American, born 1944
Larry Schwarm photographed the controlled burning of the Kansas prairies for more than a decade. Every spring, the prairies are set ablaze, burning off old grasses to make room for new growth. Schwarm’s photographs capture these fires at all times of the day and night, at every stage of the burn, transcending mere documentation. “I discovered in the fire’s subtleties and abstractions a spirituality akin to what Mark Rothko expressed in his color-field paintings”, writes Larry Schwarm in the afterword to his monograph, On Fire. Juxtaposing swatches of smoky colors, some of Schwarm’s images communicate a somber intensity by palette alone. In others, mysterious clots of flame dot pastoral settings and stark lines of fire cut through the land, evoking startling associations. Schwarm has also been drawn to the burning of sugar cane fields in Louisiana and the Flint Hills of Kansas, where he was raised.
Printed large-scale and rendered in lush colors and textures, Schwarm’s photographs describe the landscape in a language that runs from abstract to apocalyptic. Wrote Kenneth Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Larry Schwarm’s color photographs of fire gnawing at the prairie have a hellish glory… Firefighters may have set the blazes in Schwarm’s pictures, but… [the images]… evoke an interplay of natural forces that takes no account of humankind.”
Larry Schwarm’s monograph, On Fire, published in 2003 by Duke University Press, was chosen from over 500 submissions to be the inaugural winner of the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. His photographs have been included in various publications and are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art among others.