred with solvent and an etching press to Japanese papers and began to apply the practice to the making of artist’s books. Starting around 2010, with this technique I made a series of artist’s books with the fire images, a series called “Immolation”.
At first, I juxtaposed images of volcanoes and people set on fire (lynchings in Mexico), throwing fire (Palestinians) or setting themselves on fire in acts of desperation. Fire seemed like the ultimate manifestation of uncontrolled energy, energy gone bad, and besides, fire burns the eye: it has an enormous visual impact. The fiery acts of humans were an echo of the eruptions of volcanoes and the volcanoes, a metaphor for people out of control. A later artist’s book in the series, “The cloister”, juxtaposes a face cropped from an old postcard of a Japanese nun with a stereoscopic image of a lotus pond; this work is about contained or trapped fire, burning from within. The books are collaged or patch worked together, intervened with stitching and metal leaf; the rims of the books are scorched. In the work “Fire”, on the cover of a metal box, a hand holds a match to the crumpled mass of fire emerging from within.

Growing out of my original interest in fire, I started working with the idea of “Women, Fire and Dangerous Things”. This is the title of the book by the linguist George Lakoff, who discusses therein an aboriginal tribe- the Dyirbal- in Australia whose language includes four genders, one of which is defined principally by women, fire and dangerous things. I was struck by the fact that the Dyirbal consider these three categories to be naturally related, and this inspired me to put together new archives working with images generated by the phrases “women, fire” or “dangerous objects” put into Google search. The results were surprising and sometimes shocking. “Women, fire” came up with a surfeit of situations related to the abuse of women. With the words “dangerous objects” I found a number of X Rays of unusual objects that people and animals had somehow managed to swallow; asteroids came up continually.

Out of this process came the artist’s book, “No Shelter”, whose narrative includes a woman arsonist, a burning house, a wedding tent set on fire for revenge, and a female Kurdish guerrilla fighter by her campfire. Another work, “Death by Fire” is based on a series of photographs of a Chinese woman, about to be evicted, who burns herself alive on her rooftop; I include them here in the series Immolation. The Australian tribe could have told me that my Google search, combining the factors of women, fire and dangerous things, would bring forth deadly images, and a world of pain.

Most of this work was done a few years ago and now we live in an age of continuous devastating fires, fires that threaten the planet, or at least, our existence on it. My small fires were prescient of an ever- expanding consuming wave. I hope that somehow with our work we can do more than bear witness; we must fight fire with fire.

Carla Rippey