I first visited the Salton Sea in 1995. I went to see a former teacher who was spending the winter months in Slab City—a recreational vehicle squat near the eastern shore of the sea—and found myself captivated by the sublime and surreal beauty of the area. One visit evolved into many as I delved into the area’s history and began to photograph the site. During my explorations of abandoned structures and other desolate places, I collected artifacts, natural and humanmade, all beautifully ravaged by the harsh desert elements. For me, these relics of natural processes and human history serve as powerful icons of place. The detritus of human occupation is imbued with the memories and stories of former lives, of once occupied spaces. The stark, sun-bleached fragments of bird and fish carcasses that litter the shores of the Salton Sea convey a fragile beauty amid chaos and decay. Traces left by transient laborers slipping through these borderlands evoke their near-invisible nocturnal passage. Abandoned motels and golf courses, lingering ghosts after the collapse of developers’ dreams, are all that remain of the fleeting transformation of the desert into an oasis for the leisured classes. This strange convergence of objects and sights form the basis of this work, which I originally presented as a physical and virtual installation and now in book form.
The Salton Sea is a study of contrasts, a compendium of the unexpected and ephemeral. The radical transformations of its ecology during the past century are vividly imprinted on the sea and its surroundings, a testament to the simultaneous fragility and resilience of the land. The area is also a testament to the determination of living beings, human and animal, to survive and adapt to the most challenging of circumstances. But now, at the end of the Salton Sea’s first century, it seems the sea’s history as a vital natural and human habitat will come to a close unless we intervene to preserve its ecological balance.
– Kim Stringfellow