Saturday, January 4, 2014

Paying It Forward with Passion

Restoring Passion is the best way to Pay it Forward...

Story and images by George Krieger - george@xarray.com

On December 16th in the middle of the night a fire started in Big Sur, California.  When I heard I knew I had to go photograph it but I never knew that it would be the emotional ride it has been.  I have never photographed a wildfire before but I have worked on imaging Fire quite a bit.  I was focused on finding the beauty that exists in all fire ...but in the environment of a destructive wildfire burning homes in a legendary resort area.

The heart of the Pfeiffer Fire in Big Sur was west of highway 1

I love the images I got but hated that fire from the start... hard emotions could be felt every time I pressed the shutter on my Nikon D800E.  You could smell the plastics and construction materials along withe the smell of a forest fire . . . it was obvious that peoples lives were at stake and material items had been lost forever.  There was a sense of community and cooperation as well as a lot of people rushing back to the area to see if they their property was in the fire zone.  The locals were all being evacuated on certain ridges and only west of the highway. 


Many of my photographer friends were contacting me asking if the fire was blocking access to Keyhole Rock, a place where the sun sets in the Keyhole only for a short time around Winter Solstice.  I had people I had never met on Facebook asking if their home was in the path of the fire.  Stories about people affected by the fire started hitting the wires.  Another story was also written that I missed about a local photographer who had lost everything.  This was a horrible disaster and not much beauty was there to find either photographically or emotionally for me at the time but I kept making the trip down to Big Sur each day taking images and talking to people.

Fire burns up a hillside near the highway


During this whole ordeal I had been corresponding with many folks online about the fire and one of them was with a friend and shooting buddy that had decided to make a difference and try to help.  When +Barry Blanchard  told me he was ordering a new camera for "Kodiak" I knew I had heard the name but with all the focus on the fire I could not recall where.  +Kodiak Greenwood  is an extremely talented photographer and photographic historian of the Big Sur Area that had been out of town when the fire started. He drove over 11 hours to get back home to find nothing but ashes and shattered bits of his collection of cameras and equipment.  So "Paying it Forward" was what +Barry Blanchard  called it.  He was determined to get to Big Sur and put a new cameras in Kodiak's hands ASAP. Here is the message thread between Barry and myself.


Kodiak Greenwood had lost not only his passion but his way of life. He was a preeminent photographer and artist in Big Sur, ironically well known for his images of the 2008 Big Sur fire on Apple Pie Ridge.  He had over $50k dollars worth of equipment and priceless works of art in his house that burned.  His antique cameras, lenses, specialized and rare equipment all lost forever.  But that pales in comparison to some of the known art like the Ansel Adams silver prints his father had given him. They were all gone now. All this just before the holidays and the day he returned to find his house burned was also his birthday.  

I understood why Barry organized this way to help him.  I told you that I had heard Kodiak's name before and it was during Burning Man that I had heard it. Kodiak and his team had built an art car out of an old school-bus and the reclaimed flooring from the Monterey roller skating rink. The vehicle is called the Anostraca named after the tiny shrimp that can be found in the Playa dust where Burning Man is held each year. One of my camping partners Michael Troutman wrote an article about his project and him during Burning Man, yet we never crossed paths.  So I should know this guy but somehow, I did not .... I was definitely behind the idea of helping Kodiak.

In places the fire was burning on Pacific Coast Highway 1
I had just become involved in the most wonderful Christmas scheme I have ever experienced in my life.  I joined a group of amazing people that I am proud to have called friends for a while before this even started.... you see Barry had also enlisted the help of shooting buddy +Cameron Siguenza+Laurie Rubin form Google's Nik Software, +Jim Weise and +Mark Gvazdinskas  from Really Right Stuff, a tripod maker in San Luis Obispo, and +Russell Preston Brown  from Adobe to join him.  The goal was to keep +Kodiak Greenwood's creative force from being muffled any longer. A plan was developed and put into action.  



