Homage to Rothko revisited


My first forays into the South Bay salt pond landscape were fueled by a photographic interest in color and texture. This theme still holds great appeal as I often find places that offer the potential for abstract or painterly images. My second landscape theme sprang from the realization that my aerial images contained traces of the South Bay landscape’s many transitions. Discovering and deciphering the vague remnants of boat landings, salt works, railroad projects, and infrastructure remains entertaining. As I head into my second decade of wandering the South Bay a third theme has gained firm footing – documenting the landscape’s current day transition. And there is change aplenty as the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project (SBSPRP) has bold initiatives underway in Alviso, Ravenswood and Eden Landing.

Homage to Rothko 2009

The original “Homage to Rothko: photograph taken in September 2009.

Each year I have a South Bay hiatus between February and September in deference to nesting birds. This good, commonsense condition is part of my Special Use Permit that allows KAP in the South Bay and access to otherwise off-limits areas. I anticipate my first outings in the fall eagerly for they provide a sense of how things have progressed during the year. And each year I am struck by how much change I find in the landscape. Formerly fallow salt ponds acquire natural colors and textures followed by vegetation after being reconnected with the tides. The construction of levees, flow control structures, and nesting islands redefines pond components and the nature of water flow through them. New trails, viewing platforms, and signage foretell expanding public access.

In this context of change I am delighted to find image pairs that illustrate progress in the restoration efforts. The abstract “Homage to Rothko” is one of the more popular images in my book Saltscapes and a personal favorite. While out shooting on Sunday I found myself near Salt Pond E6B so I stopped to look for the rusting 55-gallon drum that marked the location of the original image taken five years ago. Having spotted the drum I sent a camera aloft with the hope of getting a similarly framed shot even though the wind direction was off by 45 degrees or so. I lucked out when a short lived shift in the wind drifted the camera cradle out over the pond and provided a comparison image.

Homage to Rothko 2014

Salt Pond E6B revisited for a photograph of the same scene five years later.

While the 2014 view differs greatly from the original “Homage to Rothko” I am fond of this version for it shows how much change has occurred in Salt Pond E6B, a disused salt pond managed since 2009 to reduce its residual salinity. I am also pleased that the new image has its own painterly feel (best seen in a larger version of the image). In the 2014 view the only dry surface is the upper side of the barrel, all else is below water, and the wind produced ripples lend an abstract texture to the image as though brush strokes.

I have also posted a side-by-side view of the two images on Flickr:

Homage to Rothko revisited pair

(larger view)

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