09/09/2020: The Day of the Red Sky

Shots of San Francisco on September 9th, 2020. Wild fires raging around the city have turned the sky red.

On the 9th of September 2020, San Francisco woke up to a red sky. Immense forest fires were burning all over the Pacific Northwest and turning the skies all tints from smoky ochre to apocalyptic red. In the days before, the air would sometimes be unbreathable, making one sick and dizzy. Other times, the smoke would be carried high enough into the atmosphere and the air near the ground would actually be decent, due to the magic of thermal inversions. The 9th of September just happened to be one of the days with an inversion layer that channeled smoke high above the ground and spread it across a wide area creating an overcast sky that refracted only the red part of the visual spectrum.

After we woke up that morning, me and my roommates were standing in the living room, looking out the windows and asking each other if we were seeing what we were seeing, when my roommate’s cat jumped up onto the couch, looked up at the sky, cringed backwards into a small low crouch, and began to whimper and shake. 

After a while, when the reality started to sink in, and the realization of what looked like a hell scape was really just a weather phenomenon, and that the air was actually decent, we ventured outside. I grabbed my camera and we drove various places, capturing what I could in a strange daze. The people I encountered that day, normal everyday people, were wandering around in utter disbelief, much like we were, unable to articulate full words, thoughts, or even simple greetings. I knew that they were recognizing in me the same thing I recognized in them- an inability to fully comprehend or express that inner chaos of viewing what looked like the end of the world.

Taking these images and contemplating them has been a challenge, and a greater challenge was to work with them as a coherent piece for something like the Cine Chamber. I realized that coherence wasn’t what this should be about – it should be a wrap around theatre experience to inspire the same unsettled realization that the landscape was becoming hostile and that an apocalypse felt very close. Combining my stills, videos, audio recordings of nature and train alarm sounds with media broadcasts from that day, I aimed to create not just a record, but an experience of being there. The Cine Chamber surrounds and envelopes its audience in much the same way those fires were surrounding and enveloping San Francisco in a truly alarming fashion.

You can read more about how I built this piece here.