A little rain was a big help

It was now Friday and the fire fight is going in the right direction. Mother Nature helped out with a little rain and the people were talking about getting back into their homes.  Those gifts that had been ordered for Kodi were arriving and plans were being made to meet him in Big Sur before the fire was even put out.  Sunday was the day and then due to scheduling it was determined that we need to make it a 2 day event as not everyone could be free on the same day. So Sunday and Monday plans were made to meet Kodiak at the Fernwood Resort located in the heart of Big Sur.

Kodi Gets a New Camera

Kodiak Greenwood hold the New Canon 5D Mark III camera that Barry Blanchard brought for him

Group One included +Barry Blanchard+Laurie Rubin+Cameron Siguenza+Jim Weise+Mark Gvazdinskas  and myself. The cargo was a new Canon 5D Mark III, tripod, software and accessories to give to +Kodiak Greenwood.  The scene in the restaurant was surreal. Remember this guy does know any of us at all.... Barry just got in touch and said Hey we are doing this for you, when can you be there? It was 2pm on Sunday December 22nd 2013 that we all gathered.  It was an honor to meet Kodi and hear his story about the fire and his place burning to the ground before he had a chance to even get back into town. The only things that survived the fire were his 2 cats and both were burned but alive.  It was evident that he had really not taken in what had happened yet. The fire had been contained 100% the night before but it was nowhere near being put out yet.  The best estimates at this point were that it could be another 5-7 days until they considered the fire to be out. He was still fighting this common enemy with his neighbors every day, there had been no time for him to really grasp what was happening.

When he spoke about the items that he had lost you could see the amazement in his eyes " My jade and stone bowls were all cracked... there was just so much heat" he said "I also lost a ton of antique (camera) lenses to the heat and flames, there's nothing left at all."  We asked about the property he lived on and if anyone else lived there "I am the caretaker of the property for a doctor who lives out of state, and both the main house and the place I lived burned to the ground" Kodiak also told us that there was no one on the property at the time of the fire just those 2 cats he found wounded but alive later.

After we all got to know one another and Kodiak was able to setup his camera we followed him into the burn area to check out the damage first hand.

Following behind Kodiak with Barry Blanchard, Jim Weise and Laurie Ruben to see the fire zone

All of the underbrush on every ridge and valley was ash along with some of the trees and many of the homes. A total of 34 homes and several "structures" where other people lived were burned to the ground.  One of those burned properties is where Kodiak called home just a few days before we met him.

The area that is between the trees is grey because it is all ashes

After the tour we went to a place that usually would be covered with photographers on this day after the Winter Solstice.  The destination was Pfeiffer Beach and the Keyhole Rock at sunset. This is a special location once a year during this time, the sun sets in the keyhole, providing a magically mystical beam of golden light for a few minutes. Some call the experience "Church"

Keyhole Rock's mystical light can only be seen  once a year around Winter Solstice
We all marveled at the fact that we were the only ones on the beach except a few firefighters, locals and birds. This weekend that we were there normally would have seen close to 100 photographers angling for a place to put their tripod.  Due to the fire we were the only ones who were able to get there.  As the sun set on the horizon it was evident that this was one of those few days each year that the sun sets directly in the keyhole, adding to the emotions and imagery.  It was a very emotional and pleasant experience to see Kodiak lose himself in his photography for a couple of hours.  He was smiling and starting to realize that he could start over more easily now.

Kodiak Greenwood, a few other local residents and several of the fire crew taking a break from the Pfeiffer Ridge Fire
Barry Blanchard and Laurie Rubin are both Drone Pilots and brought their DJI Vision2 machines on the trip to show Kodi.  He had a fun time seeing his home beach from a totally different perspective 350ft in the air and from other places you can't really put your tripod

Barry Blanchard's drone checking out the Keyhole from a new perspective

When you give someone back the ability to pursue their passion it will help them deal with the more basic issues and at the same time you have given them a way to heal their soul by having a functioning path to their passion.

Day 1 was over Kodiak was kind of blown away, to say the least. He was having a hard time accepting that this was even happening, I think.  Jim and Mark from Really Right Stuff headed back down the coast to San Luis Obispo and Barry, Laurie and Cameron headed back towards Santa Cruz, I was heading home to Seaside and decided to stop at Bixby Bridge and shoot and reflect on the day for a while. This was only part one there was more to come!

