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‘After the Fire’ exhibit in Santa Rosa showcases images from burn zones

Photographer Penny Wolin hangs three image series from the aftermath of the Tubbs Fire at Calabi Gallery in Santa Rosa on Friday. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

CHRISTI WARREN,

The walls of Dennis Calabi’s Santa Rosa gallery feature an eclectic array of art pieces. Paintings, sketches, wood carvings, some vibrantly colored, others with muted palates. In celebration of Dia de los Muertos this month, many of the works on display were created by Latino artists.

Filling an alcove on the gallery’s western edge, though, is a new collection by Sebastopol photographer Penny Wolin. The pop-up includes three series of images taken in the wake of the destructive Tubbs fire, as Wolin wandered through its path.

“We were sort of in shock at all of this,” Wolin said. “I was in Sebastopol watching giant chunks of ash fall down on my cars and everything, and the air was not breathable. So I went out. This is what I do. And one of the first things I did was I went to the McDonald’s.”

Images of the McDonald’s on Hopper Avenue, which caught fire early Oct. 9 as the flames jumped Highway 101 near Coffey Park, make up the first series in the collection. A steel post, once covered in cheery yellow plastic, is melted. An instruction manual for kitchen equipment lies amid charred detritus. The iconic yellow M is blackened and warped.

“I didn’t really know that I would end up there, but there I was, and it almost in some ways seemed like the McDonald’s, like it could have been open for business somehow,” she said. “There still was the drive-through ... and it still said, ‘Good morning,’ like, ‘Good morning, what do you want to order?’”

The series, the first she happened upon, is titled “Good Morning McDonald’s.”

The exhibit, “After the Fire,” opened Saturday at Calabi Gallery, 456 10th St., and runs through Nov. 25.

On hand Saturday night was Bryan Jones, a retired commercial photographer who lives in Santa Rosa.

“I came today for some relief,” he said. “Visual relief.”

Jones, who did not have to evacuate his home, has been out in the burn zone, photographing homes for people he knows.

“When I go out there, it’s stressful,” he said. “This is safe.”

Another series from Wolin, photographs of melted dashboards, dripping aluminum rims and charred BMWs left in the fire’s wake, is called “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” a play on the automaker’s slogan. The third series is “Bed, Bath & Beyond,” with photographs of blackened box springs, a bathtub, a book.

“The book was completely intact, but if you touched it, it would turn to dust,” Wolin said. “So there were all these objects — patio furniture — like from some science-fiction movie. Someone could have been sitting there, having breakfast in this landscape, except we weren’t. It was like they were ghosts.”

Wolin is not new to capturing natural disaster. In 1985, she found herself in the earthquake that devastated Mexico City, killing at least 5,000 people.

“Having a camera is how I travel in the world,” she said. “It’s how I am a witness. So here I was. I needed to witness this.”

Most of the photographs in the new exhibit were taken from a vantage of just a few inches away.

“That’s where it became palpable,” she said. “Mostly we live our lives looking at things that are no more than 2 or 3 feet away from us, so that’s where I could speak. It gave me a voice.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.