Progress at Salt Pond A21

July 22nd, 2014 by Cris

I have been photographing Salt Pond A21 since 2006. This was the year that Salt Pond A21 and its neighbor, Salt Pond A20, were returned to tidal flow. The two ponds flank the abandoned hamlet of Drawbridge and their construction in the middle of the last century must have hastened the decline of that community. In 2006 large gaps were cut in the ponds’ levee along Coyote Creek and once again the tides visit twice a day.

Salt Pond A21 in 2006

A photograph of Drawbridge from my first session there in 2006.

During the first couple of years following the breach, the pond’s bottom was a bare plain of gypsum, leftover deposits from the solar evaporation process used to concentrate brine. Before long the pond bottom softened with a thin deposit of sediment and here and there started to take on the mudflat colors associated with a thin biological film. Then the first vegetation arrived, colonizing the highest ground of the pond bottom – the raised ridges of former marsh channels and the lip of the perimeter borrow ditch.

Salt Pond A21 - July 2014

This view of Salt Pond A21 shows the same area of Salt Pond A21 but from the other side looking toward Drawbridge.

For several years I made two or three trips out to Salt Pond A21 to photograph a specific area of the pond as it experienced these changes. That series of photographs continued until December 2012 when the footbridge providing access to the A21 levee finally rotted out so much that a crossing became unwise.

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A visit to Drawbridge

July 22nd, 2014 by Cris

In July 2014 I made my way out to Drawbridge for the first photography session since December 2012. It was fun to be out there again. The vegetation in Salt Pond A21 has really expanded in recent months – the pond is starting to look like a marsh.

Drawbridge, California - July 2014

Drawbridge in a view taken near sunset


As for Drawbridge, it continues to return to the earth. Each year seems to bring a bit more graffiti adorning an ever-smaller stock of ruined buildings. This year seems unusual in that there is a new network of paths connecting the buildings, many of which have planks laid on their bottoms to help during the higher tides.

Drawbridge, California - July 2014

New paths are quite evident in this view.

I note in the photographs that the curve-topped end wall of the old Gordon Gun Club has fallen over. It stood for about 125 years as this building was the second structure built in Drawbridge.

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Saltscapes reviewed

May 29th, 2014 by Cris

Saltscapes cover

Saltscapes, my book on the South Bay salt pond landscape, is being reviewed here and there.

Lyra Kilston, writing for the Wired RAW Files, conducted a thorough interview before publishing Wired’s review.

“Benton has explored the South Bay with a deft eye and a historian’s ardent curiosity. His images may be as abstract as mid-century paintings, but they double as aerial archeology, revealing the borders of former evaporation pools, a defunct rail line, and the remains of cabins inhabited at the turn of the last century. The book presents a fascinating overview of the evolution of the local salt industry, including the origins of the conservation movement Save the Bay, and the encouraging collaboration between the Cargill salt plant and wetland restoration efforts.”

Kenneth Baker, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, kindly associated my work with the fine precedents set by  Thomas Heinser, Robert Hartman and the late William Garnett.

“Benton’s technique is as specialized and challenging as it sounds. The indirectness of his process, and his eye for editing the images he captures, restore some sense of the creative difficulty dissipated by the digital revolution’s having put a camera in everyone’s pocket.”

Kathleen Gerard, writing for Shelf Awareness, selected Saltscapes as a non-fiction book of the year (a starred review).

“Benton’s striking photographs visually engage our spatial sensibilities and illustrate exciting, fresh perspectives of a largely unexplored American territory in restorative transformation.

Berkeleyside, my local news outlet, featured a nice spread on the work in the form of an illustrated interview with Tracey Taylor.

The kite aerial photography community weighed in via pleasant and energetic reviews of the book on Amazon. Thanks to all who submitted a review!

A tiny, tiny exhibit

April 24th, 2014 by Cris

A tiny, tiny exhibit

Back in January I led a KAP field excursion to the Alviso Weep for Megan Lee of the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. Megan is a leader for the museum’s Discovery Youth Science Community Identity group. A few of my KAP images from the day earned a bit of wall space as part of the programs annual summation. Patti Workover kindly sent this image my way.

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Bush Past Prime revisited

April 17th, 2014 by Cris

A few years back I hiked out to Salt Pond E2C for a round of photographs. This is a small pond near Turk Island. I discovered on that initial visit that it had been recently connected to the tides via a set of culverts that connected to the Alameda Creek Flood Control Channel. The pond bottom offered interesting textures and I was particularly taken with the skeletal remains of a dead bush.

One photograph of the bush made it into my portfolio with the title “Bush Past Prime.” This was during the previous presidential administration and I avoided the title “Dead Bush” thinking it might get the NSA in a tither.

Bush Past Prime revisited

A couple of weeks ago I had the occasion to hike back out to Salt Pond E2C where I found and photographed the remains of that same dead bush. The pond bottom has changed texture (sediment!) and there are a few channels developing here and there to carry the tidal flow. The bush is still quite dead. The most startling observation is that it has been 100 months since the original photograph.

