Photographer Nicole Johnston with some of her pictures of the 2017 wildfire aftermath, which are on display at the Ashcroft Bakery. Photo: Barbara Roden

Photographer finds inspiration in post-wildfire landscape

Nicole Johnston was impressed by the resiliency of people and nature after 2017’s wildfires

A Quesnel photographer who usually specializes in family photography was inspired by her travels after the 2017 wildfire season to branch out in a different direction, and the dramatic results can be viewed at the Ashcroft Bakery.

In fall 2017, Nicole Johnston found herself in two places that had been devastated by that summer’s fires: Soda Creek, and the Ashcroft-Boston Flats-Cache Creek region. While the scars left by the fires were plainly visible, she was impressed by the resiliency and recovery already on display.

“My first images were taken in Soda Creek. The fire was only three months old, but people were already rebuilding their homes. When I went through the Ashcroft area, they’d already put up new fencing for the cattle. I was impressed by the response time, and how quickly people bounce back after such a devastating event.”

Johnston says that she and her family were on evacuation alert in 2018, and self-evacuated during the 2017 wildfires due to the health issues of one of her children, who needed the help of medical equipment. “During 2018 we had everything loaded in the truck, ready to go at a moment’s notice. It was a very stressful experience.”

Johnston also found inspiration in the signs of rebuilding she found, as it was a difficult time for her personally following a separation from her husband. “I thought ‘If these people can rebuild their homes so soon after the fire, I can pick up the pieces of my life.’”

Although she has been a photographer for 10 years, the series of photographs she embarked on about the wildfires was very different to what she had done before. “I’ve always approached photography the same way: I don’t dress things up. I show real life. But this was my first documentary series, and my first project away from family photography.”

As she walked through the burnt landscapes, she found signs of life and recovery, with green grass already springing up. However, she had to be careful where she walked, as fires in underground root systems left little support for the earth on top, and it was easy to step somewhere and sink in.

“And there were no birds or animals. It was pretty desolate, walking through Soda Creek on my first walkabout.”

Johnston says she still does family photography, but has been inspired to try to take on more documentary projects. In the meantime, her Wildfires 2017 display features 27 photographs, and the Ashcroft stop is only the second time they have been on public display, following a showing at the Quesnel Art Gallery this past August.

READ MORE: Wildfires 2017 Project features photographs of the aftermath of devastating fires

Ashcroft Bakery owner Deb Tuohey says that she heard about Johnston’s photographs through her daughter-in-law Kelly Tuohey, who was at a photography workshop in Spokane with Johnston.

“Kelly contacted me and said that she’d met this girl from Quesnel, and that it would be cool if we could get her show in Ashcroft. And the subject was appealing.”

The photographs will be on display until at least the end of the year, and prints are available at a cost of $100 each (including shipping). Anyone interested in ordering a print can indicate which one they would like, and Deb will contact Johnston with the order.

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One of Nicole Johnston’s pictures of the aftermath of the 2017 wildfires.

A photo of the Ashcroft area taken by Nicole Johnston after the 2017 wildfires.

New fencing along Highway 97C outside Ashcroft not long after the 2017 wildfires. Photo: Nicole Johntson

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