The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

1991: The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath Photographs by Richard Misrach at the UC Berkeley BAM/PFA

UC Berkeley BAM/PFA
October 12, 2011 – February 5, 2012


In October 1991, immediately following a catastrophic firestorm that struck the Oakland and Berkeley hills, renowned Bay Area photographer Richard Misrach ventured into the fire zone armed with his eight-by-ten-inch view camera. Working alone amidst the ruins, he roamed devastated neighborhoods, recording stark vistas and intimate details of destroyed homes. The resulting images are distinguished by Misrach’s masterful framing of his subjects: the compositions are dramatic without being sensational and incisively reveal a world transformed.


Out of respect for the victims of the fire—which killed twenty-five people, injured 150 others, and destroyed nearly three thousand houses and 1,520 acres—Misrach chose to keep the images in storage, showing them only rarely. Now, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the fire, BAM/PFA and the Oakland Museum of California each present forty photographs from the series, including fourteen large-format images whose immense scale invites the viewer to enter into Misrach’s quiet elegies.


The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath photographs have shifted in their meaning over the past twenty years, from journalistic reportage to historical record. Visitors to the museum can participate in this recording of history by contributing their own recollections and reflections to a handmade book in the galleries, what Misrach calls an “elegy ledger,” that will join the photographs as part of the community’s collective memory of the 1991 firestorm and its aftermath.


Lucinda Barnes
Chief Curator and Director of Programs and Collections


The Oakland Museum of California’s presentation of 1991: The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath, Photographs by Richard Misrach is on view from October 15, 2011 through February 12, 2012. BAM/PFA members may view their presentation at no charge with proof of membership.


1991: The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath, Photographs by Richard Misrach is made possible by the generous support of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and BAM/PFA members.

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