Tempus fugit.

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Book trailers on Storehouse

March 14th, 2014 by Cris

One of the Heyday Books authors asked me to try out as a vehicle for a book trailer of sorts. The site has an interesting approach for assembling short visual narratives and delivers the results via their iPad app or a web page. I have put a couple up as testers.

(Update Nov. 2016: The Storehouse site has closed alas but I was able to retrieve a slightly less elegant html version of my three stories).

Cover - Saltscapes article on Storehouse

Cover - Saltscapes article on Storehouse

Check them out by clicking the images above and scrolling downward after the pages load.

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EOS M Maiden flight

February 24th, 2014 by Cris

I had the new EOS M cradle aloft for the first time today.

Cesar Chavez Park in fog

The Solar Calendar – a memorial to Cesar Chavez.

The maiden flight took place late this afternoon at Cesar Chavev Park along Berkeley’s San Francisco Bay waterfront. The park had a thin thread of fog forming as the day came to an end – how atmospheric. The new KAP setup worked well. It has been a long time since I flew a cradle this light. Good thing too as the Sutton 30 could barely lift the load in an intermittent breeze. I am particularly impressed with the sharpness of the EOS M and EF-M 11-22mm lens.

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Benton in situ

February 17th, 2014 by Cris

Fellow kite aerial photographer Dave Wheeler took this shot showing me on the levee as we flew our KAP rigs over the Alviso Flat a few weeks ago.

Cris Benton at Alviso

This was a most pleasant day with good company and moody light.

My images from the sessions are shown a few posts down. You can see more of Dave’s photographs from the session on Flickr.

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A new KAP rig

February 15th, 2014 by Cris

I have been flying a Canon Rebel dSLR as my principal (and darn near exclusive) kite aerial photography (KAP) rig since July 2007. At last count I had a little over 250 KAP sessions with this rig (sound of Benton knocking on wood). I really like working with the smaller Canon dSLR cameras. They are tough. The larger APS-C sensor is relatively smooth and the higher ISO settings are more useable. On the other hand, my dSLR KAP rig is relatively heavy at 3 lb. 8-1/2 oz. (1.6 Kg) and it is a fairly expensive setup for my frequent work over water (salt ponds and wetlands) should replacement become necessary.

A few of my previous camera cradles

A few of my previous KAP rigs. My recent workhorse – the Canon Rebel cradle – in bottom row, center.

A couple of years ago I developed a KAP cradle for the diminutive Sony NEX-5. The camera offered an APS-C sensor in a relatively small package thus promising image quality similar to my dSLR rig at substantially less weight. For reasons I cannot fully explain I just never warmed up to the NEX-5. The images were fine but the interface seemed clumsy and I always seemed to find an excuse not to fly it. After it sit around for months I ended up giving it to one of my sons.

A new KAP rig based on the Canon EOS M with 11-22mm wide angle lens.

I am now trying an alternative. A while back Canon issued their own version of a mirrorless APS-C camera – the EOS M. When issued the camera seemed overly expensive for what it delivered but this last summer the prices dropped dramatically to about 300 USD. I ended up buying one with its 22-mm prime kit lens and then splurged by ordering an EF-M 11-22mm wide angle zoom from Canada (they are not sold in the US).

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Upcoming talks / events

February 12th, 2014 by Cris

I have a few presentations related to Saltscapes and the Hidden Ecologies project on the calendar:

Cris at Open Show

Presenting at Open Show (a photograph by Mark Avery)

27 April 2014 – I am scheduled to do a KAP demonstration at the summit of Mt. Diablo as part of a weekend-long event organized by the Mt. Diablo Interpretive Association.

27 March 2014, 7 PM – I have a talk and book signing at Diesel, a Book Store in Oakland.

22 March 2014 – I have been invited to appear at A Literary Feast – Authors Dinner, an annual event at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center.

12 March 2014, 7:30 PM – Saltworks and Shorelines: a Visual and Social History of the San Francisco Bay. I am delighted to be presenting – with the talented Matthew Booker, author of Down by the Bay, in the Shaping San Francisco lecture series. The event takes place at the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics, 518 Valencia, near 16th Street, San Francisco.

14 February 2014, 7-8 PM – Presentation and book signing for Saltscapes as part of In the Headlines, a series of in-gallery discussion during Friday Nights @ OMCA. This event at the Oakland Museum of California is associated with the exhibit Above & Below: Stories from Our Changing Bay, in which I have several photographs..

13 February 2019 – A lunchtime talk and Saltscapes book signing at the Oakland Rotary Club.

24 January 2014 – A book signing at the Winter Institute, American Booksellers Association in Seattle.

16 January – I was pleased to be selected for an encore presentation as one of five projects selected in the Open Show Best of 2013 event.

16 January – lunchtime talk to my former colleagues in the Building Science Group at UC Berkeley

12 January 2014 – Hike and KAP demonstration at the Weep in Alviso for a group from the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose.

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