Saturday, October 26 was in many ways a historic day for the people of Forster Tuncurry and the towns surrounding it.
Thousands of hectares of bushland went up in flames, homes were threatened and fought for, and an entire community turned its eyes towards the inferno that bore down on it with a mixture of terror and awe.
Some of the images that emerged from these scenes were truly startling.
For many, these photos not only captured the visual spectacle the community witnessed on the day, but the very emotions they felt as they stared into the face of such a powerful and destructive force.
The Great Lakes Advocate spoke to a number of photographers about the images they took, the emotions they experienced, and the role photography played in bringing the community together during such a dramatic event.
Aidan Kean, Black Head
Black Head resident Aidan Kean was on the hill up from his house when he shot the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) 737 dropping fire retardant on the tree line of the farm behind his property.
A professional photographer, he was used to capturing nature in its many forms, but never that close to home.
"For me it was different from everything else I normally shoot, like going up to the NT and going around with crocodiles, because we had the evac at the same time as I was taking those photos," he said.
"I had all my gear bags ready, all my pelicans ready in the car with all the warranties, like everything I need plus passports and all the rest of it. It was a surreal feeling."
He believed this shared sense of urgency and dread contributed a lot to the impact his and other people's photos had on the community.
"I think that's why the images are so powerful, because it's something we were all there to experience," he said.
"Everybody saw those planes coming over and we all experienced the same emotions on the day."
Shane Chalker, Tuncurry
Like Aidan, professional photographer Shane Chalker experienced both the rush of documenting the fires and the anxiety of potentially losing his home on October 26.
Out capturing images of the bushfire for a number of Sydney media outlets, Shane's priorities shifted quickly when he received a call from his wife saying the family was being evacuated from their Tuncurry home.
He returned to the property and spent the next hour hosing down his house with a friend while firefighters battled the approaching blaze.
It's like the beauty and the beast.Shane Chalker
While his and other homes in the area survived the fire, he said it was a huge event the town had been through, and that was where photography played an important role.
"It'll be the photos that jog the memories," he said.
"To have it saved for history, that's part of my thinking."
Dan Kirkman, Forster
While Dan Kirkman of Something Visual didn't face the risk of losing his home on October 26, he was still directly affected by the fires.
In Black Head completing a photo shoot for a local construction company, he received a message from his wife telling him The Lakes Way had been closed.
Knowing he was stuck, he decided to head down the beach to see how serious it looked.
While taking photos there, he said he was simultaneously thinking about the properties under threat and how to capture the best possible images.
He spent over three hours shooting a timelapse of the fire and smoke engulfing the bushland to the south of Black Head back beach, and it was during this time he captured an image that showed the incredible scale of what was happening.
"If it wasn't for being able to see the ocean in the same photo you would think it's at two in the morning, because it's so black and it wasn't manipulated at all, that's how dense this fire was that I was able to create a whole frame that thick with smoke that it actually gave the impression it was a night sky," he said.
"I think the photos I got probably told how ferocious and fast that fire was."
While Dan was pleased with the images he captured from an artistic perspective, he said it was a far more rewarding experience to see people respond to his and other people's photos with genuine concern and gratitude.
"I think the whole community when they saw these images, not just mine but other photographers that took similar images, all had the best interest of the firies and making sure we had a positive outcome," he said.
"It's pretty powerful social media, so to be able to document something like that and create a platform where people can have that discussion and speak highly of the people that are trying to keep us safe is pretty cool."
Some people have said, I can't believe that photo, it just portrays what the whole community was feeling at the time.Martin Von Stoll
Martin Von Stoll, Diamond Beach
Diamond Beach resident Martin Von Stoll was also down at Black Head back beach catching a glimpse of the drama unfolding.
While his two sons Zaiden and Riazz played in the water in front of him, he snapped an image that has since become synonymous with the fires.
While he was unaware of the impact his photo would have at the time, he said he knew he was witnessing something outside the realm of normal experience.
"When I took that photo it was all happening. You've got the raging fire, you've got planes flying low over the sky, and the water was peaceful, and you just know this is something different," he said.
"I said to the boys, 'Take it in, because this is something you might not experience for the rest of your life.'"
Asked why a photo of something as destructive as a bushfire could resonate with so many people, Martin believed it was human nature.
"Who isn't mesmorised by a fire? You sit around a campfire and what does everyone do? They just stare into the flames. And I think it's no different with a bushfire.
"You've got fire, you've got the elements, it's something that's raw, powerful, and you just look at it and that's part of nature, and anything to do with nature, you've just got to be impressed by it."
Beverley Roberts, Green Point
Beverley Roberts was driving home along The Lakes Way in the days following the fires when she was compelled to stop and take a photo of what she was seeing.
"It captured my eye," she said.
"It just looked really eerie to me that these black trees were standing there and the smoke was still going up."
Sharing the photo on social media, Beverley said people reacted to both the beauty and the tragedy of the image.
"Everyone was like, 'It's such a sad thing but such an amazing image of something so terrible,'" she said.
"I suppose it's just the natural cycle of things.
"It's terrible to have a fire and I'm glad no one died but it is also a part of the natural cycle of life."
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