Reflections on the Salton Sea

Photo Collaboration with Alexis Tia Diller •

Photo Collaboration with Alexis Tia Diller •

It was a comfortable 95 degrees as I stepped out of the car and took in the barren landscape of Bombay Beach. It took us almost 3 hours to get there and all of 2 minutes to circle the perimeter of the dilapidated town. The array of clutter in the front yards of the houses we passed alluded to the lives of the occupants who called this town home, but there was not a soul in sight. I'm not sure what I expected exactly, but this wasn't it. I was out of my element. 

As an art student in college I have seen enough photographs of the Salton Sea from peers and professionals alike to create a false sense of familiarity with that foreign place. Inspired by the work of Richard Misrach, my photography friends, and my own large ego, I hadn't done any planning or preparation besides plugging Bombay Beach into Google Maps once Alexis and I were already in the car. I was putting all my trust into the artistic process of 'winging it.' I believed that I would know exactly what I wanted to shoot the moment I saw it.. which is how I instead found myself crouching over decaying fish carcasses completely burning through my first roll of film. 

I didn't know what to point my camera at that hadn't already been photographed a million times before.  Previously enchanted by the notion that I would shoot the Salton Sea in a new and unique way that would blow people away, I was forced to accept that I didn't do my homework and prepare adequately enough to create any photos of real significance. As a portrait photographer I usually rely on meeting and conversing with new people to give context and direction to how I shoot that particular place. I try to let their narratives influence how the landscape unfolds on film. With the exception of the kind old local who gave us directions before disappearing, Alexis and I were just two of several photographers roaming around the muddy shoreline with cameras to our eyes, not talking to one another. 

Where were all the people, the half submerged cars and furniture, or the eroding humanity I was promised? I was ankle deep in mud and fish guts, one roll of film filled with shots of garbage (literally), and at a loss for how to make something out of all this nothing. 

The only time I really felt like I knew what I was doing was when Alexis and I collaborated on a series of portraits along the shoreline. I was reassured that at least some of the photos hidden on my film would come out alright. The rest I would have to wait and see. 

I'm glad I went and grateful that Alexis came with (and drove) me, but more then anything I want to venture back out there and do the damn thing properly. 

Included at the end are a few photos from a different salty sea to help finish my last roll of film.