In January of this year, wildfires ravaged the Central Valley of Chile for several weeks. Ten firefighters were killed and thousands of people were evacuated.
The wine industry felt the brunt of the fires, which damaged or destroyed at least 100 vineyards in the Maule and Colchagua regions. The that the loss of hectares “has been concentrated in vineyards of small producers in areas near hills and forests, several of them with wine production of century-old vineyards. Additionally, thousands of hectares of forests, hills and fields have been reported damaged in the wine regions.”
Photographer Matt Wilson, who has lived in Chile for 14 years, undertook a series of 18 black and white portraits that focuses his lens not on the landscape, vineyards, or vines, but rather on individual people who have been impacted by the wildfires and who played a direct role in fighting the fires and, in some cases, their devastating aftermath.
Wilson said they needed to photograph a policeman, for example, as well as a firefighter and women firefighters, two of whom died in Santa Cruz. “We also needed to photograph the paramedic who tried to rescue them, and the priest who led the funeral.”
It’s a powerful theme that highlights in visual form the narrative — and the backstory — of an industry in crisis, and a region post-crisis.
The project was originally conceived as an exhibition for the Fiesta de la Vendimia, or celebration of the harvest, in partnership with , the first established regional association of wineries in Chile. Then the wildfires broke out, and the theme obviously pivoted.
“We wanted to bring people in who you see everyday,” Wilson said, “when you go to town, when you go to buy bread, so that when people see the exhibition, they’ll say, ‘I just saw that guy.'”