Venus Sets near Bixb y Bridge in Big Sur California after day one 

The next day was foggy but it did not dampen our spirits

The next day we met again at Fernwood Group 2 consisted of +Barry Blanchard , +Laurie Rubin , myself and  +Russell Preston Brown  who is the well known "Face of Adobe" to photographers around the world. Russell even brought his daughter along. He too wanted to make sure that +Kodiak Greenwood  could return to the pursuit of his passions and added a camera bag and Adobe Creative Cloud  software to the gift list.  

Russell Preston Brown, the "Face of Adobe" operating his DJI Vison2 at Pfeiffer Beach
This day was going to be another day to try to get Kodiak to relax and lose himself in some fun times with new friends.... we did not only go down to give gifts we wanted to give him back a sense of hope and determination.  The weather was less than ideal for the normal shots of the Keyhole sunset due to heavy fog on the coast that day, so we had to find other perspectives.

Kodiak Greenwood back on top of his world
Again we had drones as Russell Brown is an avid quadcopter pilot as well.  Even with the fog we were able to get some amazing images and video flying these little quad-copters to places we could never get to ourselves. 

Russell Preston Brown's Drone flying at Keyhole Rock
We ended the day with Kodiak Greenwood  and left him with a new perspective on his own life  and what lies ahead.  This will definitely not be the last time this group will gather and shoot together, as a matter of fact there is already talk about planning another adventure  as soon as Kodiak gets settled and back on his feet.

Kodiak Greenwood smiles less than one week after losing everything to the fire.



Too many people read or listen to the news and do nothing about the bad things in this world. Barry Blanchard made a decision to help a stranger who shared similar passions by giving him a new camera.  "If I had to max out a credit card doing it I still would have done it" Barry told me after the first time we met Kodiak.  Jim and Mark passed a hat around at the RRS headquarters in San Luis Obispo to buy a Tripod everyone did whatever they could and the combined efforts made a complete set of tools that was gifted to Kodi.  

I asked Kodi what was next for him and he replied that he had to first regain his identity and life with new paperwork for his truck deed and other papers lost in the fire. He must continue his job as caretaker for the property and make sure that the insurance company has what they need to reimburse the owner so they can rebuild.  It will be a while but the property owner told Kodiak that they would rebuild the main house and a "caretaker's place" as soon as the Insurance came through.  Until then he has friends to stay with and will most likely be hopping from spare room to spare room for a while.

The good deeds will not stop with these days Kodiak wrote this to all of us:

Hello, What a wild ride. I have been so blessed by this support. I have learned so much. Sometimes I pride myself on doing things on my own, my own way. The most powerful thing I have learned is to rise above that, to accept help and support. Not only do I have a new beginning, a clean slate, a revitalized outlook, but I have also gained great new friends. I am humbled, and moved. I am looking forward to creating and photographing extensively in this new year. Thank you for helping me hit the ground running. Marry Xmas and I hope to see you soon. Kodiak

and this to the rest of the world

Hello, 

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy holiday. Your outreach, support and kindness have given me one of the most moving experiences I have ever felt. Thanks for inspiring me and showing me what we all can achieve. When we help each other and put our minds together we can do anything. This experience has taught me so much. I look at the act of giving in a new way. The time will come when I have the opportunity to give to others as you all have been giving to me. Cheers to a new beginning. I hope to see you along the way. Much love. 

Kodiak

Time for Big Sur to heal and for others to help them do so.  If you know someone in the area see what you can do and if you don't here are a few ways you can donate.

Kodiak Greenwood's fund  http://www.gofundme.com/5t17vg

www.bigsurfire2013.org will let you donate to the The Coastal Property Owners Association homeowners that lost houses in the fire generally or by name of the family

Or do what Barry Blanchard did and rally a group of friends to go help someone .... and make it fun!  Paying it forward... speaking to passion.... making peoples lives better  now that is what it is really all about.

The next adventure is already planned for this group of friends.... Big Sur is rebuilding and there are things to see and image ahead....


Sunset over Bixby Bridge taken the first night after the fire started


Story and images copyright George Krieger 2013