Works in Progress - Spring 2022

Salt of the Earth

By Barbara Boissevain | April 13, 2022
Barbara Boissevain
Barbara Boissevain

Barbara Boissevain’s photography, which explores environmental and social justice issues, has been exhibited internationally and received the 2009 Best of ASMP Award from the American Society of Media Photographers. She recently completed a seven-year residency at the Cubberley Artist Studio Program in Palo Alto, California. These photos come from her ongoing series Salt Pond Grids, part of a larger project, Big Dirty Secrets, which explores how environmental toxicity affects residents of Silicon Valley. —Jayne Ross

For the past century, private corporations have mined salt ponds in San Francisco Bay for industrial salt production. The ponds are currently part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, which aims to restore more than 15,000 acres of lost tidal wetlands along San Francisco Bay. The restored tidal marshes and wetlands will exponentially increase the biodiversity of the South Bay by providing habitat for wildlife, especially hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. Tidal marshes also protect human communities from flood risk and sea level rise.

I’ve captured thousands of images since I began photographing this terrain in 2010, and I started arranging four images from the same pond into abstract grids. I construct the grids using images that are from the same time period and feature a similar color palette. I also look at the formal relationships between the images in terms of line, shape, and texture. It is a bit like putting together a puzzle, and when I find a configuration that works, it is quite satisfying. The four images together become something else entirely.

The images I captured for this grid were taken from ground level at the Ravenswood Salt Ponds in 2019, before restoration began. The lack of plant and animal life in the high-salinity environment is evident in these photos, but the dusty apocalyptic shades will be soon replaced by blues and greens as the tidal systems are let back into the ponds and tens of thousands of organisms take hold.

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