Smokejumpers: life as an elite US Forest Service firefighter

Smokejumpers looks at the brave and inaccessible world of the wildland elite USFS firefighters who parachute into hard-to-reach areas to combat wildfires. Smokejumpers undergo intense physical training and possess a high degree of emotional stability. They learn to exit planes, successfully land in the forest, secure their airdropped equipment, and fight a forest fire miles away from help, hopefully reaching the fires early enough to fight them before they become a danger or to at least shape their path. They often stay in the forest for several days, without resupply. The smokejumper program was started in 1939 as an experiment, and the first crew stepped off a plane in 1940 into Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest. Their job is considered one of the most dangerous in the world.

The project was commissioned by Filson, the 120-year old Seattle-based outdoor clothing company, to promote their collection under license from the U.S. Forest Service, with the idea of honoring the work of the federal agency. Barash followed a group of firefighters on controlled burns, a technique used in forest management. He had complete creative freedom in this project, and inspired by his experience with the smokejumpers, turned some of the images into a more personal statement, presented as a photobook.

Barash’s portraits (and the lifestyle Filson is recreating with its clothing) tap into the long tradition of American masculinity. Like Hannes Schmid’s photographs of cowboys that became the iconic Marlboro Man campaign, these pictures celebrate the mythic ruggedness of the American wilderness, and pay respect to the toughness of the men (and women) who do these dangerous jobs. They find romantic heroism in their honest strength and dedication, channeling that fearless frontier spirit into marketing for jackets and luggage.

Photographer Cole Barash | Book link.
Self-published in 2017. Softcover, with 58 colour and black and white photographs. In an edition of 200 copies, each signed and numbered. All of the profits from the sales of the book will be donated to the United States Forest Service.


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