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Ars longa, California brevis: how smouldering Californians are turning their anguish into art.

31 October 2003

As brush fires rage all around them, Californians are getting busy with their digital cameras and camera phones to capture the moment when their home became a victim of the latest Act of God.

(And let there be no mistake, this fire most certainly is an Act of God:

Governor Schwarzenegger + Raging Fire = Divine Retribution

It's a simple equation).

Hapless LA residents, busily reaping what they have sown, are recording their moments of woe for posterity - and, in the duty of truth, emailing them off to hastily constructed websites like:


- for the world to see more clearly how desperately sad it is to witness your six-bed hill-top mansion (with pool) going up in a puff of smoke.

A couple of pages of images show emergency vehicles with lights flashing; families wearing face masks standing outside their still intact homes; usually blue skies turned grey-orange by a blanket of smoke; a man looking glum beside the burned-out wreck of his car; the LA smog barely visible through smoke plumes; the tarmac of major highways blazing; scorched shells that two days ago were nice, cosy family homes.

Click on the thumbnail shots and you can see the image larger, and also post comments and messages of support for the poor blighters who are wondering if Tiddles got it big-time when the house went 'Woomph'. (Well, they'll feel supported if they can find solace in heartfelt comments like "This is San Diego and it is beautiful even when it's on fire" or "This is a very pretty
picture. Now it is saved as the wallpaper on my computer.")

But lodged rather strangely between the photo and the posting section is a little 'Rate this image' drop-down. Do the site's creators want us observers to pass judgement on the photographic abilities of the fleeing masses as we continue to enjoy the comfort of our own, fully-intact, un-flame-threatened homes? It seems so. But what sort of criteria are we expected to employ in the rating of these images of destruction?

Some of the photos are sharp and clearly well thought out - nicely framed, very emotive. Some, for want of a better word, are crap - definite shaking, lack of focus, dodgy angles, bit too dark. But doesn’t that maybe make it a better photo in eyewitness terms?

Should there be an automatic cap of five out of 10 if there’s no evidence of injury or loss of property? Is a facemask worn by a child more highly rated than one worn by an adult or a dog? And if a pet snuffs it, is that a higher point-score than the explosion of the family station wagon, or lower?

Really the website’s creators should have put a little more thought into establishing a points system we can all adhere to before expecting us to judge. Maybe we could suggest some benchmarks:

1/10 - Arty shot of sun blacked out by smoke.

2/10 - Dead rabbit.

3/10 - Car gutted but house intact.

4/10 - Rabbit on fire.

5/10 - Rabbit being put out with a fire extinguisher.

6/10 - A fireman with a grubby face sitting exhausted on the

7/10 - Visible injuries to child.

8/10 - House razed to ground, all possessions lost, pets

9/10 - Any comedy photo, like someone hold a burnt match and
looking guilty in front of a vast conflagration.

10/10 - Arnold Schwarzenegger in background, trying to pat out
the fire with his broom.

Here's a cool picture of a brush fire. Probably a different brush fire, but cool nonetheless. So stop complaining.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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