Playing With Fire by Luke Shadbolt & Eli Murphy
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Luke Shadbolt
STYLED BY: Karla Clarke & Emma Kalfus
HAIR BY & MAKE UP BY: Claire Thomson @ Company1 using Rationale
MODEL: Gara Arias Jiminez @ Priscillas
ART DIRECTION: Stephanie Huxley
WORDS: Eli Murphy
As a child I was fascinated by fire. I found the incandescent fluctuation, the colours and the heat mesmerizing. In my teens and in perhaps the most cliché way possible I learned that fire was as dangerous as my parents had warned when I accidentally burned a large hole in my bedroom carpet while playing with matches. There were the competitive flames of the Olympic torch in Sydney. From modern history classes I gained a kind of terrified reverence for war, and the fires of knowledge and power that drive and divide us, and the great highs of technological innovation and the brinks that it has sometimes carried us to. Growing up, I have watched the inner fires of motivation and passion carry friends and family to the tops of their fields. The point I’m trying to make here is that fire is all around us, in one form or another.
All things begin, end and begin again in fire. From the earliest dawning of humankind’s consciousness, fire has represented the most powerful and unrelenting source of change known to us. Both literally and symbolically, humanity’s existence has been intimately bound to flame as powerful ally and terrible foe since before times immemorial.
Fire runs an incandescent trail through the most primal recesses of our myth worlds and cosmologies as a supernatural gift from gods, something stolen from a divine realm or a scourge sent from beyond. It finds expressions as both creator and destroyer. Giver and taker. It makes and unmakes, not living, yet very much alive.
We have always known fire to be a ferocious devouring thing bearing an appetite not governed by animal hunger, and yet it was also our earliest means for generating warmth and light in the dark of night and depths of winter. In the form of knowledge and technology it brought illumination to the inner spaces of our selves and became a beacon against the blank vastness of time, as we strove to understand our world or erase ourselves from it.
Early people saw that all living things were tempered and nourished by flame. They looked upon the terrible ashen scars left by fire and saw that from the desolation sprouted renewal. Nothing new can begin without some act or moment of transfiguration and that is especially true of the human spirit. Fire is the metaphorical engine of change in our inner worlds. Passions, fevers, fits of madness. Dreaming. Love and hate. All of our motivational, creative and destructive faculties are forms of fire. The waxing and waning of which irrevocably alter us as beings. In the same way that the fires of industry drive, decimate, and cultivate our civilizations, we are spurred on, reduced, exalted and consumed by our desires and urges and after each conflagration, in the dying glow of embers, what we see, how we see, understand or feel is changed for better or worse.
As modern people, we find ourselves besieged by one of the greatest fires of our time: knowledge. Day and night the media and the internet bombard our collective consciousness with images, stories and ideas. This fire from all around the world takes the shape of experts and frauds, facts and falsehoods. There’s war in the east, terrorism in the west. The Earth is round. The Earth is flat. Fake tans and whitened teeth sell us motivation, fitness and lifestyles like pyramid schemes in Facebook videos. Global warming is a NASA hoax and Miami is vanishing into the sea. Celebrity presidents, cats and fake news. University educations must be paid for, shout a generation of politicians who hope we don’t find out they received free university education as young men and women. Celebrity gossip takes airtime over atrocity. The list goes on and knowledge and pseudo knowledge entangle like bitter lovers, everything somehow demanding our attention or taking it by force. So many fires burning so bright that it has become hard to tell what is worthy of our attention.
On social media over the last few years everyone seems to be drinking the same cool aid. Positivity and motivation would appear to be rampant yet a vast majority of content is near identical and, on closer inspection, without real substance. It’s the same photos, the same pretend gratitude, the same toxic positivity on display. There’s no heat, just beautiful people selling recipes for inner fire the way John Wayne still sells adult diapers years after his passing. They are hollow echoes of each other. Copies of copies, the original fires no longer in view. Innovation and originality have been relegated to some stagnant black pond out of sight and out of mind to make way for grateful and blessed automatons that shout at you from your phone. You will rarely find a point of ignition here, only damp kindling that will smoulder and make it hard to see what you actually need or want.
Our ancestors could not have known it then, huddled about the flames in the dark or setting them to the wind through a waning forest, but those first interactions with fire in that distant past cast long shadows like prophecies into our bright future as a species. The looming silhouettes of the technological gods and demons that we now pay tribute to, in the same way that we used to worship old world deities, dominate our minds so completely that they seem to obscure and warp our recollections and understandings ourselves. We look back and wonder at how our ancestors lived the way they did, without the things we have, and often I wonder if they could look forward at what we are doing now, with all that we have, would they wonder why things have become the way they have?