Deborah Lash, a George Mason University alumna, held a reception for her “When the House Burns Down” exhibit in Gallery 123 in the Johnson Center this past week.

The exhibit captured her youngest brother and his best friend at many different scenes that represented emptiness for Lash.

When she was 8 years old her family’s house burned down in a chimney fire, and they lost everything.

The year after the tragedy, Lash and her siblings didn’t go to school or have any luxuries. They lived in motels and in other people’s homes.

“We learned to rely on each other in a really unique way that we wouldn’t have experienced if we hadn’t gone through that time of emptiness,” Lash said.

This experience inspired her to express some of her memories through photography, as well as to try to better understand her own feelings about the fire.

“I wanted to try to go back and remember that year and how we made it through that time,” Lash said.  “So I took these two children who are very close to me and I followed them around in locations that are very close by and very similar to the locations where we spent all of our free time after our house had burnt down.”

Though initially designed as a way to confront her own past, the project eventually took a different direction.

“I thought I was going to end up learning something about my siblings and myself, but I ended up learning something about these kids,” Lash said.  “These two children have an incredible relationship. They’re both adopted from completely different sides of the planet and just sort of put together in this little town where they grew up. And they have an amazing friendship and intimacy between them and trust that you don’t see very often between any two people.”

Through her photography, Lash shows that possessions are not the most important things in life. Rather, the friendships and relationships formed are what make life worth living. This exhibit shows that age and ethnicity are not important factors in relationships, but that the experiences and interactions are what really matter.

She has learned a lot about people through her work as a photographer.

“With this project in particular, I was able to study how people affect each other and how we connect with each other,” Lash said. “This project is really about how we connect with each other when there’s nothing else around — nothing to distract us, nothing to rely on besides each other.”

“When the House Burns Down” will remain in the gallery until March 6.