Total Loss – Photos After a Fire

by emily sevin photography

Total loss


In insurance, a total loss is a judgment that the lost value of a damaged property exceeds the value of its policy, resulting in what it concludes is a “total loss”


in 2015 i moved into a historic 7 bedroom communal living home with 6 distinct beautiful individuals. we were wonderfully treacherous and unbelievably saintly. we became a family. through little to no organization or demand for such, we cooked for one another, laughed with one another, and so often, listened to one another. i hadn’t felt so supported and cared about. the day before valentine’s this year the house caught fire and over the course of several grueling hours, transformed from a loving home to a condemned building. all of my cameras were in the house – save one i had with me while home visiting my mother while she received radiation – i thought i may want to take self portraits in the house, they retire next year and would be selling the it.

the next week felt like walking through scenes of a movie. as trauma and shock became reality, waking life felt surreal. taking pictures became a way to prove my existence and validate our experience. documenting what felt like the funeral party of a historic figure became paramount in my mind.

the next week the camera would become my anchor, my security blanket.

these are photos after a fire.



a photo the night i heard my house caught fire. in my childhood bathroom.

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i was home with my mom when i got the news. it was inopportune timing. i couldn’t go back early. i felt helpless and selfish not being there for my housemates.

anne marie had called. she’s usually so chipper I could tell immediately something was wrong. she totalled my car, i thought, fuck she totalled my car. “emily there’s been a fire. we lost the house.” she had to go. i hung up and shouted FUDGE because my parents were behind me.




a photo the day i went with my mother to radiation, in her bathroom, with her favorite cat.

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i didn’t expect to be so shaken, but facing your mother’s mortality asks you to face your own. there’s not much to say about that.



a photo the morning after a night of…. coping.

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sorry mom.

you’ll notice my clothing doesn’t change much during this week. it would have been a sign of moving on, an unbearable thought at the time.

you’ll notice a lot of these images aren’t well executed. i was in no state to be operating a camera some days.



a photo the night they picked me up from the airport in a town car.

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apparently someones cousin had the hookup. it was a bittersweet night. i sat moping, waiting for my bags and anne-marie and a night of weepy hugs when i saw jamie. joey followed. they surprised me. they all came. we had tequila. we had a free ride. i had no idea what was in store for me back at home. i had no idea there’d be a home. back at the neighbor’s we partied and displayed private things and told private thoughts and we just got to a place you don’t go back from. we all slept on the floor in a pile. we weren’t leaving one another’s sight.

a photo the night of the fundraiser

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where it was like every pair of sympathetic eyes read in such a welcoming and endearing way, I couldn’t help but falling in love ten times that night. drugs don’t hurt either. anne marie kept saying we were gonna have a normal christmas, like a normal family. we were all losing it. we had hit shock. we were all in it together.


a photo the night of anne-marie’s birthday in the famous wazima bathroom.

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we had drinks. we ate ethiopian. people were merry. i got her a pie and i lit the candles and the whole bar sang to her as i held it up. she blew out the candles. i set down the pie. i proceeded to cry in the bathroom. it felt unfair she would have to cloud her date with this tragedy. i knew the best way to celebrate her was not to be crying in the bathroom. but we don’t cry for logical reasons.



a photo the first night i slept alone after the fire.

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everything little felt like a big step. every new experience felt like the first time i did something. sleeping alone was this. we had all been sleeping on a futon pad in the neighbor’s living room. gradually smaller groups found beds and other couches. we had a hard time separating. we all had other housing, but for whatever reason, we weren’t taking it. 


a photo of our home base

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you fall into communal thinking when you live in communal housing. you don’t mean to, or i didn’t mean to. i’d moved countless times as a child and kept up the habit as an adult. you learn to look after yourself at all costs, that people are temporary, and if you wanted something no one else would make it happen but you. so when i found myself putting the interests of my house over my individual desires it was a stunning headspace for me. and trusting 6 others to feel the same was dangerous and intoxicating. the crazy thing is that it worked. go figure. to begin again and to think of taking care of one’s self only was like dismantling a tree down to its branches and asking each to live on their own. i was terrified i’d wither away. as a unit, we were doing just that.


a photo of shern, with the castle out the window to his left.

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my windows are boarded up. the stoop remains.



a photo the morning after i left town for the first time

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i had a standing date to see my second family up in petaluma. their dog had had puppies. i nearly had a panic attack leaving town. the separation anxiety i was feeling was overwhelming. but remembering my connection to others was good. i can’t thank the support i’ve gotten enough. you know who you are and there are so many of you. you extended your homes and your love and i can’t tell you how overwhelemed i’ve been by my support system, so thank you.

i wasn’t sure how to end this post. it was a traumatic thing that happened. and i was shocked. then sad, then all the other stages. i guess i’m trying to say i’m ready to feel ok again. the separation from a family i love is sad. but memories we shared and no regerts and all that bullshit. and i just got this news so i don’t think i’ll be seeing the last of these fools for a while. here’s to you guys, i love you very much. we’re gonna have a normal christmas. right after this: