What began as a photographic romp through a visually compelling landscape slowly shifted toward documenting the landscape’s history and deciphering traces of it evident in my aerial photographs. My aerial images often presented puzzling artifacts and these fueled visits to libraries, map rooms, and local experts. Then it was back to the field for more photographs. After photographing for several years, I came to appreciate that the landscape was still in transition, and rapidly at that, as the salt pond restoration project gained stride. This realization has lent a sense of urgency to the project.
Anyone who’s looked out their airplane window while flying into San Francisco will have noticed the patterns of colored ponds all along the bay. I’ve seen people ask what they are on twitter. It seems most people aren’t aware of the San Francisco salt industry.
Which is too bad since it’s an interesting industry and a vitally important thing to be aware of in terms of the Bay Area’s current development. What to do with the salt ponds—restore or redevelop—given the local housing crunch and impending rising sea levels means this real estate is a big deal.
In any case, for better or for worse, a lot of the ponds are on their way out and it’s nice that people like Cris Benton are documenting the transition. The ponds are indeed beautiful in an abstract strange-nature way.* But they’re also remnants of the built environment which are being replaced by new industry. Not exactly ruins—though there are ruins in them—but decay and renewal. I kind of want to buy the book.
*One of my first jobs involved going out into the ponds and testing the water quality.
Note: The Berkeleyside interview is also good read for anyone interested in kite aerial photography. I especially like the drone vs. kite discussion as it reminds me of digital vs. film discussions.