Fire Ghosts

Patricia Galagan, Philip Metcalf

An innovative way of seeing how a major forest recovers from a devastating fire!
Date Published :
December 2019
Publisher :
George F Thompson Publishing
Contributor(s) :
Craig Allen, William Debuys, Katherine Ware
Illustration :
80 color photographs by the authors
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding : Hardback
ISBN : 9781938086717
Pages : 144
Dimensions : 11 X 11.87 inches
Stock Status : In stock


An innovative way of seeing how a major forest recovers from a devastating fire.

In the summer of 2011, in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, a falling power line sparked a wildfire that burned 158,753 acres of forest. From their home in Santa Fe, thirty air miles southeast, photographers Patricia Galagan and Philip Metcalf watched what came to be known as the Las Conchas fire burn day and night for more than a month.

As soon as the roads reopened, they went to the mountains to see the damage this violent fire had wrought. Taking a trail to the rim of Cochiti Canyon, they passed through sections of forest that had burned so hot that nothing remained but blackened trunks and negative spaces where huge tree roots had been. The canyon and the waves of ridges beyond were black with standing dead trees.

The visual chaos of the burned forest, at first daunting, pushed them to look harder, to see differently. As they did so, the forest began to look beautiful in its highly altered state. For more than seven years they were compelled to make photographs of the aftermath of the fire to draw people beyond the news-cycle images of smoke and flames into the reality of a forest after an extreme fire. Forest Ghosts is both their ode to the old forest and their gift to help us understand that, in this era of accelerating climate change and increasingly devastating wildfires all over the American West, the new forests will never be the same, but we can still find beauty and enlightenment in the aftermath.

About The Author

Patricia Galagan is a fine-art photographer based in Santa Fe whose work often concerns the aftermath of upheaval in the landscape. Her work was part of the 2015 Fire Season show at the New Mexico Museum of Art, which has also been shown at Fototeca de Cuba in Havana and at Fotografika Gallaery near Geneva, Switzerland. She was awarded a solo show at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon, by Photollucida in 2014. With her husband, Philip Metcalf, she was an artist-in-residence at Bandelier National Monument in 2015.

Philip Metcalf is a landscape photographer who creates black-and-white infrared images. His passion is to interpret nature, both pristine and altered by man, especially in the American Southwest. Increasingly, environmental concerns influence his work. In 2015, he was an artist-in-residence at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico with his wife, Patricia Galagan. His work has been shown at the New Mexico Museum of Art and the San Diego Art Institute and is included in the photo archives of the New Mexico History Museum.

Craig Allen, Ph.D., is a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, specializing in ecosystem dynamics. He is the author of ninety-seven research publications, many about tree mortality, climate-change-related drought and stress in the landscape, and ecosystems in the mountain West. A current project is the “Western Mountain Initiative: Response of Western Mountain Ecosystems to Climatic Variability and Change.”

Katherine Ware is Curator of Photography at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, where she organized the exhibition, book, and Website Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2011). She previously served as Curator of Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and as Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. She is a frequent juror and reviewer of contemporary photography and has written extensively on the art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.


“Fire Ghosts is a thoughtful and insightful look at the aftermath of a wildfire. Though we may tend to view such events as “destructive," in reality, wildfires just change the landscape. The photos by Philip Metcalf and Patricia Galagan are a testimony to the rejuvenating powers of Nature. More than that, these stunning images, reminiscent of Ansel Adam's best work, capture the subtle and special beauty that comes to a forest restored to its simplest elements, and help us all to appreciate the regenerative processes that maintain our ecosystems.”

- George Wuerthner, author of Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy

“Tracing fire history through scars is an old practice.  But these photos record fires that scarred not just trees but the spirit.  Like its images of tiny shoots amid looming boles the book also speaks to a long, uncertain process of change that may or may not be healing.  A gripping poster for the Pyrocene.”

- Stephen J. Pyne, author of Between Two Fires: A Fire History of Contemporary America

“Philip Metcalf and Patricia Galagan's Fire Ghosts is an ambitious and impressive book. The ambition is in the belief that two artists could combine their distinct sensibilities and visual styles to create one compelling narrative on a subject of timeless significance—the fiery death and sublime rebirth of a beloved American landscape. The impressive part is that they succeeded. When, in the future, visual artists consider collaborating, this is the book they will look to for inspiration.”

- Sam Abell, photographer

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