A fiery orange canvas was painted across the sky as a mixture of dust and ash floated in the air. Darkened palm leaves stood outside a nearby home reflected upon a pool of water.
This alluring, yet destructive scene of a Californian wildfire was captured seemingly effortlessly by photographer Jeff Frost and whose work is on display with some 55 other artists in Photographic Center Northwest’s “Notions of Home” exhibition.
For Frost, California is the place that he calls home, so he has dedicated the past four years to following the wildfire activity in his state.
He hopes to bring attention to this problem through his photography and time-lapse videos that are currently running on Netflix, called “Fire Chasers.”
Frost and other artists have chosen to display their work in the “Notions of Home” exhibition to share a piece of home, and potential commonality, with viewers.
Although the exhibition began in mid-September, it was inspired by the events of fall 2016.
One year prior, the Photographic Center Northwest hosted an exhibition called “Enduring Freedom,” highlighting the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
This exhibition featured stark black and white photographs of the World Trade Center and, in a second series, veterans with their families that had served in Iraq.
In response to these series as well as the political climate, the PCNW hosted a public forum to promote discussion.
The result of the discussion raised an interesting question.
Executive Director and Curator Michelle Dunn Marsh said, “The two hours of conversation was so provocative, and I kept thinking about things that different people had said.”
“Of course, we all think we know what ‘home’ means until someone asks us—and then the answers are wildly different.”
By January 2017, Marsh knew that an exhibition centered around the idea of “home” was necessary and timely.
“The idea of discourse and dialogue felt like it was dwindling and that discord was the dominant way of people communicating,” Marsh said.
“So, I wanted to explore what was happening in the United States, but in a way that was focused on commonality, not difference.
Thus, “Notions of Home” was started.
The exhibition is divided into three categories: “Allegiance,” “Change is Change,” and “Occupied Spaces.” Each section carries a different meaning, creating unique significance to the photography placed there.
Marsh, along with Associate Director Terry Novak, wanted to ensure that a wide range of people was represented in their show.
Of the photography on display, half of the artists are not from the Northwest, there is an equal number of male and female artists, and the age representation spans from 19 to 88 years old.
“Allegiance” featured a variety of photographs to capture the dedication and heart to those in their diverse home environments.
A particularly elusive piece by Abelarado Morell displayed a dull colored image peering outward towards a disfigured home, called “Dollhouse.”
Morell said, “It pits the security of our home with the lurking of the outside—not quite dangerous, but other.”
Also featured in “Allegiance” is a captivating photograph of a boy named Caspar, smothered with the hands of those around him in prayer. The child’s eyes are closed as he embraces a time of anointing.
This photograph by Zack Bent captures the tradition of prayer for his family, a defining aspect of his home.
“Change is Change” captures a completely different element of home.
“The idea of home evolves, depending on how old you are and where you’re at in life,” Marsh said.This may even resonate with students at SPU and colleges across the country.
Marsh acknowledges that home may include multiple places and can be variable. To fit with this theme of change, the exhibition will rotate and replace new arrivals periodically.
“Occupied Spaces” focuses on the physical space or landscape in the photography.
For viewer and Seattle Times reporter Gayle Clemans, the focus on human relationships rather than physical structures was fascinating.
Pieces included everything from tranquil images of town roads leading home to two girls bundled together in the back of a truck surrounded by bags and clothing.
“Rather than seeing a lot of images of the interiors of homes, which you might expect from the theme of the exhibition, there is a lot of emphasis on people and their relationships with each other, and their relationships with the spaces around them.”
Marsh hopes that her audience can take away a greater understanding and appreciation of the complexities of home in each person’s life.
“The fact that most of what is represented here is about relationships, and landscape, and environment and culture is a place of privilege,” Marsh said.
“When you say home and your first thought is not “shelter”, it says you’re in a safe space in the world.”
“Notions of Home” runs through December 10 at Photographic Center Northwest.