The Wildfire Summer of 2017
How I turned a crisis into photographic art

by Chris Harris
February 21, 2019

approaching wildfire by Chris Harris ©

The approaching wildfire as seen from near our home.

The Cariboo Chilcotin region of central British Columbia is a fire landscape, but in the summer of 2017, we experienced fire like we never had before. Uncontrolled fire dictated our lives for two months. No one remained unaffected.

Home of Chris Harris ©
Before evacuating, I made an emotion-packed last image of our home.

As the wildfire grew in size and began to approach our home, I began to realize the seriousness of what was happening. When two gentlemen arrived to tell me to evacuate, I began to pack my partner Rita’s and my most valuable possessions into the car. With a huge swell of emotion, I made what might well have been the last photograph of our home. I called my dog, Duggan, to jump into the tiny space I had left for him in my car. With an empty feeling, we closed the gate, and drove away.

Highway and smoke by Chris Harris ©
The highway was deserted. It was surreal. Poor visibility and dense smoke added to the emotional journey I was on.

While heading north, I was alerted through Facebook to an invitation for anyone who had no place to stay. Before long, I was given a small cabin at Fircrest Resort on Lac La Hache. Although surrounded by two encroaching wildfires and thick smoke, Duggan and I felt somewhat relieved. We settled in and prepared ourselves for the adventure ahead of us.

Day 1:

Cottages by Chris Harris ©
Our home away from home.

When I awoke the next morning, I felt isolated and alone; I had nothing to do. The highway was blockaded and all businesses were closed. I seemed lost. Life as I knew it was non-existent.

Forest abstract by Chris Harris ©
It was then that I decided to turn this crisis into art. The small campground forest became my artist’s studio.

By using that wonderful gift of imagination, I attached a rarely used fisheye lens onto my camera and headed out into a small Douglas-fir forest behind my cabin.

Forest abstract by Chris Harris ©
With Duggan’s encouragement, we turned a small treed area into a large world of fantasy. We were in heaven!

Duggan and I headed off together. With a dash of creativity, I was hoping to transform our little treed campground into an enchanted forest.

The most important thing I have learned from studying art history, is that each art movement, in any medium, was the result of artists breaking away from established traditions. In creating the following images, I left the traditional style of representational photography and became an Expressionist.

To accomplish this, each image was made using the multiple exposure function in my camera. Some were made at fast shutter speeds, others at slow shutter speeds; all involved some sort of camera movement. All were made in-camera with minimal editing.

Enchanted forest I abstract by Chris Harris ©
Enchanted forest I

Enchanted forest II by Chris Harris ©
Enchanted forest II

Enchanted forest III by
Enchanted forest III

Enchantd forest IV by Chris Harris ©
Enchanted forest IV

Enchanted forest V by Chris Harris ©
Enchanted forest V


Day 2:

The next morning, I was faced with the same dilemma. In a place where I felt very limited, I once again turned to the expressive art of photography.

Cottage by Chris Harris ©
I explained to Duggan my creative plan for the day. I was going to photograph the buildings on the property and I would need his help. Together we set off.

The cabin 1 and cabin II by Chris Harris ©

The cabin I                 The cabin II

The cabin III Wood splitter  abstract by Chris Harris           
The cabin III                Wood splitter

One of the unseen consequences of wildfires, evacuations, and the constant thought of losing one’s home and possessions, is the mental health issue of stress. I was in a situation of extreme limitations. I had no control of the outside world, however, I did have some control of my inner world.  For that, I used creativity to occupy my mind in a positive way. Photography as an art form became my way of dealing with duress.

The entire story, The Wildfire Summer of 2017, is available on the Blu-ray Disc titled The Chilcotin Ark. This production is a collaboration with composer and producer Ken Marshall and contains two 30-minute documentaries and an additional 9 short image sequences set to original music.

Blu-ray and books are described, and available for purchase, on my website.


Special Multimedia Presentation by Chris Harris
April 17th, 7:30pm
The Cité des Rocheuses Theatre
4800 Richard Road, SW, Calgary $5.00
For more information 


Authors Biography & Contact Information

Portrait of Robert BerdanChris Harris has made it his life’s work to explore, photograph, share, and celebrate the Cariboo Chilcotin region of British Columbia. A publisher of 13 books, Chris has been recognized and awarded nationally and internationally for his work and maintains a vigorous and creative schedule of innovating in photographic art, teaching, and touring. He dedicates his photography to bringing awareness and reverence to the value of nature, biodiversity, and the beauty of his home region of B.C.




Phone:   250-791-6631
Website, workshops, portfolio’s:
Books, Blu-ray Disks: