Roman Cho didn’t aim to be a photographer. He trained as a musician in college and started in photography as a way of creating art more efficiently than with paint and canvas. This dynamic shooting style served Roman well as he used the Siros 800 L battery monolight to capture fifty subjects in thirty-one different sessions across eleven days for the project “Ashes Fell Like Snow.” With friends in Santa Rosa, Roman’s emotional ties brought him back after wildfires tore through Northern California in October 2017.
The Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County quickly became the costliest wildfire in California history, destroying over 5,000 structures and affecting the lives of countless more. Roman had been upstate just days before, riding in “Levi’s Gran Fondo,” a one hundred mile bike ride through Northern California. His connection to Santa Rosa inspired his creative drive to document the survivors following the fire. Allowing the subjects time to find their footing after such devastating loss helped put the experience in context. “Ashes Fell Like Snow” is not a sensationalized series of headlines, it is a vignette of those affected by the wildfires.
One of Roman’s requirements for lighting equipment was portability, and reliability. The Siros 800 L, paired with a Photek SoftLighter Umbrella allowed him to stay mobile and avoid carrying a cumbersome battery pack. This helped when standing on uneven ground and wildly varying locations, where drywall would crumble underfoot and nails laid precariously in the rubble. Having 220 full-power flashes per charge let Roman to pack less and photograph more. Knowing that the Siros 800 L would perform through any number of shoots gave Roman the piece of mind he needed to take on this challenge.
Each portrait session came together rapidly. Roman’s initial plans for each day would grow and expand manyfold thanks to local word of mouth. With two to three setups per subject, he used his understanding of classical portraiture to give a certain presence to each image. The one outlier to this creative approach is Mayor Chris Coursey, who is framed tightly to help illustrate the weight of the city on his shoulders. This deliberate approach to each portrait highlights the individual experiences, while the color palette and lighting emphasizes the similarities, creating a poignant gallery of destruction and rebirth.
As an artist, Roman uses personal projects to tell stories. His series “Culinaria” has been evolving over seven years to capture the food world from a variety of viewpoints. “Ashes Fell Like Snow” came together much more quickly, but expanded into an impressive undertaking in a short amount of time. Roman may have captured thirty-one portraits, but he says that it is only a sample of the hundreds of thousands of stories out there. He plans on continuing the project to check in on previous subjects, whilst growing the reach and adding new subjects’ experiences. With a five to ten year timetable for full recovery, one of the goals of “Ashes Fell Like Snow” is to help with the relief efforts.
“Ashes Fell Like Snow” will be displayed on 4’x5’ prints in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square from December 6rd-30th with the accompanying subjects’ stories. For more information on the project, head to ashesfelllikesnow.com, where there are links to charities helping with the relief effort. To see more of Roman’s work, visit his site at www.romancho.com.