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