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Julian Jolliffe’s fireworks photo lights up the internet

It didn’t take long for his latest Fourth of July capture to become a classic.

Mount Rubidoux fireworks as seen from the shore of Lake Evans. (Julian Jolliffe)

I’m sure many of you have already seen Julian Jolliffe’s photo of the Mount Rubidoux fireworks from this year’s Fourth of July show. It has only been a few days, but this photo is in heavy rotation on my Instagram feed. The view of the Mount over Lake Evans is a masterfully serene rendition of the Independence Day tradition.

Julian is a friend. I have worked with him for several years at Riversider Magazine and have come to love what he puts into the world. If you’re not following what he is doing, you are missing a unique expression of the beauty of our city. Julian’s night photography has a way of freezing and melting simultaneously. He can turn the anxiety of traffic on the street into rivers of light that flow peacefully among the hills and bridges of our town. Julian may capture moments instantaneously, but the planning is meticulous. He is not a “happy accident” type of photographer.

When we say “right place, right time,” we usually mean someone is lucky. Julian is in the right place at the right time, but not by accident. Julian is a meticulous planner and a master of his equipment. He captures moments like this because he is obsessed with preparation. I don’t want to discount the magic and art of what he does, but he leaves as little chance as possible.

It is a known trope that “photographs lie.” This means a couple of things: Mechanically, the lens and shutter can work to distort reality. They capture an image so that objects look much different in the frame than they do to the present eye. The science of optics is infinitely complicated; math is involved and irrelevant to the image in question. Photographs also “lie” because they rob a moment of context. A picture is a frozen moment detached from the moments before and after and from the world out of frame.

Anyone near Mount Rubidoux last Thursday night knows that the aforementioned serenity wasn’t the vibe. To many of you, the calm beauty portrayed in the photo is a lie. Your dogs, your young children, and people with stress and anxiety disorders were in crisis. I am not making light of this. I understand the conflict and respect those concerns. I know the deep passion for the tradition of fireworks and what they symbolize and the real terror of our animal and human friends in the inescapable moment. I do not, however, intend to take a side.

What I will do is offer a philosophical dilemma. It is an artist’s job to interpret the world and show it to us in a new way. Is it an artist’s duty to tell a story, much less a true story? Which is the greater crime, to diminish the beauty of a moment with context or to ignore the pain in a moment by ignoring context?