Picture Stories – Fish Out of Water

Somewhere in 2011, I became acutely aware of my commitment to telling stories with my photography. My stories are more often about place and time and less about people and events. I observe the action around me – the sights, the sounds, the smells. From this consciousness I form my interpretation. I let it sink in and marinate a little before brining the camera up to my eye and layering on all the compositional and technical stuff that merely provide the tools for my expression.

Sometimes, rarely, a single image will suffice. Often, mostly, a set of images combines to develop a deeper narrative. Frequently, usually, one image rises to become a keystone note.

Perhaps a better photographer could capture their impressions in just one image. Are there images in my picture stories that are but filler? But brevity is not my measure for good tale. A good story needs a beginning, middle, and an end. It needs tension but also rest and resolution.

Here I present Fish Out of Water, A Requiem for Fish. The story told to me by the Salton Sea.

Click to play

Ghostly Spirits – Salton Sea

Ghosts- Fish Out Of Water
Ghostly Spirits – Fish Out Of Water

I have finally finished processing my Fish Out Of Water series. This series represents my impressions when visiting the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea is a complicated place. It is not entirely man-made and not entirely natural. As the Salton Sink, it would fill and evaporate about every 400 years (they believe). In 1905, the perfect combination of nature and man, a wet winter and broken agricultural canal, flooded the area and created today’s Salton Sea. In the 50’s this area was to be the next playground oasis in the desert. However the sea continued to evaporate, salt concentrations increased, and nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff  caused huge summer algae blooms. These conditions led to a annual summer tilapia die off which pretty much put a kibash on the summer water fun.

When visiting the sea, you cannot escape the sight of dead fish at various states of decay. At the northern ends the fish are mummified and nearly whole. As you move south there is more decay. Ghostly Spirits is from an area in the middle where fish get covered with mud and slowly dissolve. Here, however, they appear to be crawling out of the earth.

A Storyteller With a Camera – Telling the Story of the Salton Sea

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea...
By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea… by I Nancy, on Flickr

I am nearly finished processing my images of the Salton Sea area from the trip I took a few weeks ago. Thank you to Roy, Anne, and Ken for the organization, relaxed atmosphere, and general frivolity. As I processed my images I became profoundly aware are my purpose as a photography as a storyteller with a camera.

Telling the story of the Salton Sea

Several years ago, I spent an intensive few weekends photographing downtown LA and Hollywood. As I sat in my lightroom processing my images I became deeply interested in the stories that these historic theaters and business had to tell. Los Angeles (Loce Ahng-hail-ais) rose from the small Spanish settlement El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (The Town of the Queen of the Angels) founded in 1781. Through a grand industrial expansion between 1870 and 1913 and the founding of Hollywood in the 20’s and 30’s it has become the modern multi-ethnic city of riches and poverty that it is today. That project, Los Angeles – Yesterday, Today, was so natural to me and my lasted project with this visit to the Salton Sea has given me insight as to why.

Almost immediately upon arriving at our first location at the Salton Sea, I noticed the dead fish littering its shores. I knew right then that I would be photographing these fish in as many was as possible. And I knew that I would go home and spend time learning more about the Salton Sea, what kind of fish these were (tilapia), and why there are so many dead fish on the shores.

My buddies chuckled and chided, “you’ll see a lot of dead fish”, but I knew that these mummified tilapia were an important part of the story of this area. I knew that I wanted to express their importance and do more than take “merit worthy images”. I wanted to tell the story of the Salton Sea, or more accurately, tell the story the Salton Sea was telling me. My images would be different because of my inner voice telling me to capture all the sea had to offer, the birds, the beauty, the decay, the abandonment, the real-estate dreams gone awry, and the fish. Yes, I would start with the fish.

This trip cemented my reasons for photography as a creative storyteller spinning the tale being told to me as I observe and listen to my surroundings. Be it the beauty of yellow-clad fall aspens or the unpleasantness of urban decay of a dying city, I want to tell their story. I need to tell their story. I go home and learn about the how the incredible sandstone features of the Vermillion Cliffs were formed, the golden boom and bust of Bodie, and why there are millions of dead tilapia on the shores of the Salton Sea.

When Scott Bourne photographs wildlife he says he “does it for the birds”. When I photograph the Salton Sea, I do it for the Sea. The Salton Sea a body of water formed and dried no fewer than eight times over the millennia and profoundly affected by time, flood, and the desert dwellers quest for water.

I do it for the Sea and my images are different because of this.

View the set on Flickr

More Fish Out of Water – Yin and Yang

Tilapia Series

Tilapia Series

Fish Out of Water a Set by Nancy Lehrer

Two more images  I made last weekend at the Salton Sea. The sea is a product of mother nature formed between 1905 and 1907. It was a playground during its heyday in the 1940’s and 50’s and is an important wildlife preserve. It is now in decline due to a combination of water diversion, agriculture, and time. Do we save the sea or let it run its course?

It is difficult to visit this area without thinking about the fish. At the top northern most areas of the sea, the fish are mummified and whole. As you go south, where there is more water intake and moisture, the fish are decayed and skeletal. Finally at the very bottom is the marshy area of the Sonny Bono Wildlife Preserve. These two images are from the mid-area of on the east side where the beach is formed of beautiful pink barnacle shells.