Single Shot Stories No. 006 – Adam Dorius, Millcreek Fire

Single Shot Stories No. 006 – Adam Dorius, Millcreek Fire

1373 2000 Guest Author

Exit work, enter car. Ignition. Freeway. Interchange. Next freeway. Next interchange. Home stretch. Exit. Signal left. Acknowledge rising cloud of smoke. Hmmm, that’s new. Cancel signal. Drive towards cloud. Park! Camera! Run!

Soon enough I can see it’s one of several new apartment buildings under construction. Three stories of timber frame above three more of concrete. In the few minutes since spotting smoke a giant black column has formed.

Traffic is slowing and people are gathering. I take my place outside a bicycle shop. Standing on a concrete barrier, next to a flimsy chain link fence surrounding the footings of another new apartment, I have a clear view of the scene 500 feet ahead. Even at this distance the heat is intense.

The top floor is already collapsing. Soon the level below glows brightly. This is when it gets REALLY hot. Flames scorch two cranes above. One sways listlessly as its steel beams lose their temper. Nearby utility poles and stacks of lumber first smoke, then spontaneously ignite.

From my distant perch a wide angle lens seems like the wrong choice, as does black and white. Well, better make it count.

“Visualize!” whispers Ansel’s ghost.

“Yes, master. I see.”

“Decisive moment!” Henri expounds.

“Thanks, HCB!”

“Expose for the shadows and…”

“Hey, yeah, workin’ on it ghosties, OK? Shhh!”

There’s an uncomfortable beauty in the destruction. It’s impossible to look at anything else. Flames and smoke form kaleidoscope swirls in the white hot summer sky. Context is distorted through the lens. Time and place are removed.

Aaaaaand… clack.

Chaos has a firm grip on a good square mile. Traffic is snarled. Power transformers explode. Someone has rubbernecked their Jeep into a construction trench. Every fire truck in the city is on the way, sirens screaming. The bike shop guys pretend to be trapped inside when the power goes out.

It occurs to me that the exact spot where I’m standing was the scene of an accident last summer. A car drifted off the road, smashed through a superficial wall outside the bike shop, narrowly missed a taco cart, then wedged itself into the lawnmower shop next door. The bike shop is fixed, minus the superficial wall. Good, it was ugly. The mower shop and the ground it stood on are both gone. The taco cart relocated because hovering taco carts are not a thing – yet.

The engine crews get it under control. Jeep returns to pavement. People drift away.

Among the lingering crowd is the owner of a gym. It’s behind the smoldering apartment. She’s straining to get a better view, trying to call anyone who knows anything. “Some water damage,” she repeats, an obvious understatement.

In these awkward moments language fails. What do you say to a woman who probably just lost her business?

“Umm, sorry your gym was destroyed.” True, but insensitive. Pass.

“I’m sure it will be okay.” False, but attempts compassion. Pass.

“I hope everything is okay.” True. Attempts compassion. Yes, that is what you say.

[Adam Dorius is a family guy, engineer, fixer-of-broken-things, and amateur photographer living in Salt Lake City. Many thanks to Adam for their contribution to Single Shot Stories! ]

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  • Now you know. Carry the camera with the standard 50mm lens so you don’t have to feel the heat if you want to be ready for breaking news events. Your shot is better than average Lomography. Grand Master Ansel Adams was telling you stop down to f11 and to use a tripod and look at basics of position of subject in “rule of thirds”. Then he was trying to tell you the smoke plume and clouds are more interesting in this picture than the distracting lattice work of the foreground. You didn’t hear him when he whispered the camera should have been aimed higher and a red or orange filter would have made the clouds and smoke contrast. Ansel Adams would have kept driving, Cartier-Bresson would not have seen any beauty in the dirty sterile scene and would not have stopped the Gondola. People have been unimpressed with structural fire photographs since end of WWII. You will be hopefully be able to avoid panic the next time you have a decisive moment. Try shooting the whole roll next time at varied compositions.
    I think you should have been listening to Steve McCurry instead.

    • Hella cringe right here! Wow!

    • Actually , I think Ansel would have liked the foreground. See “Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California,1944”.

    • Thanks for your feedback, John. It’s always nice when an image evokes a passionate response. Some valid points for sure. At times it’s hard to pick and choose between the voices in one’s head. To be honest I may have been more under the influence of Adams (the other one, Robert) after picking up a copy of Denver. He managed to make a career out of capturing dirty, sterile scenes. Admittedly not to everyone’s taste, but I find his work reminds me much of my own experience of the American West. Then there’s Peter Keetman, who managed to take his Rolleiflex into the Volkswagen factory and walk out with a gallery worth of beautiful images of scaffolding, car parts, metal shavings, etc. all in a cheerful square format. He would have loved Instagram, had it been around in 1953. Finally, there’s that darn 24mm… I had been on the fence about getting one, but that raconteur Gerard Exupery pushed me over the edge. Perhaps it works better on the crowded streets of New York City, but that’s what was stuck to the old Nikkormat at the time. First roll of film with it, by the way. It was hard not to bend to the influence of those converging verticals. Anyhow, bang it all together and soak in Rodinal and this is what you get. Ah, such is life. Steve will have to speak louder next time, and preferably lend me a longer lens and some Kodachrome. Cheers to the next inferno!

  • 😉
    This idea of single shot is simply great.
    Bravo for this image.

  • What a great shot! Thanks for sharing!

  • Charlotte – 35mm November 20, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    Love the drama of this shot! Would be great to see some more of your work Adam 🙂

  • Thanks everyone! Perhaps I’ll find something else in my stash of negatives. It could be a while as I still have to sort through them all. The dreaded organization and labeling phase… So far so good:

    – Vacations (lots of unhappy children outdoors)
    – Dogs; Small, Medium, and Large (too many negatives)
    – Other Furry Animals (because they’re cute)
    – Things in the Yard (I think those were lens/film tests?)
    – Infernos (just the one)
    – Shots Like Steve McCurry (none yet, leaving a blank negative sleeve just in case)
    – 1990’s Fashion Shoots with Christy Turlington (also none, sadly)
    – Miscellaneous (several binders full)

    Hopefully there’s something worth printing. TBD.

  • Fine image. I am not unimpressed…..The contrast between new construction and obliterated new construction works for me. It is not every day that the shit hits the fan and one is lucky enough to have a camera in hand to record it. This was a common occurrence in World War II. Whether from a guided missile or misguided design flaw, an image like this evokes power. Louis.

  • Christopher Deere December 3, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    Many thanks, Adam, for such a stunning picture. And a word of advice, if I may: Forget all about the rules. When you’re dealing with something like this, a pure and significant photographic opportunity, just shoot it any way you can and as well as you can as far as the situation and available time (and the gear) will allow. This is exactly the kind of picture that should fill the front page of the following day’s newspaper. I, also, greatly admire the narrative juxtaposition between the still-being-built structure in the foreground and the utter destruction of another part of the same building project in the background. I have no idea whether you intended the irony, but I very much appreciate the fortuitous effect. This image reminds me all over again of the first rule of photography, drilled into me by a photography tutor more than thirty years ago: Always carry a camera. – Christopher, from Melbourne in Australia

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