The Bush Fire Saguaro

Late last year I worked as the drone videographer on a documentary film project about wildfire in the Sonoran Desert. I shared some of my footage with a friend of mine who spotted this one particular saguaro and strongly suggested that I revisit the location and make a tintype of it. So I did!

Bush Fire Saguaro. The Bush Fire was in the summer of 2020, and this tintype photograph was made in March, 2022.

Fire in the Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran desert is not really accustomed to large wildfires. On evolutionary time scales there just hasn’t been much. Sand and succulents don’t really burn well, under normal conditions. But with the coming of European and then American settlers and their cattle also came invasive grass species that continue to spread throughout the region.

When working with large-format cameras the image projected by the lens onto the groundless is upside down and laterally reversed. Makes composing fun!

These grasses are really good at soaking up the winter rains (and stealing the water from the native plants), but the grasses are not evolutionarily adapted to the summer heat. They grow in the relatively wet and cooler winters, but die – and become highly combustible fuel for the fires – in the hot summer.

Since desert plants aren’t well adapted to fire (unlike, say, Ponderosa pines), the resulting wildfires are particularly devastating. This image is from the Bush Fire that burned the Four Peaks area in 2020, but could just as easily be from countless other fires that happen every summer throughout Arizona.

The Tintype

Since the saguaro wasn’t particularly close to the road I had to carry my supplies – a portable darkroom box, table, water, and camera – over to the location and get set up. More about tintypes here.