Collecting Memories: Community Photographs of the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley Hills Fire and its Aftermath

In conjunction with the exhibition 1991: The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath, Photographs by Richard Misrach, currently on view at BAM/PFA and also the Oakland Museum of California, the two institutions have created a Flickr gallery for the community to share their own images of the fire and its aftermath. Check out the slideshow below.

It’s been twenty years since the fire, and the scars on the landscape have since been replaced by new homes and growth, yet the disaster seems more recent for many of us. It’s easy then to forget that these pictures were taken well before the prevalence of digital cameras and camera phones. Some photos document the fire (lines of cars leaving the danger zone, perspectives of the billowing smoke from various locations in the East Bay and San Francisco, scenes of firemen and families in front of of encroaching flames). Others show the scale of the devastation and emotional impact left in the fire’s wake (bowls of food left for lost pets, families and assessors returning to the disaster area, scenes of acres of landscape leveled by the fire). “Eventually,” Misrach notes, “only photographs and commentary like these will serve as our collective memory.”

If you have images of your own that you would like to share, we encourage you to become a member of the Flickr group. If you don’t have photographs, but have stories you’d like to tell, please join us for a free open-mic event at BAM/PFA on November 13. You may also write down your stories in one of the 1991 elegy books, which are on display at both museums.