EDITED BY DAVID WALKER
ABOVE: For a story about inmate firefighters, Peter Bohler photographed Dionne Davis. Bohler’s portraits impressed
Karen Hanley, visuals producer at The New York Times Magazine. “They are beautiful and so intense and so strong.
There’s just so much going on with these women and you can really feel that,” she says.
AMONG THOSE FIGHTING the increasingly
frequent and destructive wildfires in California
are some of the state’s female prison inmates.
It’s grueling work for which they are paid less
than $2 per hour. And it’s risky: One inmate
firefighter recently died. So the program raises
ethical questions, which are complicated
because the women volunteer for the work and
take pride in it.
The New York Times Magazine recently delved
into the story with reporting by Jamie Lowe and
photography by Peter Bohler. He wasn’t aware
of the inmate firefighters, but photographing
wildfire fighters “has been my dream project
going back a few years,” says Bohler.
“I’m motivated by the way people interact
and connect with nature and the environment,
especially how landscapes form subcultures
and communities,” he explains. He knows some
professional wildfire fighters. “It’s brutal work,
but people love doing it,” Bohler says. He was
struggling to get access to the story through his
contacts, though, because it is an added burden
for fire crews to keep embedded journalists safe.
But after Lowe began to report the story
about the inmate firefighters, photo editors at
The New York Times Magazine called Bohler
in mid-2016 with an assignment to shoot
photographs. His task was to capture portraits
of a number of the women, as well as document
their day-to-day lives at the firefighting camps,
and capture a sense of the physical demands
and danger they face at fire scenes.
“We’ve worked with him before,” says
visuals producer Karen Hanley, who was acting
associate photo editor at the magazine when
Bohler began the assignment. “He knows how to
walk into a situation and make the best of it, and
we knew he was versatile and flexible and could
get all the options we needed to tell the story.”
8 PICTURE STORY 12 HOW I GOT THAT RESIDENCY 14 LEGAL DEVELOPMENTS 15 NEWS DIGEST
ON WILDFIRE DUTY
Photographer Peter Bohler
documented some of the tough,
proud female prison inmates who
fight wildfires in California for less
than $2 per hour. By DaviD Walker