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A year ago around this time, we published some of the moving photographs Eric Myer made of those who’d lost it all to the Woolsey Fire, which burned through Malibu on Nov. 9, 2018, destroying nearly 500 homes in the city, including almost two dozen in Myer’s neighborhood alone.
His project, “Malibu After,” encompasses four themes from that deadly blaze — portraits, panoramics, vestiges and abstracts — and described by Myer as “high-resolution large-scale panoramic environmental portraits of individuals and families” along with artifacts rescued from the blaze and post-fire abstracts from 42 destroyed homes.
The eyes of his subjects grip your soul, their faces touch your heart. Many wear street clothes, while one family is in what can best be described as hazmat gear.
The placement of some of the subjects is intended to draw you into their world, while for others it’s simply to show what their world had become because of the fire.
“Vestiges I” focuses on hands cradling a variety of objects dug from the rubble, including a 35 mm film camera obliterated by the flames, diamond wedding set and a baby Buddha.
“I wanted to ‘bear witness’ to this catastrophe and through my photography capture its profound physical and emotional impact,” he says in the artist statement accompanying the portfolio. “Every person or family that I photographed had a unique and compelling story.”
“I felt that it was important to reveal the authentic Malibu that I have known for 35 years.”
As someone forced from home for months because of the Thomas Fire three years earlier, I was brought to tears by the panoramic titled “Trancas Highlands Rainbow — Tallal Residence." Here, Myer captured a rainbow over the rubble of the home of Malibu Film Society’s Scott Tallal and wife Jimy Tallal.
In it, I see the rainbow connection.
The piece reminded me of just how badly vendors bungled our repairs and how poorly the insurance carrier treated us, taking me back to moments where I stopped believing in rainbows and what's on the other side.
On Instagram (@ericmyerphoto), Myer adds photos and adds to the stories told only through photos in the original exhibition. For instance, accompanying a shot of Mary Pritchett and three neighbors standing amid a razed home is this caption from Pritchett: “We brought Champagne to the photo shoot because enough time had passed that we wanted to celebrate life instead of loss.”
Had the shoot taken place earlier, Pritchett says, “it would’ve been a totally different vibe.”
If you’ve already seen the photos, take a look again. If you haven’t, you're missing out on an important piece of Malibu history.
Scott Steepleton is editor of Malibu Surfside News. He can be reached at email@example.com.