One morning in late April, Brad Flora awoke to the sound of sirens wailing through his Colorado Springs neighborhood.
He wasn't immediately alarmed, and ate breakfast, brushed his teeth and headed out the door as he usually does, camera in hand.
The 27-year-old photographer happened upon the reason for the sirens, a house fire that had since been controlled by emergency crews. According to what Flora heard, a woman on oxygen had been enjoying a morning cigarette when her tank caught fire. Neighbors rescued her and her husband, and firefighters were able to move the other oxygen and propane tanks away from the house before they exploded.
With permission from the firefighters, Flora started snapping off shots, and then noted one crew member carefully laying down his heavy coat and helmet, folding his sweat-soaked fire-retardant hood over the top. Flora looked straight down and captured the items laid on the chunky, wet asphalt.
"This picture speaks to a job well done," Flora says of the untitled work, which is now hanging with nine other photographs in Flora's first solo show, Baby Steps — A demonstration of progress, at V-Bar.
Flora's is the first exhibit in the newly revitalized V-Bar, now owned by West Side Tattoo proprietor Brian Moore, who's enlisted Modbo's Brett Andrus to curate monthly shows.
"I basically, intentionally wanted to shoot photos in a [way] that wasn't stressful for the firefighters," Flora says. "A huge part of my photography revolves around being respectful of the subject, and so I don't want to be the guy who's getting in the way."
That sense of respect marks much of Flora's photography. Many works are shot from a ground-up perspective. For instance, "Sad," featuring a trampled sunflower in front of an industrial building, captures the dizzying heights of the industrial structure from the flower's humble point of view.
The photo speaks directly to Flora's interest in man's impact on the world, but also to a certain practicality. Flora doesn't carry a tripod. "In many cases I need to work with a slow shutter speed," he says, "so I actually set my camera on the ground so it'll be stable."
He attributes much of his current success as an artist to working with Andrus, a friend and mentor, but says his father, who is also a photographer, is his biggest influence.
He grew up with a darkroom in the family household, helping his father test flash triggers and learning the basics of fine art photography. What he didn't pick up at home, Flora taught himself by studying the works of John Fielder and Ansel Adams in his spare time. Today, Flora runs his own marketing firm, which specializes in small business clientele and what he calls "community growth" ventures.
All but two of the photos in Baby Steps were shot here, in his hometown. And while Flora's focus is tight on his own life, he hopes his artwork speaks to larger trends on national and international scales. Specifically, he talks about the effects of capitalism on the personalities of young women, the amount of litter as it relates to industrialism, and how the Deepwater Horizon tragedy will affect food supplies.
As evidenced during the April fire, though, he's interested in capturing what happens outside the blast zone: "Here, we're seeing the ripples, the repercussions of the event."