Cris Benton captures the colourful and strange landscapes of the San Francisco Bay area using kite aerial photography for his book Saltscapes.
I think the photographs appear otherworldly and abstract. It’s amazing to think these show a real place and are not just non-representational paintings or designs that spring from someone’s imagination. They are filled with brilliant, surprising colours and shapes, and there aren’t many features in them that are recognizable as a landscape, at first glance.
The photos show the currently-transforming landscape of the South Bay in San Francisco, California, where salt evaporation ponds once used for commercial salt production are now being left to revert to their natural ecological state. The land has been used to produce salt since 1854. In 1974, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established as the first nature refuge in an urban area in the U.S. In 2003, the state and federal governments purchased 25 square miles of salt ponds, and the land is now being managed with the intent of returning it to the tidal marshland that once existed there.
“These ponds support a five-year-long process of solar evaporation that yields 500,000 tons of salt a year. As San Francisco Bay water makes the trip from 2% to 32% salinity it evolves through a succession of bright colors – evidence of halophilic algae, bacteria, and other organisms that thrive at specific elevated salinities. And these tiny creatures paint our day’s version of what has been a remarkably transitional landscape,” says the artist’s statement.
Benton takes the photos from above the earth using a method that isn’t as well-known as some other aerial photography methods (or as controversial and much discussed as drone photography, which has been the topic of much news recently). “Kite aerial photography appeals to that part of me, perhaps of all of us, that would slip our earthly bonds and see the world from new heights. An aerial view offers a fresh perspective of familiar landscapes and in doing so challenges our spatial sensibilities, our grasp of relationships,” he says.
Benton is a retired professor of architecture from the University of California at Berkeley. For more information on the photos, you can purchase the book Saltscapes or read his web pages on Hidden Ecologies and Kite Aerial Photography.